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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……

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.

Bricks and the City – Out With The Old, In With The New!

Bricks and the City – Out With The Old, In With The New!

I was asked to write a piece towards the end of last year for Construction Manager Online about emerging from the recession so I thought I’d share the content on my blog this week, I’ve also updated it so it’s not completely Ground Hog Day!

Having spent the past 5 years in a recession shaped tunnel complete with double dip roller coaster we are now starting to see cracks of light coming through and positive noises coming from the workers at the end who have been digging with their spoons for a very long time.

As we emerge out of the tunnel, dust off our computers and sit back at our desks, what does the industry look like now?  It has certainly lost a lot of weight, intellect and new blood looking at the various statistics on redundancies, training budgets being cut and decline in recruitment and graduate and apprenticeship training programmes.  The supply chain has also suffered which, moving forwards, we are now starting to see the impact of.

So, having had to adopt various ways of working and behaviours to navigate through what have been very choppy waters, is it a case of simply re-booting our computers to move forwards onto dry land?

In KPMG’s Global Construction Survey 2013 published last October, Richard Threlfall, UK Head of Infrastructure, Building and Construction stated, ‘The next round in this highly competitive market will be won by those who have the resources to compete.  Companies need to act now, because the industry’s resurgence is already underway’.

Before we crack on, is this not the ideal opportunity to take stock of where we were, where we are now and where we want to be?  Time for a spot of time travelling…

Rewinding back the clock pre-recession, what were the values and the vision of your company then and did your staff believe and share your values and vision? Did you even have one?  What was the culture of your organisation? Did you have the right people and supply chain to support you?

Looking back over the past 5 years, what has changed both positively and negatively in your organisation? How has this impacted on your vision and values? Have certain behaviours needed to be adopted to survive? How has this impacted on your supply chain? Have you lost key people which may impact on your ability to move forwards?

Where do you want to be moving forwards and what needs to change in order to achieve this?  Has your vision changed, are your values the same? Has your supply chain suffered? What type of people do you have working in your organisation and what skills and experience do you want to attract?

In coaching, there is a simple model that can be used to take stock and move forwards which is the GROW model. This is made up of the following key questions:-

What is your Goal?

What is the Reality of your current situation?

What are your Options?

What Will you do to achieve your goal?

I’m going to add another R into the model, what are the Risks?  Included in this is what will happen if you don’t take these risks?

As an industry we are facing real challenges but it is also a great time to start making positive changes.  There is a real danger that we won’t have learnt anything from the past 5 years and we will move onto the boom cycle of behaviours whereby it’s now the supply chain’s turn to get their own back because the demand is so great etc which is something I touched on last week in my Love Construction blog.

We now have a Construction Leadership Council which is part of the Construction 2025 strategy recently launched in partnership with the Government and Industry.  A few weeks ago in my ‘Mind the Gap’ blog I mentioned that I hadn’t been able to find much on what the CLC had been up to since last July and I note that there was a quote from Peter Hansford in a recent Construction News piece (31 Jan 2014) saying that an implementation plan will be published at Easter.

My view is we need some input quickly to avoid repeating patterns and making the same mistakes again.  In short, we need to make sure the previous behavioural industry viruses have been eradicated from our computers when we do re-boot!

There is however another view point……… don’t wait to be led, lead yourself!

Bricks and the City – Why I Love Construction and When I’ll Love It More

Bricks and the City – Why I Love Construction and When I’ll Love It More

Although I’m posting this on Monday, I’m writing it on Valentine’s Day and I thought I’d spread some Construction Love.

Last year around the time of the release of Construction 2025, Construction News started a ‘Love Construction’ campaign to encourage us usually reserved construction industry workers to think about what we love about construction.  You could also get your own logo designed which the good people at Construction News did for me in Construction Coach colours, thank you!

So, here is my list:-

  • bacon sandwiches on a Friday
  • the banter
  • reading The Sun newspaper on site (but not The Sport or The Star)
  • builders tea (although I am ashamed to say I like a more milkier version)!
  • the fact that every day is different and you never know what is going to happen
  • constantly meeting and working with new people and teams
  • the resilience of construction workers in getting the job done
  • clever Architects who have the vision and the clever Engineers who make it happen (my last building was a curved, cantilevered building which is stunning)
  • seeing a building develop from a piece of paper to a slab to an actual building that the occupiers love
  • feeling proud to be involved in producing great spaces for people to live in , work in and shop in
  • big buttoned calculators (I’m a QS at heart)!

