OIM Consulting MD on delivering sustainable business outcomes through cultural change

Article by: Jess Phillips – www.intelligentsme.tech 

A cultural mindset is central to creating a sustainable business. That is the philosophy of OIM Consulting, a South Africa headquartered firm which works predominantly with manufacturing and mining organisations to provide consultancy and training to middle management. Here, Arjen de Bruin, MD, OIM Consulting, talks us through his own management philosophy, company history and why the business is committed to socio-economic development.

Arjen de Bruin, MD, OIM Consulting

OIM Consulting is a South Africa based company which provides an integrated approach to business improvement in the key areas of organisational performance, people management and operational optimisation.

While the company works across multiple sectors, key areas of focus are mining and manufacturing, with the team of 50 consultants aiming to help clients achieve sustainable success through the development of people and culture; and by enhancing core competencies.

Intelligent SME.tech spoke with Arjen de Bruin, MD, OIM Consulting, to find out more about the organisation and how it has navigated the challenges of the last two years.

Tell us a bit more about your business and how it started.

It started in 1985 from a cultural diversity programme point of view. At that time, in South Africa, there was major political upheaval. Our founder, Professor Robert Tusenius, was part of the Dutch resistance and moved to South Africa.  

He began looking at diversity and political issues and asked, ‘What’s the commonality among us? What cultural fits do we have? What makes it work?’. 

He started building development programmes for political, economic and student leaders from different cultural backgrounds. Then, businesses started saying they also needed these programmes to create a new culture.  

So, that’s how we started. Then in 2010, there was another radical change where we integrated the culture programme into the efficiency. One of our mantras is you can’t have sustainability in efficiencies if you don’t change current mindsets.  

When we work with companies, we look at how efficiently they operate, leadership capability and how we can change the culture to make them more sustainable and prosperous. 

How has the business grown and how have you ensured that growth?

We’ve had a massive surge this last year. We had about 16 consultants, but this year, we’ve grown to about 50 so have more than doubled our size. One of the major reasons for our growth is because the mining industry’s commodity price boom has really benefited us as a company.  

The potential pipeline for us in 2022 means we will double again as a company. 

The other benefit we have is that we’ve very niche in supervisory middle management and operational leadership, working with businesses to identify how they lead effectively in that middle tier. We do it through our coaching to performance framework. Our whole role is coaching people into the new ways of work and new behaviours, and through that we show return on investment. 

What is your management philosophy and how do you embed this across the business?

We have an open philosophy, so we’re very transparent with our staff. We show them the numbers and tell them where we are – the good and the bad.  

That being said, we are project-based, so when we send people out on projects there needs to be a chain of command and roles followed. But when it comes to the company – where we’re at and what’s happening – anyone can email me or any of the leadership team.  

We’re very people-focused and consensus driven. If you work with people, you must have empathy. If people know you, they know your heart.  

We believe that when you impact people, you impact communities. We want communities to grow through people because people have an impact. 

What has your own career looked like so far?

I finished university with a degree in industrial psychology. I was going to go into the organisational and leadership development space, and I moved into the operational consulting space for a huge insurance company, which taught me I cannot live in the corporate world.  

I then moved to an international consultancy where I learned a lot of methodologies before joining a two-man company, which was doing very leading-edge process automation – workflow, call centres and electronic content management systems. I took all the knowledge that I had from the previous consultancy and applied it to the technology projects.  

Then in 2010, I was asked to create a new OIM division, looking at efficiency improvements. We started saying, ‘OK, so you’ve got efficiency, you’ve got automation, but you also have people. People have attitudes, values and behaviours. So that’s your culture aspect. How do you make people more efficient but change the culture?’  

The next journey was integrating people with technology, efficiency and processes. My journey has been quite exciting – I’ve worked in all industries, with technology and without. 

How do you ensure different teams in your organisation work together?

We have a small office in Cape Town, where none of the mining industries are located. The team structure is critical since our employees work away from home weekly, meaning the team becomes family.  

We make sure that anyone who joins the company is team based and likes working with people, because you don’t want disruption in the emotional equilibrium. The whole hiring process is looking for team-centric people, who can influence, communicate and are easy to work with.   

The second aspect is our structure, which is quite rigid. We always have daily feedback sessions. There’s always communication on what’s going on and from a management side, we schedule physical management meetings monthly. 

How do you work with other senior executives to make sure each individual voice is heard?

From a leadership perspective, we want leaders to be approachable and be comfortable with admitting mistakes or not having the answers to all questions. 

It’s those kinds of things that make people see that you’re real – what you say is what you mean, you make mistakes and when you say something, you keep your promise.  

In our company, you must respect every single person for who they are, what they are and what they stand for. It’s just common sense. People are people. We love people for who they are, so we try and bring that across.

Tell us more about your organisation’s commitment to socio-economic development and why this is so important?

We’ve created a trust where a portion of the company is owned by our black employees – in the context of South Africa that includes people of Indian origin, black and mixed race – so a total of 30% of the profits will go through to the trust, to previously disadvantaged communities.  

We also try, where we can, to help with schools in South African townships. We supported a small primary school, which takes kids and tries to give them a decent education. One of the biggest problems in South Africa is the education system is not effective as we would like it to be, specifically in poorer, impoverished areas.  

From an employment equity policy, we’re striving to become more diverse in our consultants. Right now, we are at about 60% diverse with our consultants. But in total, including leadership and support staff, we are on just over 40% diversity so we are continuing to move towards that.  

We’re not hiring to try and fill quotas. We’re hiring people because they’re good at the job and that’s what we love.  

It’s exceptionally exciting to be able to walk into a room and it doesn’t matter who sits in front of you, you can pick skills from a whole range of diverse groups in South Africa. 

How important is technology to your overall business development strategy?

Technology is a major player towards our strategy. OIM Consulting is moving towards digitising nearly all its processes and key offerings. We have two exciting projects on the go; one is the gamification of our competency assessments, including Augmented Reality (AR), and the building of our supervisory development platform which is cloud based and will house all our supervisory methodology and IP. We call the system ‘Raeda’, which means ‘coach’ in Latin. 

This year we created an IT department within OIM Consulting whose specific focus is to development the relevant technologies for our business. 

What do the next 12 months have in store for OIM and how do you prepare your forward strategy?

We are very excited about the next year. We’re looking at partnerships with two global mining companies. We want to take our offerings and methodologies outside of Africa, looking at North America and Australasia.  

We were also approached by a company on the Australian Stock Exchange and the South African Stock Exchange that would like to partner with us on our methodologies for them.  

We are on quite a strong growth trajectory, on the back of mining.  

We are building a supervisory development platform, so automating our whole process.