Tel: 0115 9699 925 | Email:

Author Archive for: mariacoulter

The link between Great British Bake Off, Ironing and Construction

The link between Great British Bake Off, Ironing and Construction

It’s Thursday, it’s 10.30am and it’s definitely time for cake.  In fact, I’ve just had a bit at the lovely 200 Degrees coffee shop in Nottingham (other 200 Degrees are available).  They even had a joke on the board outside, ‘I had a joke about construction, but I’m still working on it’!  How rude?!

How many people watched the new GBBO this week?  If you’d seen the publicity photos leading up to it you would have noticed they were all holding a piece of rainbow cake.  So, what’s that got to do with Construction?  I recently wrote a course for the Chartered Institute of Building Academy on Ethics and Compliance in Construction.  It’s a free five week course on the FutureLearn platform and we’ve already had two cohorts go through it with some great feedback.

When I was writing the content I had to think really hard about how to describe ethics.  I’m a Chartered Surveyor, have been since 2001 but apart from a ‘knowing’ of what is right and wrong and adhering to codes of conduct,  I hadn’t really delved deeply into the subject of ethics.  One evening, I had a flash of inspiration (or maybe I was just hungry!) and a picture of a rainbow cake came into my head.

When you look at a rainbow cake from the outside it looks plain, but when you cut into it you see all of the different layers, similar to ethics.  Everyone is unique and the layers that influence your ethical decisions are:

  • Childhood upbringing
  • Beliefs, including religious beliefs
  • Culture
  • Values
  • Later life experiences
  • Discussion with others

Writing this course has got me thinking about behaviours and culture in our industry and the concept of being able to be yourself in the workplace or, bringing your whole self to work.  Having to suppress who you are can have such a negative impact on your mental wellbeing but first of all you have to know who you are in the first place.  From the feedback the CIOB have received so far, this course has definitely helped with that and started some great conversations.

The next run of the course starts on the 25 September 2017 and there is a link here to book your place.

With the ‘bringing your whole self to work’ concept, I recently posted a video of me ironing on my Facebook page.  The video wasn’t made because me ironing is such a rare occasion (although my husband would beg to differ), it was in response to a post I read on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.  If you do watch it, I would be interested in your thoughts.  My husband was also very confused when he came home to see the ironing board had been used, but at least he had a shirt ironed that day!

Now, how many people will eat cake after reading this blog……

Why Concrete and Coaching Don’t Mix

Why Concrete and Coaching Don’t Mix

Following on from a coaching session with one of my Clients yesterday it got me thinking about the concept that concrete and coaching don’t mix.

My Client is a Civil Engineering Contractor and is wanting to take his business to the next level so we’ve been having regular coaching sessions to look at what actions he needs to do to grow his business and maximise profits.  When he first contacted me he didn’t have any headspace at all, it was full of all of the things he knew he needed to do and deal with but didn’t know where to start and he was very stressed.  We use the word stress a lot, it’s a feeling that we have but what does it mean?  It’s basically when perceived pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope.

Fast forward a few sessions later and he’s getting clearer but a couple of weeks ago I went to site to do the session as planned and he was having a disastrous day, the concrete pour was not going well and the water had managed to disconnect itself somehow.  That day we cut the session short so he could deal with the issue but that prompted me to share with you a couple of tools you can use to help you get more headspace.

The first one is to breathe.  Sounds a bit daft to say that as we need to breathe BUT, this is called the 7/11 breath.  It’s a technique I was taught on my coaching course and used many times as a Project Manager when I felt stressed and pulled in lots of different directions.  I used to take myself off to the ladies and practice breathing in for 7 counts and breathing out for 11.  Do that a few times and it really does calm you down.  When you get stressed it shuts off the  part of your brain that thinks creatively which is just what you don’t need in that situation.  Next time you feel yourself getting stressed, try it and let me know if it works.