Sometimes though, Cupid’s arrow misses and he gets it wrong which leads me to my next list, what I don’t love about construction:-

  • the blame culture when something goes wrong
  • the boom and bust cycles and behaviours, in a recession when the Client is king, in a boom period when the Contractor and Sub-Contractors get their own back
  • lack of transparency and honesty when things are going wrong and the fear of telling the Client what they do not want to hear
  • the sometimes aggressive way that people speak to each other
  • fragmentation and lack of trust
  • making assumptions about companies and individuals before you’ve worked with them based on other people’s experiences
  • labelling of professions, Architects spend too much money, Engineers are too over cautious and QS’s sit in a darkened room with their big buttoned calculators!

The positive most definitely out ways the negative, and the negatives are behaviours that can be changed.

These are exciting times, there is talk of the collaboration needed to achieve the Construction 2025 objectives and attract more people into the industry.  I genuinely love the industry and I definitely want to be part of the changes and have some ideas up my sleeve so watch this space………!

Time for a bacon sandwich and a cup of tea I think, and where was that copy of The Sun?!

Bricks and the City – Light at the end of the R shaped tunnel

Bricks and the City – Light at the end of the R shaped tunnel

It may not be obvious from the title of this blog but today I’m writing about life after redundancy. Whilst I have not been made redundant myself, I am conscious that there are a lot of people in the industry who have.

Recent statistics in Building Magazine stated that 25,000 jobs had been lost in the final quarter of last year and since September 2007 there has been a 15% drop in the workforce which equates to 380,000 jobs lost.

Hopefully the green shoots are starting to come through but there are still companies going into receivership and there are people out there in the industry who are likely feeling scared and uncertain of their future. Out of all of my blog posts and the information I have put on here so far, I genuinely hope this is referred to the least but based on my ethos of one piece of information helping one person, here goes………

Having searched the tinterweb for a few hours now in my quest to find out information there is a lot of stuff out there. First of all the Construction Industry Council have a booklet entitled 42_CIC_SurvivingRedundancyToolkit_2011final.pdf. Whilst there is a lot of practical advice in there about the legal and financial aspects with links to websites to find further information, what about the emotional and psychological side of things?

Reassuringly some of the professional bodies such as CIOB, RICS, RIBA etc have benevolent funds offering counselling and practical help and advice for people who are facing redundancy. In a recent article in the March edition of the East Midlands RICS Surveyor magazine, an RICS member who had experienced redundancy talked about the support he had received from his local RICS network. If you are not a member of a professional body, it is still important to ask for help where available through your own networks and contacts, someone may be able to offer support, advice or may know of an opportunity elsewhere.

There is also lots of useful information in this CIOB document about coping with the stress of it and building up resilience.

Many of those who have experienced it have said that it is like akin to a bereavement, especially if your whole identity is linked to your job. How many times do we meet people for the first time and ask them what they do as if it is the key to who that person is?

One of the best articles I read on this topic was in the Guardian.

Cary Cooper who is the professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University was quoted as saying that it is psychologically better to lose your job now rather than in more affluent times simply because there are so many people involved, you can still feel rejection but can rationalise it be saying that it’s just the time in which we live in and you’re not alone.

Cooper also talks about the most important coping strategy which is to sit down and reflect on what your skills are before you start looking for a new job or trying to get training. This links into my blog post on resilience and an exercise I talked about called the Achievement List where you list everything you have achieved in your life so far. This could be useful if you are thinking about changing your career, something may be unearthed from years ago that may help you in a possible directional change.

Another really powerful exercise I have used with coachees is the timeline exercise which I have likened to the Hollywood walk of fame. If you transport your self back to key points in your career where you were happy in your job, really engaged with what you were doing, felt motivated and in your flow and were achieving great results, what were the characteristics of you at that stage? what skills were you using? how did you feel about yourself? At each stage I make a note of what the coachee is saying about that particular point in time and reflect back to them afterwards. Once you’ve collected up all of your ‘Hollywood Stars’ you can think about looking ahead to the future and how the skills and experiences that you have can be used moving forwards.

One option may be to set up your own business which is a blog topic in itself!

I appreciate that this a massive and sensitive subject to write about so I will leave it there but if people do want to share their experiences and what has worked for them, please feel free to leave me a comment and I hope those of you who are going through this are finding light at the end of the tunnel.