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Archive for category: Change

Are you ready for the race of your life?

Are you ready for the race of your life?

First of all, do you like my picture?  I’ve felt compelled to be artistic for a while now, I’ve no idea why, but I read this quote today, “the creative adult is the child who survived” by Ursula Le Guin so I’m going with it!

So, what does my picture mean…….?!

It’s been influenced by what I’ve seen, heard and read this week and also my mission for the year.

Monday was ‘Blue Monday’ but it was also the anniversary of the collapse of Carillion.  Construction News ran a story last week about the impact it’s had on the industry 1-year on and it really cheesed me off.  When Carillon collapsed it had estimated liabilities of close to £7bn and was known to have 33,000 suppliers.

Publicly some of those that were the worst affected downplayed their exposure.  One of the reasons being that as soon as another contractor caught wind of their involvement, they started to extend the payment period from 20 or 30 days to 45 or 60 so that if any other companies effected by the collapse went under, they would have more of a cash pot to fund the works.

This really appalled me.  I work predominantly with SME’s and micro-businesses and I’ve seen first hand the stress caused by the constant worrying about cashflow.


The problem is, as an industry we are cost driven.  Profit margins are so low and competition is so high that it does encourage a ‘race to the bottom’ attitude which was highlighted in the Hackitt review, Building a Safer Future’, following the Grenfell tragedy.

Movement is happening at the top of the industry to bring change through the work that the Construction Leadership Council is doing around ‘procuring for value and the need to move away from the lowest cost.  However, given that the industry is predominantly made up of SME’s and micro-businesses, I don’t think they are aware of what is happening and I also don’t think that contractors are engaging with their supply network to evaluate on value rather than cost.  It’s just not filtering down.

We are surrounded by uncertainty but there are things that you can control in your business and that is why it’s time for a ‘RACE TO THE TOP’!

Rather than wait for change to come, instigate it.  This is what I’m encouraging my clients to do.  If you’re feeling deflated then it’s definitely time to get your spark back and reconnect with why you are doing what you do.  What is going to get you out of bed on a ‘Blue Monday’, (or any other bl*ody Monday for that matter!)

There are things happening on a daily basis that you can control that are impacting on your motivation, people and profit margins.  Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you, based on my experience working with my clients what you can do to get ahead of your competitors and start your race to the top.

Hence the blue, sparkly arrow on my picture!

I was really chuffed to receive a testimonial this week from a client I started working with in November.

“Coaching with Maria has helped me become really passionate about my business again, I didn’t realise how much passion I’d lost for construction. Becoming passionate again has already starting to filter through to the rest of my team. I’m now spending a lot more time working on the business and looking outwards towards opportunities and business development. I highly recommend working with Maria at any level within the construction industry”      

If you need help getting back your mojo ready for your race then get in touch.


Bricks and the City – Time To Manage The Manure

Bricks and the City – Time To Manage The Manure

First of all, do you like the picture? this is what manure looks like if it’s happily managed. So what does that mean exactly?

I don’t know how many of you reading this blog read Building Magazine’s recent article “Trouble at the Top” (11.04.2014) about how bad managers can have a big impact on staff morale and productivity levels and could even pose a serious threat to the industry’s upturn.

The article was based on a recent survey by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) which found that only one in three of us are positive about the performance of the people who manage us in the workplace. It should be noted that this does not just refer to the construction industry but I am sure the majority of us will have experienced this at some stage in our careers. Across all sectors of the economy the CMI found that 74% of managers lack empathy when making decisions and fail to consider the impact of their choices on the wellbeing and interests of colleagues and they also found that 80% of employees don’t think their manager sets a good example.

One of the things I have been thinking about for a while is that the industry needs more of the ‘softer’ skills and we need to move away from thinking that to get the most out of people, managers have to be tough and demanding. Time for some warm and fuzziness which is why I started writing this blog in the first place!

