The tale of OIM Consulting, a South African business led by Managing Director Arjen de Bruin, is a fascinating one.
Today, the consultancy is well-known across the mining sector for being a leader in organisational improvement, working with industry giants such as Gold Fields and Anglo American Platinum. But this journey has been one peppered with change, obstacles and learnings, explains De Bruin, paving the way for the OIM we know today.
“During South Africa’s darkest apartheid years, the forerunner of what is now known as OIM was founded in 1974 – a non-profit organisation (NPO) which focused on conflict resolution, the management of union relationships and cross-cultural development programmes to bridge racial divides, explains De Bruin. “Just over a decade after its inception, the commercial consultancy arm of the NPO was established, which went on to become what is today known as OIM Consulting.
De Bruin says that OIM was born from the desire to heal the deep rifts between South Africa’s races. Over time, the business diversified its focus, shifting from mediation and facilitation to pioneering a unique integrated approach to performance management.
A core component of this approach encompasses changing mindsets through creating buy-in around organisational purpose. The approach is packaged under OIM’s Supervisory Development Programme (SDP), which has been implemented at numerous local and international companies, with powerful results.
Yet, while the OIM business has changed over the years, De Bruin says that “it remains firmly rooted in uniting people.”
This philosophy is based on the teachings of OIM founder, Professor Robert Tusenius, who maintained that people – regardless of background – want the same thing: the best for their family and future.
Explains De Bruin, “He leveraged this understanding to bring people together, through highlighting the commonality between individuals. His Climate Creation Workshops (CCWs) were attended by employees of all backgrounds, races, ages and genders. He asked them, what is your idea of a better life? Is it paying off the house, sending your kids to varsity, or looking after your parents?
“He showed them that work was the best way to achieve this life, and when a company ran more efficiently, everyone benefitted. The more people were made to understand, the more willing they were to change behaviour.
“He also made people realise the importance of treating each other with respect and dignity, by establishing a Code of Conduct, whereby employees would hold one another accountable to the code.”
While OIM’s intellectual property (IP) is locally researched and developed, with a pivotal emphasis on coaching to create sustained behaviour change, its Culture Alignment Workshops (CAW), a key part of its programmes, are still rooted in Tusenius’ teachings.
“CAW is premised on the belief that attitudes create mindsets; which, in turn, drive behaviour. If you want to fundamentally change mindsets, you need to unite people towards a common goal. By helping people understand the why behind something, you can promote buy-in. Through demonstrating the importance of treating others – not according to the whim of our moods and emotions – but with dignity and respect, you foster a happier, healthier, more engaged workforce.”
With a background in industrial psychology, De Bruin’s focus was primarily concerned with productivity when he joined OIM in 2010. “I was taught that to maximise operational efficiency, you had to get people’s productivity levels up, at all costs.
“The productivity of your average South African employee covers around 50%. By applying the correct toolsets and skillsets, we can lift this by around 30 – 35%. We managed to do this, very successfully.”
He adds that over time – and after being exposed to Tusenius’ teachings – he began to realise the importance of culture. “This aspect – the need to catalyse a mindset shift – was my ‘penny drop’ moment, he says, “when I saw how pivotal it was to embed change.
“This is where we realised our approach needed to be three-pronged: we provide toolsets, enhance skillsets, and change mindsets. By doing this, we can better position an organisation for sustained change.”
When asked about his personal purpose or the why behind why he does what he does, he says: “It’s simple. I want people to be the best they can be.
“I want people to succeed, and I want to give them the tools they need to do this.
He goes on to explain, “When people succeed at work, they make businesses more profitable. A profitable business creates more opportunities and wealth within the communities in which it operates. This, in turn, enriches lives.
“It’s a powerful cycle.”