Changing Mindsets

OIM Consulting aims to give people the tools and the means to become successful in order to impact communities and the greater South Africa.

OIM (Operational Improvement Management) was established in 1985 by Professor Robert Tusenius from the Stellenbosch Business School, to focus on the public and private sector—building on NGO initiatives to establish a just, prosperous and equal-opportunity South Africa. African Mining News spoke with managing director Arjen de Bruin to find out more about the rationale behind OIM Consulting and the work it is doing in the mining industry.

Back in the ‘80s, the main focus of the company was on culture, due to the political climate at the time. According to De Bruin, Prof. Tusenius’ view was basically that, if there is a fence dividing two countries, why is the one country doing better than the other—what makes them different? Why does a river change the effectiveness of one nation versus another? He then began looking at the cultural aspects of South Africa.

Many businesses sat up and started listening to what Prof. Tusenius was saying. He wanted to create a culture in organisations so that no matter the race or background of the employees and management, everyone would subscribe to that same culture. 

He believed that views impact attitudes, which in turn impact behaviour. The goal was to have a common behaviour.

Thus, OIM began as a culture company. There have been a number of shifts in focus since its establishment. In 1995, OIM moved from workshop facilitation to consultation and training. In 1997, the company developed a more formalised and integrated approach to business performance improvement in various areas. From 2006, manufacturing solutions and operations capabilities were added, along with the business lines of Talent Management (2006), Value Chain Solutions (2007), and Research & HR Outsource (2008). OIM Leadership Talent was established in 2009. In 2010, then CEO Tjaart Minnaar introduced Operations Solutions. But many clients wanted to become more efficient and effective in their processes after they had successfully changed the culture in their organisations, so OIM Consulting expanded into leadership development. It was at this time that De Bruin joined the company, which was now able to give clients an integrated view of change in culture—becoming more efficient and developing their leadership talent. “We try to see a company holistically,” says De Bruin. “We have a mantra that says, ‘Operational efficiency without culture change is unsustainable’.”

OIM’s service offerings were reorganised in 2013 into one central company, OIM Group, to focus on the core business areas of operational optimisation, people management and organisational performance.

Then in 2018, management realised that the company’s supervisory development programme was a niche in the market. Other culture companies were just doing culture, and other training companies were simply offering training. OIM decided to focus on the role of the supervisor. Says De Bruin, “A small mine in the Northern Cape actually said to us, ‘You’re doing all this efficiency and culture stuff, but you’re not working with the supervisors. When you leave, we don’t think you’ve really changed anything.’ But we told them we worked with the supervisors, we talked to them, we had workshops with them. And they said that’s the point—we were doing things for them. So they suggested we build a supervisory programme to teach the supervisors skills and competencies.”

According to De Bruin, there are a number of reasons these supervisors are not able to work efficiently. The most common is that employees with strong technical skills are promoted to the role of supervisor, but they are not able to work with people—they are used to drilling and blasting, for example. That is what they are good at. Unfortunately, they cannot lead. Another reason is that there is a massive skills shortage in the country. Someone may list on their CV that they have five years’ experience as a supervisor, but that does not mean he or she is good at it. But the mining companies need to plug their gaps, so they recruit these inefficient supervisors. “We always talk about two types of supervisors,” De Bruin explains. “Those who are willing but not able, so they want to do the job but they should never have been in that role. Then you have the able, but not willing—they have all the tools, they know what to do, but they’re just not willing. Those are the ones you need to have discussions with.”

Only about 20% of supervisors are competent, De Bruin reveals. “But when we coach them, we move them from 20% to 55% competent. We’re not saying we’re going to make every person competent, but if we can just get these guys to execute their day better, that makes a difference.” That is why OIM analyses role execution: “Most supervisors only effectively execute the day 51% of the time. Now we move the dial to 81% and we increase the competency. You can actually coach people to be effective. They don’t have to shoot the lights out; you only need to get them to do what they need to do effectively —and if they can lead their teams better, then that’s even better.”

So in 2018, OIM built a whole new framework from scratch, identifying the competencies needed by supervisors and developing training and coaching programmes. OIM Group was restructured and rebranded as  OIM Consulting. Consultants coached the supervisors for 12 to 16 weeks and operational KPIs were measured to see where there had been improvements—both in individuals and in the organisation as a whole. It was a great success, but OIM did not think it would become such a sought-after service in the mining industry. Soon other organisations were approaching OIM Consulting for its supervisory programme, stating that they were also struggling with inefficient and ineffective supervisors who were not operating at the optimal standard.

