Refining Lives. Releasing Value.

OIM's journey to becoming a leader in equipping supervsors for operational excellence

From its early roots in cross-cultural mediation to becoming one of the leading business improvement consultancies in Africa, the story of OIM Consulting is an extraordinary one. Now OIM is considered the goto consultancy for supervisory efficiency, with an established track record for driving profitable and sustainable change with giants such as Gold Fields, Anglo American and De Beers, among others.

The test of time

Since 1985, OIM’s journey has been marked by transformative shifts, and the invaluable lessons learnt over the years have led to it becoming the consultancy it is today. The precursor to OIM Consulting emerged in 1974 as a non-profit organisation, dedicated to conflict resolution, managementunion relationships, and the establishment of a cross-culture development programme that aimed to bridge racial divides. Just over a decade later, the commercial consultancy arm was established, which ultimately evolved into the present-day OIM. 

CEO Arjen de Bruin explains, “As time progressed, the commercial arm shifted its focus from mediation and facilitation to spearheading an integrated, people-centric approach to performance improvement that has been successfully implemented in numerous industries and has stood the test of time.”

It starts with your people

While OIM’s approach has evolved over the years, De Bruin asserts that the company has remained anchored in creating value through capacitating individuals.

“OIM has always focused on the link between the individual and business success. In fact, one of the OIM founders maintained that people—regardless of race and background—all want the same thing: the best for their family and future. So, ultimately, people actively contributing toward a common goal is directly linked to company success and their own goal of a better life.”

"It has to begin with your people; and your front-line leaders in particular"

De Bruin says that OIM still defines itself as a people-focused business, as opposed to a digital or process-centric business, and this has been key to its success. “Mechanisation alone will not boost a mine’s output, nor will machines ever be able to replicate the judgment of a person; motivate and inspire a team; or solve operational obstacles.

“All these things—technology, processes, automation—are important, but we have seen over and over that no matter how solid the process or transformative the technology, if your people aren’t capacitated and you don’t have their buy-in and support, you’re dead in the water.

“It has to begin with your people; and your front-line leaders in particular,” he asserts.

Skillsets, toolsets, mindsets

Over the past 12 years the company has worked extensively in the mining industry and built a solid reputation for developing the people who manage your daily operational environment – supervisors. OIM targets their competency and productivity levels, while addressing the wider organisational challenges, to improve business results. What you want is for operational excellence to become ‘business as usual’.

“All businesses will tell you that the supervisor is the hub of the wheel and that they are the ones who make strategy happen. Whatever targets you have set and whatever culture you want, the supervisor is pivotal to ensuring these are achieved,” De Bruin explains. “But company after company will also admit that the supervisory level is where they need the most help. We have found that 91% of supervisors follow an unstructured and reactive approach to job execution and only 17% have the required competencies for their role.”

The company’s signature Supervisory Development Programme (SDP) has been designed to equip front-line leaders with the required skillsets and toolsets, and affect mindsets to drive sustainable success.

In essence, the intervention encompasses baseline competency and role assessments, followed by interactive classroom learning, and finally, extensive measurable on-the-floor coaching. It is this coaching, says De Bruin, which is the key differentiator.

“You cannot only go broad in your approach—you need to go deep as well. Coaching offers the necessary ‘depth’ for operational excellence. By reinforcing the reallife application of the principles learnt in the classroom, and introducing customised tools for the environment, we can embed new habits and practices into the supervisor’s day, ensuring they are consistently applied.

“Our intervention has an 80% focus on this type of operational coaching to unlock productivity benefits. It’s a hands-on, daily thing. We literally go underground, in the pits, or stand in the plants with the supervisor to observe and understand what needs to be executed, how the leader executes and manages his/her team, and what the broader, cross-functional interaction looks like.”

And the stats speak for themselves. Upon completion of its SDP, OIM typically sees up to a 39% improvement in competency levels and an 84% enhancement in role execution, while 52% of supervisors adopt a more structured approach to their work.

As a result, there is also a significant positive impact on
productivity. “One of our mining clients reported a remarkable 41% upsurge in gold production and an 86% increase in tonnes per rig,” says De Bruin.

Sustainability is created through building internal capacity among
direct managers, integrating the new way of doing into all core processes, and establishing regular audits for ongoing measurement.

“It’s about creating competent leaders, instilling efficient processes, and fostering highperforming cultures.”

A safety mindset

De Bruin highlights that the SDP has evolved over the past few months to encompass a more intentional focus on safety. “If your environment is unsafe or your people are behaving in a risky manner, your lost-time injuries increase, which will affect your output and ultimately hinder your journey toward operational excellence. A structured environment is generally a safer environment.”

He adds that OIM approaches safety in the same way it does the rest of its offerings: people first. “Research shows that 80% of safety incidents are born out of a poor safety mindset, which leads to unsafe practices and behaviour. You can have the most thorough safety handbook or processes in the world, but if a safety mindset is not cultivated in your workforce, you’re going to run into problems.

“And so, we approach safety through a combination of diagnostics, training and operational coaching to guide supervisors and their teams to proactively regulate their safety behaviours— which is congruent with our philosophy.”

Refining lives, releasing value

De Bruin says OIM’s ultimate purpose is to better the lives of those who participate in the programme which, in turn, creates value—value for the individual, for the company and, ultimately, for communities. It is this purpose that has informed the company’s new pay-off line: Refining Lives. Releasing Value. “We capacitate leaders and their teams by equipping them with tools, sharpening their skills and positively influencing their mindsets. That potential can then transform companies and extend to the respective communities, as many of the skills we impart transcend the work environment.

“Upon leaving a client, we want each person we’ve taught to know how to set direction, plan, problem-solve and lead and inspire teams effectively. These are the kinds of transferable skills that not only help them at work but also in their homes and communities.

“We strive to make a meaningful contribution to the prosperity of our clients and consultants; and to make a difference in the lives of the individuals and communities we engage every day,” he adds.

What's next for OIM

De Bruin says the next chapter in OIM’s journey is to use its learnings and proven methodologies to solve challenges in other markets. “Wherever we go, whether it is a conference in the Americas or Australia, it seems that our solution to the supervisory challenge resonates with people.”

And so, at the end of 2023, he headed Down Under to get OIM Consulting’s new Australian operation off the ground. “Each market is different and nuanced. And we have always maintained there is no one-size-fits-all approach. So, we are adapting our programme to the unique
needs and challenges of the Australian mining sector. “However, we maintain that regardless of market, real change will always start with your people, and we’re excited to take our people-centric approach to operational excellence into new international territories.”