Enter the manure. I concept I came up with whilst sitting in my neighbour’s house having a coffee and a flapjack, we need to ‘manage the manure‘.

How many times have you had manure cascaded down on you from above and then passed it straight down the line to your team. Or, from the side when a design team member is pointing the finger and you immediately turn round and look at who you can direct it to. Or, a Client isn’t happy with something and looks to you to direct some manure in someone else’s direction. Sound familiar? Either way it’s a shower of…….. and does not make for good working relationships.

In whatever role we do whether we are managers or we are managing ourselves we need to manage the manure, but how? If you are a manager you are there to lead your team, it’s human nature to think, well if I’m getting showered, I’m going to direct it straight down the line, but if you take a step back for 5 minutes to think about what needs to be done before wading in, you would get much better results.

Asking open questions also helps the situation, these are the types of questions we ask in coaching such as, can you tell me a bit more about….. can you talk to me about……. are you aware of…….. what was the thought process behind……..

One of the things we learnt on my coaching course was not to start a question with why, immediately you are closing the conversation down and making someone feel like they need to defend their actions rather than expand their thinking.

This approach may sound wishy washy to some and there is certainly a time and a place for assertiveness but I would encourage you to think about your approach and that it doesn’t necessarily fit all situations.

Food for thought for a Monday and don’t forget to put up those umbrellas when the proverbial comes flying to stop the cascade!

Bricks and the City – We Can Be Heroes Not Just For One Day!

Bricks and the City – We Can Be Heroes Not Just For One Day!

This week I’ve been on a brilliant course all about brain friendly learning, it was all about designing training courses that use a wide variety of learning techniques for making learning (and the design of learning) faster, more fun and effective. There was certainly no ‘death by power point’ during the 3 days I was on the course, I only wish I’d known what I know now earlier in the week when I was delivering Risk Management training!! I can now design a…………wait for it…………….exciting and enjoyable Risk Management course which is something I never thought I would say in a sentence.

Anyway, I wanted to share one of the key things I learnt which is, STATE IS EVERYTHING. So, what does that mean? According to Kaizen Training who ran the course:-

‘States are the primary determinant of behaviours, they are like the weather in your brain and provide a “pool of choices” from which all behaviours emerge. They regulate motivation’.

There are 3 ways to change your state, through the body, through language and through focus. States can be changed both positively and negatively. So, if you observe your own or someone else’s body language, if you are slouching, arms folded, making yourself small it can say a lot about how you are feeling within yourself and that could be influenced by your reaction to someone saying something negative to you or your own self talk. From a focus point of view, how many times have you said to yourself, I can’t find my keys, I can’t find my keys and then someone else finds them exactly where you were looking?

Your physiology sends a message to your brain about your state, therefore by changing your physiology, you can change your state, by saying positive things to yourself you can change your state and by focusing on something positive you can change your state.

One exercise to demonstrate this was to have someone stand up with their arm out to the side and say something positive or focus on someone who is a positive influence in their lives and say their name over and over again, the person standing next to them would try and force their arm down and they couldn’t. When that person focussed on something negative, the arm went down straight away, they lost their power. How many times do we do that on a daily basis?

So, why the super heroes? One exercise you can use is to adopt a super hero power pose (see blog photo for demonstration). Adopting that pose for a few minutes or even stretching your arms out wide above your head can send a positive signal to your brain and change your state. So, next time you have a presentation to do, or an important meeting, or even job interview, take yourself to a secluded spot (aka the ladies or gents) and do some power poses, see how it works! There is also some scientific research to back this up and if you have 5.57 minutes spare I would really recommend watching the following link.

Amy Cuddy is a Social Psychologist and Professor at Harvard Business School who noticed how student’s body language was impacting on their performance and contribution and carried out research on how adopting power poses can make a difference. Testosterone, known as the dominance hormone is associated with confidence and assertiveness, cortisol known as the stress hormone is associated with inability to adapt to highly stressful situations. The research showed that adopting power poses increased the dominance hormone and reduced the stress hormone.