The second tool is simple, when you’re mind is full, write it down.  The short term memory part of your brain acts like the RAM of a computer.  It keeps storing things that keep going round and around your head like an unclosed loop.  If you don’t find a way to close the loop you can literally go loopy!  Every time you tell yourself ‘I need to do this, I must sort that’ but then you don’t do anything with it, your short term memory stores it, and the more things you tell yourself, the fuller it gets until you may feel like your head could explode.

So, get a piece of paper and have a massive dump, a brain dump I’m referring to, just to be clear!  When you write things down that signals to your brain that you’ve closed the loop and it empties it from your short term memory.

Both tools are simple but effective and I hope you find them useful.  Enjoy the rest of your week and I’d love to know how you get on if you use them.

If you haven’t already signed up to my blog and you’d like to, the link is here.

Time to share the industry’s great examples of good

Time to share the industry’s great examples of good

I’d like to say I’m writing this on a sunny day in August but unfortunately the Mediterranean has kidnapped the sun and is holding it to ransom!  Despite the weather I thought I’d share with you a positive industry message for a damp summer’s day.

I recently hijacked Ann Bentley, Global Chair of Rider Levett Bucknall (which I say incorrectly in the video, a bit of a red lorry, yellow lorry moment, apologies Ann!) and member of the Construction Leadership Council chairing the Supply Chain and Business Models work stream.

Myself and Ann sit on the Construction Industry Council main board and Ann acts as our link to the Construction Leadership Council. I remember when the CLC was formed at the same time that the Construction 2025 strategy came out, it has been massively paired down since then but it seems to have focus and direction to bring much needed change and act as an interface between Government and Industry.

Given that the majority of our industry is made up of SME’s and Micro-Businesses I don’t think enough people know who the leaders are and what work is being done on their behalf so I took the opportunity to do an off-the-cuff interview following a recent board meeting. It definitely is off-the-cuff, no flashy lights or flattering camera angles (not for me anyway!) I do, however have some proper microphones and shall most definitely be hijacking more industry leaders for future interviews, so watch out!

There is some great insights into what the CLC are doing in this video but the thing that really stuck in my mind was that they are looking for ‘great examples of good’. Ann’s viewpoint is that we know enough about what is going wrong in our industry but we can learn more about what is going right.

We build amazing buildings so let’s definitely share these great examples of collaboration, productivity and what we do best. Please feel free to post your great examples of good below with links.

Does the construction industry need the luck of the Irish?

Does the construction industry need the luck of the Irish?

I’m sure you’re aware that Friday was St Patrick’s day and you may have had a Guinness or two to celebrate?  Were you also aware that today is the International Day of Happiness? (have included the link in case you thought I was making it up!)

So it’s Monday, the weekend is over, there are daily stories in the construction industry press about skills shortages, impact of Brexit on the industry, consistently low profit margins etc, what is there to be happy about?

I just thought I would share what made my Client happy on Friday.  He identified that he could potentially be losing 21k / year in his business and I helped him come up with a plan to get that back.  All I did was ask the right questions and as a result of this I left our session to get the train back from London feeling very happy too.

My Client is an SME in the construction industry wanting to grow his business and I’m working with him to look at what changes including systems and processes he needs to make to achieve his vision and I reckon we have a few more pots of gold to find yet.

Every day in our industry resources are wasted in all sorts of ways, you may have the right people doing the wrong roles therefore they are not being as productive as they should.  You might have the wrong people in the right roles upsetting the apple cart by not being able to effectively manage their teams and causing discord and lack of productivity.

There could be all sorts of pots of gold in your business waiting to be found right now.  SME’s and micro-businesses are the back bone of the industry and freeing up capital in their business and maximising profit margins could make a huge impact on their ability to grow and increase the industry’s productivity.

So, what would make you happy today?  If you do need any help finding your pots of gold then give me a shout and I will bring my metal detector!




Brexit – Sliding Doors the alternative, Gwyneth Paltrow gets stuck at the station!

