An invaluable asset to any organisation is an experienced workforce that knows the ins and outs of the business and has knowledge that can only be acquired over time. And in today’s environment, retaining a skilled workforce so that knowledge and skills are passed on is no easy task. To maximize its potential and drive performance, Rio Tinto is building its organisational culture around listening to the members of its large team.
Thriving succession plans
Becoming a senior leader takes skills, knowledge and experience. It also requires patience, a quality that seems to be in increasingly short supply among workers, judging by current staff turnover rates. The scarcity of skilled labour is creating increasingly fierce competition and changing the face of career management.
To reverse the trend and ensure a seamless succession, Rio Tinto wanted to open a dialogue with the talent working within the organisation to find out who aspired to more senior management roles in their careers. The question was put directly to them.
The response was strong and clear, with 140 people expressing an interest. Given this level of commitment, it was important to make good use of it.
A completely different selection process was developed. The management committees then carefully analysed, profiled and prioritised all the candidate files.
Lisa Lavoie, Principal Advisor, Talent, says: “We wanted to do things differently and get to know our people better, find out what their career aspirations are, and what factors help them thrive so that they can continue to build their careers with us.”
Of the initial 140 people who expressed an interest, 80 were selected. To keep all the aspiring candidates engaged, each one was met by their manager to follow up on the process. Those who were not selected discussed their careers and were given the support that they needed to develop within the organisation in line with their needs and aspirations.
A multidisciplinary committee of 13 leaders was formed to oversee the process. In fall 2022, the committee held interviews with the 80 selected candidates. The process was beneficial in that it laid the foundations for an approach that engages workers.
“We wanted to encourage conversations and provide growth opportunities for people who were interested in being challenged in this way,” adds Lavoie. “Each candidate was interviewed by three members of the committee, the idea being to get to know the people first and prioritise the training. All the candidates felt that having the organisation take the time to talk to each of them was a way of recognizing their commitment.”
Based on the information gathered, four training cohorts were set up to train this new generation of managers. The first two started in spring, and the next two will follow in fall and winter. The goal may seem ambitious, but it is also justified by the need to retain staff and support their development within the teams.
“We started from scratch and built the programme from the ground up,” says Lavoie. “A whole team was involved in thinking about, designing, planning and distributing the content needed to develop the next generation. Working with Rio Tinto’s Learning and Development team, we created a leadership competency profile and developed a self-paced development guide based on For Your Improvement, a book that has been used in our organisation for a number of years. More than eight days of formal training, psychometric profiling and coaching with an industrial psychologist, together with a robust development plan, will be used to support the next generation throughout their careers. And because developing individuals requires multiple strategies, we have also created a mentoring programme to encourage mentors from the management committees to share their experience with the next generation and to build a strong network of close relationships between mentors and their mentees. Every detail has been analysed with a fine-toothed comb, right down to choosing the most appropriate venues for the development activities and training courses and offering distinctive promotional items to the next generation. We want to create a positive, engaging, constructive and, most importantly, sustainable experience that allows all our talent to flourish in a caring environment.”
Several initiatives have been launched in recent months as part of this new approach, including the Women in Leadership programme and the Next Generation Conference. This shows Rio Tinto’s commitment to developing internal resources, thereby ensuring success for the future.