Finally, I wanted to leave some food for thought. If you had a friend who spoke to you the way you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you still be friends with them?

Have a great week super heroes!!

PS, if you are ever feeling down or in a rubbish mood, watch this youtube clip, it is guaranteed to bring a smile to you face and change your state baby laughing at ripping paper especially if you’ve had a job rejection letter this week………!

Bricks and the City – Not Just Jobs For The Boys

Bricks and the City – Not Just Jobs For The Boys

A number of things have influenced my blog post this week, yesterday was International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action.  Inspiring Change is the 2014 theme.

Secondly, Construction News published a piece on Friday entitled Jobs for the Girls about the industry still being stuck at the bottom of the table for gender balance with only 12% of women in the construction industry.  I have to say I’m really shocked at this percentage and I’ve clearly had my head in the sand in this area, I know we’re in the minority but I didn’t think it was that low.  I think if you see females in your workplace everyday and you make a concerted effort to network with other females in the industry then you don’t notice how few of us there actually are!

Last week was also Apprenticeship Week 2014 which is all about raising the profile of apprenticeships amongst employers, individuals, teachers, parents and the media.

Throw all of that into the melting pot and it got me reflecting back on how I got into the industry and what we can do to encourage more females to don hard hats and luminous site wear.

My favourite subject at school was woodwork, closely followed by technical drawing.  I totally disliked cooking, or domestic science as it was termed.  I remember trying to make soup which needed to be put into a flask to take home with me and I’d chopped the vegetables so big that I had to force them in.  Not very appetising although I hasten to add I do now love cooking and baking!

I was one of only 2 girls in the whole of our school doing GCSE woodwork and I still have the book case I made (together with a drop leaf stationary compartment) in my house today.  A women never likes to disclose her age but I will for the purpose of this blog, I left school in 1988 and prior to that had an idea that I wanted to be a cabinet maker or a joiner, all that changed when we went to visit a local organ builders, makers and restorers of church organs!  Following a tour of their workshops I decided I wanted to work there but was told that I couldn’t apply as they had no female welfare facilities!

I then looked through a local college prospectus and found a 2 year Building Studies course, I think it was the photo of the roof truss that did it for me.  After the first year we had work experience and I worked for a contractor on site in the quantity surveying department and decided that was what I wanted to do, and  so I did.

Apart from a little bit of bullying from the boys at college my experiences in the industry have been really positive although aside from my college work experience, I have always worked for a consultant so I don’t know how I would have faired working for a contractor.  I would like to think it would have been equally as positive although I know working on site whether you or male or female can be a tough environment.

It would be interesting to know how the 12% of women is made up, particularly how many of those are in the trades versus the professions.

My reflections prompted me to ask the question, what would a female’s experience be now coming into the industry and what makes them want to be in construction in the first place? Making a guest appearance on my blog this week is Nicola Butcher who I started following on twitter.  Nicola is an 18 year old Apprentice Carpenter and I contacted her to see if she would mind answering some questions about what attracted her to work in the industry.  Reading Nicola’s answers reminded me so much about me when I was younger.  In her own words, ‘I’ve always been a rather practical, hands on type person, and remember doing a lot of DIY things around the house as a teenager.  I built a pond in the garden at 15 as well!’

At 14 Nicola broached the subject of working in the industry to her mum who had reservations and even went for a college interview to become a beauty therapist but was turned down.  She also thought about catering as an option but undertook 2 weeks work experience in carpentry and luckily was offered an apprenticeship and took it.  Nicola loves what she is doing now, she has just finished carpentry and is now studying electrics and if you find her on twitter, you will see some excellent examples of her work!  Again, in her own words, ‘Every day holds different opportunities for me and I have overcome many personal challenges.  I love that the construction industry as a whole is becoming more accepting to females although it’s still a challenge, for guys you can walk on site and straight away you’re accepted even if you can’t do your job that well, as a girl you have to work hard-you have to do everything perfectly and prove yourself straight away.  I think maybe the reason for this is although the industry as a whole’s thinking may have changed, you can’t change the thinking of people as individuals, and until we start seeing a few more women we won’t be able to change things’.

