Friday, 29 March 2013

Site Managers - What they and I think I do........

As it is the Easter Bank Holiday this coming weekend we thought that we would take a slightly different approach to the blog this week and celebrate the long weekend with a dab of construction related comedy.

Whilst we have a lot of work to do around the image of construction, its healthy to have a little laugh at the current perceptions. My personal bug bear was always - "so your an architect....."

Not to exclude anyone planners, QS's, drylinners, ground workers and architects we would love to see your versions.

Happy building 

Chrissi x

Friday, 22 March 2013

What is the business case for diversity in the built environment?

There are a number of reasons why considering diversity is good for your business these include:

  • To prevent legislative costs,
  • To reap the benefits of employing a diverse team,
  • To increase success on public sector tenders,
  • To create a more supportive working environment.

When considering the business case you really need to think about what area of the business you are focusing on and what the business case means to you for example do you value the bottom line, employee retention or productivity as a priority?

The research is stronger in some areas than others for example women on strategic boards is an area currently receiving a lot of attention due to the Davies report and the direction France, Spain and Norway have taken with regards to quotas. The wonderful catalyst has also been doing great work for 50 years this year looking at the benefits of gender equality.

Yet diversity isn’t all about gender, what about people from different ethnic and religious communities or those who for some other reason experience life in a different way to the majority? In construction there hasn’t been too much research looking at a tangible business argument though there is research from outside of the sector.

The current research suggests that there is an argument for diversity when it is well managed and understood. Unfortunately a badly thought through strategy can have a negative impact on your business which is why I would always advise clients to avoid undertaking a tick box approach – it’s likely to cost you more in the long run.

The idea behind the business model is that you should be attracting a diverse workforce not to predominantly “do the right thing” or “ensure fairness for all” but in fact to strengthen your productivity and bottom line. Here are some examples of how diversity can be a positive to your organisation.

Become an employer of choice.

For minorities in construction, the support they will receive from their employer is an important factor in choosing who they will work for. It therefore stands to reason that if you can promote high retention rates and support services, you will find more interest from not only minorities but the top end of the workforce in general. A series of surveys by Target Jobs in 2008 into construction found work life balance and development opportunities to be the most important factors in deciding upon an employer.

Improve business performance

Here it’s important to note that the research suggests that a well-managed group of diverse employees will improve your productivity and profit in a number of ways which include mirroring your client base, having a wider pool of experience and creativity and being able to tap into more networks. But if the group is not well managed, the same cannot be said.

Change appears to happen at strategic level when there are more than three women on a board; in fact a US study of fortune 500 companies found that those with 3+ women on the board all reported significantly stronger than average profits.

At tactical level research has found that diverse groups outperform more capably homogeneous groups, which backs up the theory that different experiences provide us with different viewpoints and solutions.

Retain knowledge and experience

Research into diversity in construction suggests that more could have been done to stop the majority of women leaving the construction industry. What’s more compelling is the amount of money that could have been saved if we had. A 2009 government report “Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement.” put the cost of replacing an employee roughly equivalent to their salary, once training, corporate knowledge and intellectual capita are considered. The same report found that committed employees are 87% less likely to leave their organisations than those less engaged; they also perform 20% better. Instead of thinking can we afford to support our staff? Isn’t it time we started to question if we can afford not to?

Skills Shortage

The latest skills survey from the CIOB finds 72% of respondents felt there was still a skills shortage. Without recruiting from the entire selection pool we are not only failing to meet demand for numbers but also failing to find the best candidates for the roles available. Increasingly a number of smaller studies have found that young men are also avoiding construction due to its macho image and male dominance. In short, to ensure that we encourage the best recruits, we need to offer the most appealing, diverse and professional environment.

Meet procurement standards and stakeholder requirements

Public authorities need to meet the equality duties of The Equality Act 2010 and more importantly, so do their subcontractors. With 60% of current work coming from this sector that’s big news for contractors. By being able to align your organisation to the needs of your client you are putting yourself in a solid position to win more work.

With a large percentage of women and minorities now making procurement decisions for public sector work they want to see themselves represented in your workforce, so if all you have to offer is middle aged white men, it might not be enough.

Happy building, Chrissi

For all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website. 

Friday, 15 March 2013

The middle management minority; using the 6 principles of project management to progress your career.

This blogs borrows from the PRINCE2 seven principles of project management blogged about by projectmanuk; it shall attempt to put the emotional aspects of your career to the side in order to help you progress and achieve your ambitions and goals. It is particularly aimed at minority groups, as they are significantly more likely to face challenges in their work life.  But that being said, the principles can also be applied to a career less likely to face these challenges - quite often the people who would be best placed to lead organisations don’t do so because they place organisational improvement before individual politics; in this circumstance nearly everyone misses out.
  1. Business justification: 
Consider your career as a range of short-term projects
·         Undergraduate to graduate,
·         Traineeship to chartered,
·         Chartered to senior, etc.
Then work out how what is required to get you there, how much this will cost and what additional time you will need to put in. Compare this to the return on your investment - and by return I don’t just mean the average salary you are likely to make, but also the value you place on doing your job, the experiences it will give you and the opportunities it will open up. Keep a check on this at certain key points in your career as circumstances can change, ensure you’re are getting what you need and reassess if you are not. If your career is no longer worth the investment it might be worth finding out why and possibly moving firms or changing careers.

