Unlocking leadership excellence

A transformative partnership between Implats and Duke Corporate Education is helping the mining giant move into new territory.

In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate leadership, organizations often find themselves seeking innovative ways to develop and nurture their talent. One such company is Impala Platinum Holdings Limited, or Implats – one of the largest platinum group metals producers globally and a prominent player in the mining industry, employing over 70,000 people at operations in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Canada.

Implats recognized as a business imperative the need to cultivate effective leadership within its ranks. To embark on this transformative journey, Implats turned to Duke Corporate Education to craft tailor-made leadership development programs. This collaboration has not only bridged crucial leadership gaps, but has also redefined the organizational mindset, ultimately reflecting on Implats’ bottom line.

The genesis of a remarkable partnership

“Implats has always recognized the importance of strong leadership,” says the company’s visionary group executive for people, Lee-Ann Samuel. “But we knew that we were moving into new territory, and that demanded a new approach to how we develop leaders.” 

Understanding that leadership development is not one-size-fits-all, Implats made a strategic decision in August 2020 to seek expert guidance. In a rapidly changing industry landscape, staying ahead requires leaders who are agile, innovative and equipped with the right skills to navigate challenges effectively.

In their pursuit of excellence, Implats partnered with Duke CE, entrusting it with the task of designing custom leadership programs aimed to address its specific needs. The foundations were laid with a rigorous process of consultation among the company’s Organizational Effectiveness team, spearheaded by Samuel working closely with Duke CE’s experts. The outcome was the creation of two distinctive programs: the Middle Management Program (MMP) and the Senior Management Program (SMP). Each was meticulously tailored to address leadership gaps at their respective levels.

Visionary people development 

At the core of Implats’ journey toward sustainable success has been its commitment to nurturing and developing people within the organization, says Samuel. “It’s the cornerstone of business excellence,” she reflects. “That’s why I’m such a firm advocate for placing people at the forefront of any strategic agenda.” 

Samuel clearly understands that a motivated, skilled and engaged workforce is the driving force behind an organization’s triumphs. One of her core principles is that leadership development should not be confined to a select few individuals in senior positions. She champions a holistic approach where leadership qualities and skills are cultivated across all levels of the organization. “A business can only thrive when its entire workforce is equipped with the leadership acumen needed to adapt to challenges, make informed decisions, and innovate proactively.”

This emphasis on leadership development at all levels is not a mere platitude: it’s a strategy that is deeply ingrained in Implats’ corporate culture. It is allied with the understanding that employees who feel valued, heard and well-supported are more likely to go the extra mile. That is why Implats has taken substantial steps to ensure that the well-being and growth of its employees are at the forefront of its business strategy. Initiatives like mentorship programs, skills development and employee wellness programs have been rolled out to create a nurturing and supportive work environment.

The vision set out by Samuel goes well beyond the leadership development arena. It extends to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

“We know that diverse and inclusive teams bring diverse perspectives, which in turn foster innovation and enable organizations to adapt more effectively to a changing business landscape,” she points out. Under her leadership, Implats has made significant strides in promoting diversity and inclusion, with initiatives to increase the representation of women and other underrepresented groups in leadership positions.

Moreover, Samuel understands that in today’s world, digital transformation is not just an option but a necessity. Implats’ collaboration with Duke CE during the Covid-19 pandemic to transition its leadership programs to a digital platform is a testament to her forward-thinking approach. “Staying agile and leveraging technology to enable learning and development is key, especially in a rapidly evolving industry like mining,” says Samuel.

These views about leadership development and the centrality of people in an organization’s success are not just theoretical concepts. They are the guiding principles behind Implats strategic initiatives. Under her leadership, Implats has embraced a culture of continuous learning, adaptability and inclusivity. It’s a culture that views employees not just as resources, but as the lifeblood of the organization, capable of driving it to greater heights.

That approach has not only propelled Impala Platinum Holdings towards business success, but has also set a shining example for other organizations. Samuels’ vision of developing leaders at all levels, fostering diversity and inclusion, and leveraging technology for growth is a testament to the power of placing people at the heart of business strategy. In a world where the future is uncertain, this philosophy provides a solid foundation for organizations to thrive, evolve, and conquer the challenges of tomorrow.

Designing for excellence 

The two programs developed by Duke CE for Implats had distinct approaches tailored to deliver the requirements for each tier of the company’s management. 

The MMP, designed for middle management, aimed to equip leaders with the skills and mindset needed to excel in their roles. It addressed areas such as effective communication, decision-making and team collaboration.

On the other hand, the SMP was crafted to empower senior leaders to navigate complex challenges, foster innovation and steer the organization toward sustained success. It focused on strategic leadership, critical thinking, change management and envisioning a world beyond the one we know.

