South Walker Creek

Surely there’s a better way to do this?

The concept of continuous improvement in business has been around for a long time.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming is often credited with developing it, while assisting Japanese industrial leaders rebuild Japan after World War II.

But less well known is how to keep continuous improvement continually improving.

The answer, Brooklyn said, lies in the people at the frontline of every business.

Brook was appointed Head of Improvement for BHP's Coal business in mid-2016.

In her role she oversees the continuous improvement program for the business’s 11 sites.

In her late teens she contemplated the creative world of photography as a career but was open to other paths.

At the suggestion of her father, she looked into mining and discovered it offered creativity of a different type.

“Most of our workforce are frontline workers and therefore most of the solutions to improve safety, efficiency and productivity lie with them,” she said.

“Through the continuous improvement program, we aim to assist them better engage with one another, see outside their core roles and develop their own creative solutions to day to day problems and challenges.”

She said that’s why BHP adopted this 'continuous improvement' approach, as it will unlock a huge potential of the Coal business’s ten thousand strong workforce.

This sense of involvement and achievement results in increased volume, cost savings and a more fulfilled workforce.

“Most of the frontline operators are coming up with improvements every day and it’s the role of our leaders to remove roadblocks and help bring those ideas to the surface, recognise them and enable them," she said.

But Brooklyn said creating the right mindset, as well as the right structure, is what makes people want to achieve, rather than being pushed to do so.

Coal has been on a journey of continuous improvement for close to two years and has delivered more than $650 million in annualised savings.

“This sense of involvement and achievement results in increased volume, cost savings and a more fulfilled workforce,” she said.

“I was recently talking to a service team about their new tool for servicing heavy vehicles that one of the fitters had tracked down for them.

“The purchase occurred after someone saw the process and asked “surely there must be a better way,” she said.

“Watching them unpack it, you could see genuine excitement about the potential efficiency it would create and even more importantly the risk reduction to manual handling."

Another area which is critical in the continuous improvement process is what she calls “our feedback loop.”

“For whatever reason, even if an idea doesn’t get adopted, there needs to be an explanation to the team member that generated the idea as to why it has not progressed,” she said.

“Without that feedback loop, people feel they haven’t been listened to and no one is supporting their idea and this will eventually lead to people being disengaged.

“The result is they won’t put anything forward again,” she explained.

Many people have an innate drive for continuous improvement she said, while some see the implementation of successful ideas by others and realise they too can make a difference.

“That’s why it’s important when we do have successes, or even just when people have a go, that we recognise them as it drives continued motivation to become better at what we do,” she said.