  1. Defined roles and responsibilities: 
Find out exactly what your job role entails and what the job above you requires. Check yourself against your ability to undertake these tasks. Don’t wait for an internal appraisal be proactive so that when your appraisal does come around, you can justify why you think you are ready for that promotion or rise. If the promotion comes around before you have ticked all the boxes still put yourself forward if you have 60% complete. If nothing else it will give you good experience, but being able to show how you have taken hold of your own development, and the skills you have learned over a given period, can prove that you have what is required to do the job even if you’re are not 100% fighting fit. Also, find out the roles of your managers - I don’t advise that you poke a bear with a stick by pointing out where your managers are going wrong, but rather help where you can - show you are an asset that will move the company forward. In short, make sure you really are doing your job and push to achieve the skills you will need for a promotion. Most importantly, make sure people know about it otherwise there really is very little point - I don’t know about you, but I’m too busy trying to manage my own life to be able to notice every detail of someone else’s.
  1. Manage by exception: 
Learn to trust your colleagues and sub-contractors whilst still holding them accountable for their work, in other words let go a little. No one will thank you for micro-managing, and at a professional level you shouldn’t have to. Rather, build relationships and trust and empower those around you to want to produce good work - you’ll be surprised how often people do when given the chance. This doesn’t mean you should be “soft”, if people don’t deliver hold them to account, ensure they redo work and let them know what is and isn’t acceptable – just don’t start a relationship with them as if you have already made up your mind that they will fail, or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Make sure you record the results of your success; soft skill approaches like this can make managers seem “lucky” as there is no visible cause and effect - so show the long term gain in your approach by measuring how often your projects/contractors come in on time/budget/quality and present this to your managers at appraisal. As previously mentioned, they often only know what you tell them, so tell them more.
  1. Focus on skills: 
Think about the skills you want to develop; realistically these should tie into your career plan. Working on the development of these skills can provide you with a way of talking about your development that avoids an emotional situation. For example, instead of talking about how you would have liked to have progressed further and feel unhappy that you haven’t, you can work to develop additional skills that will get you there and use the sum of these skills as evidence for promotion.

  1. Learn from experience: 
Don't risk making the same again and again no matter how unfair the situation might be; consider why certain aspects went well or badly, then incorporate the lessons learned into your approach to your next project. Humans have an amazing capacity to learn, but when it comes to repeating errors made during previous projects, we all too often fail to learn the lessons. If you are not being taken seriously or getting promotions, consider the message you are putting across, learn to manage upwards and sideways as well as down and don’t expect that anyone will notice what you have done just because you have done it.
  1. Tailor to suit the environment: 
Understand how your boss and colleagues work tailor your approach. That doesn’t mean changing your personality, rather working to help them achieve their agendas. It can be too easy to base the world of work upon our own ethics of what is right and wrong; how people should and shouldn’t act - in reality, this is rarely the case - we all have our own moral compass and it’s surprising how much they differ.
The biggest problem with discrimination that two-thirds of minority groups in construction are likely to face is that we will never know about it. From unconscious bias to paternal instincts, discrimination rarely makes a grand entrance these days preferring instead to sneak about in the shadows having a subtle, but important, impact on a career that we don’t usually notice until we feel like it’s too late.
By taking firmer control of your career you can at least be sure you are guiding it in the right direction, and whilst this will not always enable you to overcome discrimination and bias, it will at least give you a way forward. 
Happy Building, Chrissi. 
For all things construction and equality, get yourself over to the Constructing Equality Ltd. website. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Why the Prompt Payment Code matters to people in the construction industry.

I have worked for a main contractor, sub-contractor and, for my sins, I married a PQS - so I’d like to think I have a bit of an idea around how late payments work – though, as always, I’m happy to be corrected.

In the worst case scenario main contractors retain money from sub-contractors so that they can invest/buy land.

“Evil main contractors!” I hear you say? Well no, not always. Whilst some companies do this as a business model, many are being forced back down a route that was abandoned in the early 2000’s due to client’s ever increasing pressure to reduce costs. This means profit margins are slashed and the retention of payment is the only way to make money.

Evil clients then? Well, again, not always; when everyone is submitting similar prices it can be hard to know that something should cost more. Also, the news is rife with stories about construction bid-rigging and cover-pricing. Although in industry we might know there is a big difference between these terms and clients have asked for a cover price on more than one occasion, localised clients don’t. This means there is an air of distrust and reasonable prices can be seen as a bit of a con.

Why does late payment matter to the people?