It’s a long one, bear with me!

For those of you who don’t know the movie, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character prises open the door, gets on the train, gets home early and finds her boyfriend with someone else. The alternative story running in parallel is she misses the train and her life turns out very differently….

So, one week on, regardless of whether or not you voted to get on the train heading out of Europe or stay on the platform, we are on it, only we’re stuck at the station with no driver and the map has changed!

I spent a lot of time this week talking to leaders and business owners in the region, some of whom are my Clients to get an idea of what the feeling was and if there had been any impact so far.

Amongst the people I spoke to were an SME Project Management Consultancy, A Roofing Contractor, Commercial Property Consultant, Public Sector Procurement organisation, Architects, Contractor, large Construction Consultant, Low Carbon Building Technology SME and a PR Consultant. I’ve broken it down into the key areas of the conversations.


The majority of the people I spoke to had voted to remain and the consensus was no one was really prepared for it and it was too soon to tell. The roofing contractor, as well as being cautious was excited in a roundabout way about what the future holds. The one who had voted to leave didn’t do so because of immigration but because of the EU’s unwillingness to recognise and address key issues affecting our country and to release our powerlessness at being able to influence their decisions, to, ‘paddle our own canoe’ in the direction we want to go.

Immediate impact

The Commercial Property Consultant had seen 2 commercial projects put on hold following Friday’s decision which is being funded by mainstream banks who are getting nervous. The Project Management Consultancy also expressed concern around commercial developments. There was a difference of opinion on housing, with concern around share prices falling in the market although the PM Consultancy was not as concerned with the house building market.

There is a concern around big developers relying on investment funds slowing down due to a lack of decision making and there is also the hope that government will learn lessons form the previous recession and continue to invest in infrastructure.

Short term impact

Most reported Business as Usual, and the need to not have a knee-jerk reaction. There has, however been a short-term impact on supply chain. A specialist supplier procuring a stainless steel swimming pool from a European supplier had been hit by a 5% hike in cost due to the falling pound. I’m sure there are lots of examples of this throughout the region.

There had also been concern around whether projects with European funding would proceed, however, following a conversation with a consultant around ESIF and ERDF funding there is assurance that these funds are running until 2020 the allocation of which is being controlled by the Government.

Markets are the key driver, if markets go down there is less investment and income but it’s too early to know if people will not invest and delay decisions but the more scare mongering there is, the worse it gets.

Long term impact

From a public procurement perspective, it won’t impact immediately on European funding but will in 2-3 years. There will also be an impact on supply chain as 60% of materials are procured in Europe. One of the Architect firms I spoke to said that they generally had around 12% non-UK EU Internationals who were concerned about what the future would be for them, one of which has applied for citizenship.

The general consensus was, whilst we have an idea of potential areas of risk, until we are out of the current state of limbo, we just don’t know.

So, what can we do now?

These are just a sample of what we are all experiencing regionally but the overall message from everyone I spoke to is carry on with business as usual. Carry on investing in staff as much as you can for as long as you can. There is a challenge with materials from the continent but there is still an apatite to trade. Look at risk, keep things moving, engage with the financial community, what we need now more that ever is clarity.

Flexibility of skills is required in the workforce, particularly if companies need to branch into other sectors.

Supply chain should look at contingency planning and companies need to have a long term plan but here and now it’s about strengthening the position.

Keep spending and be confident, learn from the previous recession.

One consultant made the point about the differences between privately owned businesses being able to make their own decisions which isn’t the case for a PLC with pressure from their shareholders which is linked to the stock market. Shareholders may want to reform to protect profits. A sensible well planned response is needed. We also don’t want to add to the skills shortage and strategic thinking is definitely required. The consultant also went on to say, deal with facts, don’t panic.

Another consultant went on to say that we need to look for the opportunities. Due to EU rules the government couldn’t invest in the steel industry but they could in the future and in other core industries.