Finally, in answer to my question would she recommend it as a career, Nicola’s response was, ‘I would definitely recommend it as a career, you have to be determined and seemingly without weakness, but it is possible! Definitely for women there is a market out there and it’s a great career’.

Wise words from Nicola.  This also links in to a book I’m reading at the moment by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in ‘Lean In – Women, Work and the Will To Lead’ Sheryl makes reference to a 2011 McKinsey report in the US which noted that, ‘men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments’.

Whether you are male or female, work should be about doing something you love and my utopia is that we all find roles we feel passionately about because we spend so long doing it!  We definitely need to do more to spread the word in schools to encourage more young women into the industry and also change the perception that to compete with the boys we cannot show weakness and we have to be perfect.

I know there is a big push in general to attract young people into the industry and having recently been selected as an RICS Regional Board Member and a regional committee member for the Construction Industry Council I will be doing my best to spread the word about the cracking jobs for the girls in our industry.

Bricks and the City – Construction 2025 Back to the Future

Bricks and the City – Construction 2025 Back to the Future

A lot has been written in the past few weeks about Construction 2025 launched on the 2 July 2013 which is an industrial strategy in partnership with the Government.

Its aim is to give a clear and defined set of aspirations for UK construction and a clear vision of where it will be in 2025 (see link below to download)

Construction 2025

The headlines are:-

PEOPLE – An industry that is known for its talented and diverse workforce
SMART – An industry that is efficient and technologically advanced
SUSTAINABLE – An industry that leads the world in low-carbon and green construction exports
GROWTH – An industry that drives growth across the entire economy
LEADERSHIP – An industry with clear leadership from a Construction Leadership Council (see link for list of Council members) Construction Leadership Council

The best quote I have heard so far in connection with the strategy is from Chief Construction Advisor Peter Hansford, ” Just as construction is at the heart of the economy, people are at the heart of construction”. This is so true, it is all about people. On that basis, the two key headlines I believe need to be focussed on are PEOPLE and LEADERSHIP.

As part of the People strategy, the target is to increase capability in the workplace and as the wider economy emerges from recession, construction firms must be able to recruit, retain and develop skilled, hard-working people in sufficient numbers to meet the increasing demand for construction. The vision is that the industry becomes a sector of choice for young people inspiring them into rewarding and professional vocational careers.

Under Leadership, it is highlighted that the strategy is seen as the start of a process which will be taken forward by the new Construction Leadership Council to provide coherent leadership to ensure that an action plan is put in place and delivered.

The Action Plan is included in Annex B of the strategy and under the section entitled “Drivers of Change” it talks about working together to improve the image of the industry by inspiring young people which is great but what seems to be missing at the moment is a focus on those of us who are already in the industry and the changes we need to make to our behaviours to inspire ourselves as well as others.

I appreciate this is a work in progress but I would really like this to be a key part of the action plan. In my view we really need to dig deep into the psychology of the organisations and people within the industry and come up with a blueprint for change that we can work towards.

I’ve done a lot of research this weekend and whilst the strategy has been well received in the industry, there is also the feeling of déjà vu when the mind is cast back to Latham and Egan. Having reviewed the ‘commitment to people’ section of the Egan report, it talks about decent site conditions, fair wages and care for health and safety, and also respect for all participants in the process, involving everyone in sustained improvement and learning and a no-blame culture based on mutual interdependence and trust.

It was the Task Force’s view then that much of construction does not yet recognise that its people are its greatest asset and treat them as such and that too much talent is simply wasted and finally that construction cannot afford not to get the best from the people who create value for clients and profits for companies.