“That was a game changer for us,” says De Bruin. “We picked up a lot of good clients such as Khumba and Gold Fields’ South Deep.” The latter had a history  of 11 years of losses, so OIM left a team behind there in 2020 and helped turn the mine around (see sidebar). In 2021, Anglo American Platinum signed a four-year programme with OIM Consulting to coach all their supervisors throughout their operations.

Digging Deep

Like many other sectors in South Africa, the mining industry was severely impacted by the national COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. In line with the measures announced by Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe on 25 March 2020, mining operations—particularly deep-level mining, which is generally considered labour-intensive —were scaled down significantly.

Gold Fields’ South Deep Mine, located on the West Rand, was placed on care and maintenance in April and, in compliance with government regulations, operated well below its full labour complement for the remainder of the lockdown period. Despite this, South Deep continued to show progress on most of its operational measures during the first half of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, largely due to an organisational culture and capability alignment process.

Since acquiring South Deep in 2006, Gold Fields experienced a number of organisational challenges and setbacks, preventing it from operating as
a modern, bulk, mechanised and profitable mine. To address these challenges, Gold Fields embarked on a strategic transformation journey that included an organisational restructuring exercise, followed by a broader cultural and capability alignment process.

South Deep engaged OIM Consulting to support the cultural and operating aspects of the process. OIM Consulting’s four-pillared process is centred around what it considers to be the beating heart of any organisation: its front-line leaders. “Our process addresses cultural change, the identification and building of new capabilities, and performance assessment, management and improvement —with a pivotal focus on the supervisor as key to sustaining this improvement,” explains De Bruin.

The initial results at South Deep were extremely encouraging, with the mine reporting a profit at the end of the initial 12-month period. More revealingly were the metrics that demonstrated significant operational improvement: the mine saw a 41% increase in gold production when comparing H1 2019 with H2 2019. Its overall productivity in 2019 improved by 30% to 26.7 tonnes per employee, costed from 20.5 tonnes per employee in 2018. The overall efficiencies for development and destress improved to 60m/rig per month in 2019 from 39m/rig per month in 2018—all contributing in turning the net loss made in 2018 to a net profit of over R104 million in 2019. As De Bruin points out, “these results were achieved with approximately 30% less staff and equipment than the year before.”

De Bruin attributes the integration of culture, capabilities and practices as the foundation that underpins all operational improvements. “In order to improve output and efficiencies, one needs to start with changing mindsets, through developing appropriate and relevant skillsets and toolsets.”

“If you don’t have competent people doing and executing the job properly, it’s not going to work,”

says De Bruin. “People talk about mechanisation—we talk about modernisation. Mechanisation is just people buying equipment. Modernisation is having the right people with the right equipment with the right processes with the right mindset.

“You can automate all you want, but there’s still a guy who needs to do his job effectively. So get the culture right, get the process right, but also get your operational leadership working. Obviously, we need the execs. We talk about culture creators and culture carriers. Your execs create the culture, but your supervisors and superintendents carry your culture—and if there’s a disconnect, you never fully deliver.”

Arjen De Bruin - OIM Consulting Managing Director

The whole philosophy of OIM Consulting is that they want to impact people, because people impact communities—and if you impact communities, you actually create a wealthier community and a wealthier South Africa. “Our role is basically to give people the tools and the means to become successful so that companies can actually generate wealth, because if a company makes more money it usually expands and more people are hired,” adds De Bruin.

The company has big plans for the future. Most importantly, OIM Consulting wants to become the global thought leader on supervisors within the mining industry. “I think we are already a thought leader within the South African context,” says De Bruin with pride. “We’ve also worked in Rwanda and Zimbabwe and we’ll be going to Lesotho soon. So we have an idea of what an African supervisor looks like.” The next step is to go international and work with global mining houses. The company is looking to double its growth again this year and employ 100 consultants by 2023 (up from the current 65).

OIM Consulting is expanding its digital capabilities to excel in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, having already branched into augmented reality and gamification. The company has also created OIM Raeda, its Coaching to Performance supervisory development platform on which an individual’s competencies, role assessments and role execution, and operational KPIs are loaded—plus the whole year’s calendar of coaching, with space to add in notes. It is an individual’s entire coaching history.

De Bruin concludes, “I’d like us to be the consultancy people phone because we can transform their mines. I’d like people to say, ‘Call OIM—they’re the guys who can do this’.”