Quite a few reasons:

  • Sub-contractors have to wait up to three months to get paid, which can mean making staff redundant, but more likely moving to a self-employed model of work. Whilst there are up-sides to this for those who enjoy true self-employment, there is a dirty dark side. Harvey [1] found a large number of people working in construction were falsely self-employed, meaning they had no choice over the hours they worked (the same as a regular employee), but did not receive employee benefits such as holiday pay, sick pay and employment rights. In the very worst cases, the situation was used to pay people less than minimum wage.  This isn't to say that this happens to everyone everywhere, but it does happen and late payments encourage that. As a site manager once said to me, “we once employed a team to supply and pour concrete for less than we could buy it with our own substantial discount – we really should have looked into that.”
  • As a site manager bad subbies would make my life very difficult, and it’s pretty likely that a underpaid, unfairly treated person is not going to be a pleasure to work with - the worse we treat people the worse they behave. Don’t believe me? Look at your own reactions - very few people can smile in the face of constant disadvantage; obviously I’m not including Preston fans. This means our lives are made increasingly difficult, subcontractors are harder to work with and yet we have the same, if not shorter, time frames to do it all in. Not exactly great for our blood pressure. 
  • If, as often happens, a sub-contractor goes under due to late payments, someone is needed to come in last minute which is never easy to find, creating additional headaches and cost. Quite often, more cost than would have been saved if the subbie had been paid on time in the first place.
  • The image of the industry also slips again; stories of late payment, subbies going under and false self-employment create a bleak picture of the industry and of those who work in it, which ultimately feeds the client view. 

Before anyone says this blog adds to the problem, I would disagree. The problem is that acceptance of late payment practices treats people as if they don’t have rights or an expectation of fairness. As a sector we must work together to eradicate these issues by first acknowledging they exist, then finding a way to overcome them. Whilst we are fragmented and apart, Clients cannot always see when a rogue contractor is bringing the sector down. By signing and adhering to a code of practice we can take the steps in the right direction.  And though no one is saying this will make the world better overnight, at least it won’t be pushing it further backward.

Happy Building, Chrissi.

For all things construction and equality; get yourself over to Constructing Equality Ltd.

Friday, 1 March 2013

The business of site: 10 things running a site can tell you about running a business.

Last week when we spoke about the reasons why we felt a career in construction was worth it, we started thinking a little about the link between working on site and running a business.  After all building sites might have the support of head office, but more often than not you’re pretty alone out there and the process you follow of setting up office, managing work and closing the site down is pretty similar to any small business with an exit strategy. So for those who have been caught out by the recession, or others seeking new opportunities, why not think about your skills differently and see how you can apply them to your own business.   

This week let’s consider 10 things running a site can tell you about running a business.   

Please note, I've written these from the point of view of a setting-out engineer/site manager, so please feel free to comment on how other roles might see this transition: -

1.     How to start.

So you've got a site and an idea of what needs to be done, but how do you do it? Think like a site and get a plan, establish contacts, collate the right information and find out what the critical path is. You already know how to ring people you don’t know, so just do it; try to imagine yourself as a business, not an individual, and this will be a lot easier.

2.     Managing finance

I know unless you work in America most sites will have a QS that handles this work, but that doesn't mean there is no financial interaction; the basics are there - collecting information for contra-charges, checking day rate sheets and information learnt from progress meetings. Trust me, you know this stuff and, whilst some of it gets a bit more complicated, for about £100 a year you can hire an accountant to take the pain away.

3.     Managing staff

If you can motivate sub-contractors who don’t work directly for you, you have already got more skill in this area than you’re giving yourself credit for. Do be careful though, it’s much more difficult to manage people directly; you are paying them with money that could otherwise be going into your own pocket, which is why it’s even more important to build up trusting relationships and empower your employees.

4.     Managing programs

This is, kind of, our thing, which makes life easier - though do be prepared to find out that Microsoft Project Professional costs about £900 per computer; like me, you might have to go old school and use excel for, at least, the first few years.

5.     Producing a quality product

Again, you know what to check for and how to ensure quality; you know when a line needs to be drawn to mm thickness and when a can of spray will do. Apply this to your business to help you prioritise and not waste time on work that doesn’t need to be perfect; trust me, when you’re running your own business, time is not a luxury you will have to waste.

6.     Marketing yourself

Ok, so this is where my plan falls down a little. Most builders I know are not great marketers, but they do have a great base of hard work and quality product to build upon. The industry needs to up-skill when it comes to telling people how much it achieves so don’t take lessons from it here, instead look outside of the sector and see how other companies brand and sell that brand.

7.     Added value

Another thing we do a lot in construction. We look at the big picture; the building needs to get built so we put in extra hours, skills and money to make it happen, often without really considering it – it’s just got to be done. Think of your business in the same way, without being taken advantage of, and work with your clients to achieve their goals. If this means a small bit of additional work, weigh up what’s best in the long run.

8.     Entrepreneurial spirit

On site we find ourselves problem-solving as a matter of course, which is a great stepping stone into business management. Knowing how to overcome issues, seeing the bigger picture and knowing what needs to be done are tools you can’t afford to be without.

9.     Managing risk

In business you need to know which risks will provide a return and which are best left alone.  Again this is something we learn through health and safety training and the day to day experience of life on site.

10. Leadership

Running a site means leading a team. If you can get a site to follow your vision you should appreciate that as a valuable skill that is not as common as you think, and being able to apply that to your own business is a key factor in success.

Happy building, Chrissi

For all things construction and equality; get yourself over to Constructing Equality Ltd.