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Culture and change management

Business integration: Michelle Greenhalgh FCPHR, General Manager, People and Benefits, MMG

When you already have everything you could want from your HR career, why would you get certified? Michelle Greenhalgh FCPHR explains.

With a high-level job at a big mining company, decades of experience in her profession, various academic and professional qualifications – including being a registered psychologist – Michelle Greenhalgh FCPHR had to ask herself, “Why on earth would I undertake HR certification?”

That’s when she realised that for her, and the profession to which she’s devoted so much time, it came down to credibility. “You look at HR, and everyone thinks they can hang up their shingle and be an expert in people,” she says.

That’s a powerful statement considering Michelle’s life’s work is testament to the credible value of HR. Just look at her recent role as General Manager, People and Benefits, at MMG.

Top of the mountain

Though MMG’s headquarters are in Melbourne, Michelle’s role takes her from Laos, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the top of the Peruvian Andes. It was here that her company bought the Las Bambas mine in 2014 for $US 7 billion. Her integration strategy for the mine became the case study for her Senior Leaders Pathway to AHRI certification.

The mine wasn’t finished when it was acquired, so a prerequisite of the strategy was that it couldn’t delay construction. Getting a full understanding of the current setup through consultations with the people on the ground was paramount. After this process it was decided that small improvements would be made, but dramatic changes were to be avoided.

Las Bambas was completed in early 2016. It has about 2000 employees and 6500 contractors, mostly from the mine’s Apurímac region and some from Lima. There’s a further 100 people at MMG’s Lima office.

The work at Las Bambas is ongoing – the nature of HR is to seek continual improvement. So Michelle’s team has been “chipping away” at removing management layers and encouraging employees to feel comfortable speaking to the level of management they need to so they can do their job well and safely.

Across cultural boundaries

One of the most impressive HR tasks is enabling cross-cultural understanding, and Michelle has done that. Her Australian-based company is 70 per cent Chinese owned and so when she’s travelling overseas she’s effectively navigating three cultures.

As an example of how culture affects approach, in the Melbourne office, individual Australian employees are empowered to give candid feedback to CEO Jerry Jiao during listening sessions. But this wouldn’t work in Laos, she says, where the culture is very “consultative” and people prefer to discuss an issue as a group and then nominate a spokesperson to give the group’s view to senior management.

On the other hand, part of integrating Las Bambas was encouraging the Peruvian employees to mimic the Australian staff when it came to speaking up. On a recent visit to Las Bambas, Michelle got some compelling evidence that the strategy was working. An operations manager, beaming with pride, had a story to tell. “One of his supervisors had asked the executive general manager if he could have a ‘career conversation’, which he said was unheard of elsewhere in Peru.”

Seeing employees “give their own take” on company policies is another sign of successful integration, Michelle says. She recalls first seeing the video of MMG’s values launch at Las Bambas. “The miners were doing this amazing funky dance on stage complete with a light show,” she says. In the background, the values were displayed amid images of big hearts, while Andean music played and employees cheered.

The heights of leadership

It’s obvious from hearing her talk, and seeing the work she’s done, that Michelle more than lives up to the values and capabilities of her AHRI certification as a Fellow Certified Practitioner Human Resources (FCPHR).

Her decision to become certified was deeply embedded in her desire to benefit the whole profession. Setting the HR standard is a key reason why AHRI is driving certification, and for Michelle, being a good role model for her company and for those coming through the ranks is very important.

“I’ve spent my career head down and bum up working really hard,” she says. “And you just get to a point in your career where you think, ‘yeah, I’ve got this now. I’m still working hard but I can take a step back and help other people to learn from what I’ve been through’.”

Read HRM article (April 2018): How to pull off a high stakes project in a different cultural context