Coaching at heart of PotashCorp’s training program (National HR Awards)

Winner, Queen's University IRC Professional Development Award
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/21/2016

By John Dujay

Every major company has some type of training program for workers and managers, but PotashCorp wanted one that would stay with participants, long after the classroom door closed.

“Lots of companies know what good looks like, but actually making it stick, that transfer of learning (is difficult),” says Candace Laing, senior director of organization and talent development at PotashCorp in Saskatoon. “You can give people a good dip into a one-day course but then how do you sustain it?”

As a regulated company that has been focused on safety for a long time, PotashCorp has a mature safety strategy, unlike younger companies that are still writing safety processes. So its focus is more on refining training, says Laing.

“There’s no end to safety, there’s no finish line,” she says. “You have to work really hard in every single moment to attain zero life-altering injuries.”

The mining industry has typically been old-fashioned in its approach to safety: A supervisor would tour a site, find a safety hazard, direct workers to fix the problem and walk away, says Laing, adding that was the old way.

“If you are going to be world-class and you are going to focus on zero harm, you need everybody looking for hazards and addressing them, on their own, all the time — not relying on the boss or others.”

Laing joined PotashCorp in 2013 to help reorganize the corporate training strategy. “We knew we had to put more focus corporately around safety engagement and training,” she says.

In 2014, the company embarked on a total renewal of its company training process with the goal of becoming one of the safest resource companies in the world by 2018.

The company combined the power of the HR department and the safety and health team and came up with a coaching-for-safety engagement training program, developed in-house. 

The training begins with a one-day classroom session for team leaders and is designed to promote continuous safety learning through a focus on coaching techniques.
PotashCorp, which has 5,050 full-time workers and 1,000 contract workers, has a lot of managers who have been in the mining industry for 30 years, she says. 

“They were brought up in a different world, where it was a directive, ‘I do what my boss says,’ to now we are asking them to take an entirely different approach and utilize that coaching culture.”

The company’s new way of training incorporates continuous learning, based on the Bersin by Deloitte model. This includes education (an eight-hour classroom session), experience (on-site coaching), exposure (time with other leaders) and environment (improvement via feedback and action plans).

“To get to this mature safety culture where everybody is engaged in identifying and mitigating those hazards, we need to coach each crew,” says Laing. “Instead of telling them what they’re missing, it helps them be engaged in identifying and addressing hazards themselves.”

In the training session, participants work on creating coaching strategies that reinforce the company’s hazard identification, mitigating and coaching process, which is PotashCorp’s companywide safety standard. 

“All leaders need the ability to facilitate effective and engaging dialogue about safety every day with their team members,” says Laing. 

The training promotes a set of 15 behaviours, including visibility on job sites, discussion of safety before shifts, getting to know employees, addressing safety problems by collaboration and creating an atmosphere where workers feel comfortable. 

“Participants learn how to skillfully structure their safety conversations for maximum benefit,” says Laing.

In 2015, 489 leaders of the company’s Canadian operations attended the classroom training course. Of those, 363 received infield coaching afterward. Companywide, 90 per cent of supervisors have so far received the training.

PotashCorp also employs followup coaching in the field, to ensure the continuous learning model is met. 

“There’s no way to miss it — it’s well-reinforced,” says Laing.

The company now has eight safety leadership coaches who visit all sites and provide followup instruction to the managers who have taken the coach-for-safety engagement course. Coaches also provide weekly updates to management. 

The company has also started a half-day program for workers. This was initiated after hearing positive feedback from the supervisors who attended the coaching course so PotashCorp reworked that course for front-line workers. 

The company knew the employee training had to stick, so it worked through a number of pilots to get it just right. 

“The mentality is not to run all our employees through it and say, ‘Now we’re done,’ but to make sure that dialogue is ongoing at our sites,” says Laing.

The company is also introducing an enhanced program for coaches called “Senior leader: Coaching for safety engagement” that  runs over a seven-month period. In the first month, the program includes a one-day workshop followed by a two-hour on-site meeting with an external coach. Later sessions include one-hour coaching calls with a professional external coach, on-site observations with feedback, a group check-in call and a final one-day workshop. 

Leaders also receive feedback from crew members through a survey. From there, they are expected to create individual action plans. These plans and their implementation are regularly tracked by the company. 

And the feedback has been incorporated into regular safety audits. 

“Sites are held accountable for ensuring supervisors receive the training, coaching and crew feedback, and the results of the site assessments are used to help calculate the site’s resulting amount for the annual short-term incentive plan,” she says.

To better manage training processes, the company plans to update its global learning management system, which is on target to be completed by the end of 2016. This will gather together all the training content in one unified system.

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