Avoiding Keystone Cops Syndrome

THIS week Allan Trench looks at corporate effectiveness – and worries that companies risk resembling the Keystone Cops in their approach to capturing opportunities.
Avoiding Keystone Cops Syndrome Avoiding Keystone Cops Syndrome Avoiding Keystone Cops Syndrome Avoiding Keystone Cops Syndrome Avoiding Keystone Cops Syndrome


Staff Reporter

Silent movie stars the Keystone Cops are celebrating their centenary – with the hapless crew at the height of their Hollywood popularity around 100 years ago. As a child I remember clips of their black and white silent films being replayed on occasions on TV – with the cops running around randomly as a pack first one way and then the other across the small screen in the process making multiple failed attempts to apprehend a criminal.

You certainly could not fault the Keystone Cops for their effort – or for their intent either. The squad seemed clearly aligned to their apparent “corporate” goal. However, when it came to results they were sadly lacking of course – which in part was the butt of the joke. Never once can I recall the squad of 30 plus policemen chasing a robber actually “getting their man”

Mining sector managers would do well to watch the old film clips again – and reflect upon whether they are not in danger of a similar fate – to the Keystone Cops, not to the uncatchable criminal.

That is, nobody comes to work each day to be purposely slack – at least not at senior management level – but managers are, however, always under constant risk of being woefully ineffective.

Let me cite one simple example. Many years ago I had opportunity to visit a rather large gold mine as a consultant with the “I’m here to help” message being sent in from head office.

The mining manager proudly communicated the excellent level of engagement between the senior staff and the frontline.

Indeed, looking through the results of various frontline engagement sessions, the manager had accumulated more than 1000 action items to improve in-pit performance.

That is a tall order: There are only 8760 hours in the year – so that meant one solution every shift continuing 24/7.

The problem? The 1000 action items were reminiscent of the Keystone Cops – nobody can handle that level of white noise around improvement potential. There was no focus. The mining managers were essentially chasing the criminal (read improvement opportunity) all over the place – without actually knowing where the real opportunity lay (which was actually in the mill).

A more successful approach would have been to focus – that all-important F-word. If, for example, the drill and blast area was the bottleneck to smoother operations, then the focus should lie there.

However, even that level of insight is not sufficient. Knowing that, again for illustration, that hose failures on drill-rigs were the number one cause of downtime – would entirely change the way in which the pit was managed.

Once you know where to focus, the answers soon emerge – and even though there still may be 1000 ways to solve the issue – at least implementing a selection of the 1000 ideas will make a material difference.

Try looking up Keystone Cops on YouTube and you will get the idea of what not to do.

Unfortunately, actually approaching the issue in the right manner doesn’t make for quite such good movie footage.

Good Hunting.

Allan Trench is a Professor of Mineral Economics at Curtin Graduate School of Business and Professor (Value & Risk) at the Centre for Exploration Targeting, University of Western Australia, a Non-Executive Director of several resource sector companies and the Perth representative for CRU Strategies, a division of independent metals & mining advisory CRU group. (allan.trench@crugroup.com).