The MD who voted to leave said that Brexit places a greater emphasis for us to explore and build closer relationships with European and global partners outside of the command and control environment and structure to which the current member states subscribe, supply more, sell more. We have a lot to learn and a lot to gain, think business not building and take off the blinkers, build an international capability and exploit our vision.

As for me, I say, whilst you can’t control what is happening whilst we are stuck at the station, you can control what happens in your business. Use this time to think strategically, review your business, look at potential areas where changes could be made to maximise profits without losing people and putting on hold any plans for growth or training. When you panic, it shuts down the area of your brain that thinks creatively. Ironic that when I think of the words, ‘don’t panic’ I think of Dad’s Army!!

Speaking of Dads, when I spoke to him last Friday he said it will work itself out, so I’m sure we’re all going to be fine!

One last word, I also heard today that businesses who are prepared to take advice are twice as likely to succeed as those who don’t so LET’S HELP EACH OTHER.

What I’ve learnt from Ronan Keating, Pipes and Ferrero Rocher

What I’ve learnt from Ronan Keating, Pipes and Ferrero Rocher

Now there’s two words you never expected to see in a construction related blog?!

It’s been a while since my last blog but whilst I’m a bit dusty, I’ve not been idle. Since then I have started my own business and spent the last 18 months out in the field working with construction companies, growing their businesses and supporting their people.

I’ve been voted in as Chair of the East Midlands Construction Industry Council and appointed as the Construction Ambassador for the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership covering the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area.

Anyway enough trumpet blowing!

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do now, is that it gives me a lot of “on the ground” intelligence of what is really happening in our industry both regionally and nationally and more importantly what companies are doing to make a difference. And the good news is I am going to share what’s working and what isn’t over the coming months.

Right… back to Ronan Keating. 20 years ago the lovely Ronan, wrote the song, ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’ and never before has a song described our industry better.

When recession hits and we go down the dip the redundancies start and the training and development stops. We are now coming out of recession and whilst some companies have gone into headless chicken mode and are recruiting and expanding, some are still cautious and wary of taking the risk. Which is where the pipes come in……..!

One of the biggest barriers to growth is lack of visible pipeline, if you don’t know what is coming up, how can you plan let alone pitch for it? This was a hot topic for the Construction 2025 strategy and Greater Manchester have led the way in publishing regular pipeline data which has now been extended to cover the North West. The information produced in a pipeline report looks ahead at the next 5 years, what skills are needed to deliver and where the gaps are.

And finally…. does anyone remember the Ferrero Rocher Ambassador’s party advert?

As part of my post as Construction Ambassador for the D2N2 LEP I am co-ordinating the delivery of a D2N2 construction pipeline analysis which we are launching at an event on 10 May in Derby. Whilst I can’t promise I will be handing out a mountain of gold wrapped little pieces of heaven (they are my favourite chocolates), there will be bacon sandwiches.

If you’re in the construction industry in the East Midlands and interested in growth and finding out what support is available and what is happening regionally, you really need to be there. For an in-depth view of what will be covered in the event click here.

To book this event click here.

I hope to see you there on the 10th, I promise I won’t be singing Ronan Keating (unless of course there is Forrero Rocher on offer)!

Panel Of Experts

Panel Of Experts

What emergent trend do you think has had the largest impact on the project management space in the last year?…

Click here to read more

The Recovery: it’s all about the journeys

The Recovery: it’s all about the journeys

Having spent the past five years in a recession shaped tunnel – complete with double dip roller coaster – we are now starting to see cracks of light coming through, says Construction Coach Maria Willis…

Click here to read more.

Mentoring – Time to get your pom poms out!

Mentoring – Time to get your pom poms out!

Maria Willis is a Chartered Surveyor, Project and Risk Manager and qualified Coach. As well as coaching and mentoring within the industry, she is author of the ‘Construction Coach’ blog which is focused on sharing experiences, learning and application of coaching and leadership related topics.

Click here to read more.