Despite their differences, the two programs shared some common characteristics. One key aspect was their holistic approach. Both programs blended theoretical knowledge with practical elements, including digital simulations and action learning projects. These hands-on experiences allowed participants to apply their learning directly to real-world scenarios.

One of the most notable outcomes was an emphasis on customer-centered innovation. Participants learned to infuse innovation back into the organization, driving growth and competitiveness. One key project that stands out was ‘Data Mining to Improve Safety’, in which the project team suggested a model for using data to reduce fatal incidents in the company’s mines. Another suggested strategic alternatives for Implats’ sustainability agenda, which company executives are exploring. And the ‘Points-Based Wellness Program’ project centered on the human aspect of business. Across both the middle and senior management programs, these action learning projects extended into all facets of Implats, driving holistic impact.

One other experience that was common to both programs was that they were affected by unforeseen circumstances in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic posed a unique challenge to the execution of both programs. Amid lockdowns and travel restrictions, Duke CE and Implats pivoted swiftly to a digital platform, using Zoom as their primary mode of delivery. As the world grappled with the sudden disruption of emergency health measures, this pivot was a textbook example of adaptability and resilience from both organizations.

A new mindset for leadership

The impact of these programs has not been limited to skills development alone. “They have helped spark a real and profound mindset shift within Implats,” says Samuel. Participants have emerged from the programs with a new outlook on leadership: one characterized by agility, innovation, and a deep commitment to excellence for their organization – and even for their families and communities. “This was a session that touched my heart,” said one participant after a particularly powerful session. “It provoked a sense of deep self-introspection in me. I will intentionally embark on a journey to look after myself better, to foster good interpersonal skills, and to be there for my family.” 

“Great journey!” said another participant. Their experiences on the Duke CE program had helped them to become “much more self-aware and understand better what I need to do as a leader and colleague”, they added. 

Powerful as participant testimony may be, ultimately, as Duke CE well knows, the true measure of any organization’s leadership development program lies in its impact on the bottom line. In Implats’ case, the results have been impressive. The newly cultivated leadership mindset has translated into tangible benefits across various facets of the business.

Four areas stand out.

 1 Enhanced decision-making. With leaders at all levels in the organization who are better equipped to make informed decisions, Implats has experienced improved operational efficiency and reduced risks.

2 Innovation and adaptation. The emphasis on innovation has made Implats more adaptable to industry changes and customer demands, resulting in increased competitiveness.

 3 Employee engagement. Empowered leaders have the ability to engage and motivate their teams effectively, leading to higher employee morale and productivity.

 4 Long-term sustainability. The focus on strategic leadership has positioned Implats for long-term sustainability and growth in a volatile industry and has allowed the leadership team to evolve its approach to integrating ESG practices into the business value chain.

A deepening partnership

By the start of October 2023, 392 participants had gone through the MMP, and 121 had completed the SMP. Their success has laid the foundation for a deeper and more strategic partnership between Implats and Duke CE – one that extends beyond leadership development, reflecting a shared commitment to corporate values and thought leadership.

Implats has become a key sponsor of Duke CE’s events, aligning with its values such as gender equality and diversity, as exemplified by its support for Duke CE’s global women’s events. Its executives have actively participated in these events, sharing their deep insights and contributing to meaningful discussions as panelists and guest speakers.

The partnership has also continued to expand its horizons and address additional learning needs, recognizing that leadership development is just one facet of organizational growth. Two custom programs, Demystifying Finance and Project Fundamentals, have now been designed in consultation with specialists from Implats. These programs have been tailored to bridge specific gaps in financial literacy and project management, with truly flexible delivery via both in-person and virtual options that accommodate operational requirements.

A continuously evolving partnership

The partnership between Implats and Duke CE continues to evolve in sync with the company’s changing needs. As the mining industry faces new challenges and opportunities, Implats can rest assured that it has a steadfast partner in Duke CE, one that is committed to driving excellence in leadership and organizational performance.

Ultimately, the partnership stands as a shining example of how customized leadership development programs can transform an organization. By addressing specific leadership gaps, fostering innovation, and nurturing a new mindset among its leaders, Implats has not only enhanced its bottom line but also positioned itself for sustained success in a dynamic industry. The partnership underscores the importance of investing in leadership development as a strategic imperative for any organization that aspires to thrive in today’s fast-paced business environment.

As Implats and Duke CE continue to collaborate and innovate, we hope they serve as an inspiration for others on the journey toward unlocking leadership excellence. 

Nishen Munnisunker is managing director at Duke Corporate Education in South Africa.