Now, bearing in mind this report was published in 1998, what has changed? Site conditions and health and safety have certainly improved, and so did wages and training in the boom years following publication of the report but the blame culture is still there and I still don’t think we have the trust or the recognition that people are its greatest asset. If the industry was a snakes and ladders board I’d say we’ve climbed up some of the ladders but we’re still sliding down the snakes in others!

It goes without saying that the recession saw a huge clamp down on training and development but I also think it has had a negative impact on behaviours with the competition for job retention and clients. It is my viewpoint that there are still a large number of people in the industry who do not feel appreciated or valued and that definitely needs to change.

Over the next few blogs I want to start looking at what changes we can make in our behaviours and what I’d like to see from industry leaders. There are also a couple of things that have come out of the strategy which I love from the industry publications Construction News and Building.

Following the strategy launch, Construction News Editor Rebecca Evans started the ‘Love Construction’ campaign encouraging people in the industry to tweet under the #loveconstruction as to exactly why they love it which has been really positively received and is gathering momentum.

Building have also started the “Construction Heroes” campaign with, yes, you guessed it the #ConstructionHeroes looking at who the unsung heroes are in our industry.

In my view lasting change needs to come from the bottom and the top but I certainly believe that the ball is rolling. I truly hope that in 2025 I’m not rushing home from work in my flying car to blog about the new strategy that’s just come out entitled Construction 2040, actually, I won’t because I’ll be retired by then!!

Bricks and the City – Re-stocking the Olympic Drinks Cabinet

Bricks and the City – Re-stocking the Olympic Drinks Cabinet

First of all, why the sheep? More on that later……

For some reason sport and the correlation between sport and the business world seems to be coming up quite a lot for me at the moment as you will have noticed from some of my other blogs about resilience and what are the characteristics of high performing teams. I am not a sporty person at all in fact, my position in the netball team at school was orange squash maker? Don’t worry though, we are years of therapy down the line from that and I have moved on!! (just don’t ever ask me to make an orange squash!)

I read a couple of things that stuck in my mind last week. The first was from an interview with Danny Boyle in last Thursday’s Sun (and before I get any adverse comments, it is written into most terms and conditions of construction projects that there needs to be at least 1 copy of The Sun left in a site cabin at any one point in time for consultants to flick through? thems the rules!).

Danny believes that the warm glow the nation felt about itself has faded now that we’re back to our own private battles and the tough economic times that we live in. I can understand what Danny is saying, it most certainly is tough but it did make me sad to read that. In another one of my crazy, talking to complete strangers on the train moments down in London recently I started talking to a very nice lady called Sarah who was reading a book that I am also reading called The Chimp Paradox (see link below, other book sellers are available but you can look inside this one!).

Sarah was saying how she does like talking to random people on the train and it doesn’t happen very often but it did when the Olympics and Paralympics took place. She verified what everyone said about being in London at that time, people were nicer, happier, shinier and were infected by the amazing achievements and inspirational stories coming out of the Olympics and Paralympics on a daily basis.

So, what can we do to recreate some of that rosy glow we picked up last summer? One thing that may help some of us in the industry was the other piece of Olympic information I picked up on last week, the relaxation of the Olympic No Marketing Rights Protocol. This is fantastic news for all 2012 suppliers who can apply for a free licence from the British Olympic Association to fully promote their Olympic performances and sing to the tops of velodromes about their achievements.

But what about the rest of us? I did some research on tinterweb to see what people had written about keeping the Olympic spirit alive and found the following post on Neil Crofts blog, one man’s quest to transform Mondays (which I think is a brilliant name for a blog!) :-

I really like what Neil has written, especially point nr 4, not buying into negativity and manipulation. This is hard to do because we are constantly surrounded by negativity and we can also get swept along and manipulated by other people’s views and opinions.

Let’s make a conscious effort to try to rekindle that spirit and NOT BE SHEEP (now you get the reason behind the picture?!)

Happy Easter Everyone!