recession thoughts and tips

The recent excellent BBC Life on Mars series painted a harsh, dark and in many ways ugly portrait of life in Britain in the mid 1970’s. It was in that this environment I started a career in construction, a young trainee QS, working a ‘statutory’ three day week with fuel and power rationing (only able to buy petrol on alternative days depending on the first initial of your surname)

Since then I have experienced and survived the industry’s many cycles of boom and bust, times of recession and times of plenty, often caused by conditions outside of the sector itself.

It wasn’t until a later reading of Charles Handy’s Empty Raincoat that I understood I had developed a strategy for dealing with this cyclic industry. Handy sees the key to surviving change as being the ability to move from one sigmoid curve to the next before the current one peaks, or before the current one becomes a bandwagon and is no longer cutting edge. (see here)

In times of recession, innovation is the hallmark of successful organisations, and of people that survive. In my experience this means looking ahead, identifying the next emerging innovation/theme/idea, and getting rapidly up to speed. Over my career, this has led to moving from work to university, to becoming an expat, to moving from project management into planning, from planning to quality, to TQM, to collaborative working and business improvement, to benchmarking, to fm and then into independent support provision.

The move into planning serves as a good example. I was able to shelter the downturn at the time, being one of the few who could (or wanted to) operate a computer. We are talking 80’s here, the office had one pc shared between a secretary and myself. I cut my teeth on Pertmaster. Initially this produced crude gantt charts as a row of green X’s, but provided a much needed USP to winning work, and was the start of a short career as a computer based planner.

In the world of business improvement, quality, TQM and benchmarking, being part of a supportive network, and having mentors outside of the industry, proved incredibly useful, bringing new learning ideas in to the organisation

All this, I believe, improved the value I was able to add, in addressing the emerging issues that clients were facing. being ready to deal with this emergence meant that I was able to move as doors open, and explore new avenues. The lessons from each of these unexpected events has created a resilience that enables me to work in a number of sectors and areas.

So, here is a very personal guide to survival. It may not be the exact menu for you, but it will, hopefully spark a few thoughts and ideas that will help.

Be Enthusiastic: Recharge your batteries now, get out and do something wild. Appearing tired at work, and not hungry for change, is bad news

Be Ready: Identify the next emerging theme. What skills and knowledge can you acquire that will add value to you and the organisation. Get intelligence and use it.

Be Flexible: Have a plan, but also go with the flow as opportunities emerge. The built environment has a fantastic range of careers and jobs. Consider which areas are more recession proof. Currently these may be sustainability, or BIM (Building Information Modelling), or web based technologies. These are areas that will be more in demand post recession

Be Resilient: Think long term. Arguably its short-termism that has led us into the current mess. Develop a personal and organisational resilience plan that looks at improvement over the long term. Be better when we emerge from this recession.

Stand in the future and observe the industry in 2016/2019 – climate change will not be ‘put on hold’ during the recession – so do you have a route to zero mapped out?

Be Visible: Find a group you can network with, learn from and share with. For me in the past, this has included quality circles, benchmarking clubs or industry improvement groups. More recently, I am a part of many on line forums. Themed networks such as Green Drinks can provide similar opportunities. 

Get a profile inside and outside of the organisation. This is easy to do through web 2,(eg Linkedin) but what does your facebook, myspace, twitter really say about you?  What do you really find out when you google your name, or your organisation. 

Be helped and help: Find a mentor or work with a mentee

And read …  the Empty Raincoat for example

And help is out there.

Supportive resources I am involved with include:

• Mentoring courses (funded)

• Start up support. For example, through Constructing the Future we are offering a free set of modules for women in Lancashire considering startup business or self employment.

• Route to Zero. This is designed to help in the development of resilience strategies

• Surviving the Recession. This is a one-day Evolution-IP survival course for businesses in development

• Green training. It is useful to get a environmental top up to your qualifications (for example the Green Register or others)

• Construction Agency. This is a planned employee/employer agency service for Lancashire that uses RSS, mobile web and Twitter to ‘keep jobs local’ (To be launched mid / late March, but follow @cagency for updates)

For more on the above please feel free to email or twitter or leave comments below and if you found this post useful please share with others …. AddThis Social Bookmark Button:

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interacting with information

“There’s a clear direction … away from people thinking, ‘This is my PC, this is my hard drive,’ to ‘This is how I interact with information, this is how I interact with the web.'”

Occasionally you come across a quote that reinforces up what you have been trying to communicate for ages, such is the comment above from Dave Armstrong, head of product and marketing for Google Enterprise, reported in the Observer article Google plans to make PC’s history .

This illustrates that the move towards a more web2.0 environment is no more about the technology but about people, trust and empowerment.

Over the last week or so I have seen many examples of the silo approach to information and knowledge, from projects to corporates to universities to industry champions, all concerned over loss of some kind of advantage (claims, profit, competitive edge, intellectual rights etc) in the face of sharing on web2.0 platforms or apps.

Maybe the built environment sector need to look at the mess the music industry has gotten itself into by trying to retain some degree of ownership for a solution.

There is also the generation thing here, as Paul commented at last weeks collaborative champions meeting, Y Gen and Google Gen people are unconscious collaborators , and yet the more influential generation (boomers) maybe stifling such collaboration by taking away and banning collaboration / sharing tools such as facebook and twitter and blogs and ….

There is also a parallel here to the anti-benchmarking school of thought, but history has shown that those who share, learn and benchmark mark with others have gained rather than lost advantage and made progress on many improvement fronts.

Time for us in the built environment to re-evaluate how we  interact with information and the internet…

building codes wanted for better future

Received the following from Architecture for Humanity …. a great opportunity to share knowledge and skills collaboratively on line for the greater good.

We love to build. Therefore we are obsessed with global and local building codes. A few years ago, 1760 BC to be exact, the Code of Hammurabi was the first set of written codes with a focus on the built environment. Luckily for architects, builders (and their sons) building codes have evolved. But smarter, more sustainable building is needed more than ever.

Know an interesting building code, send it our way. If you love building, get involved. We’ve got plenty of design opportunities this month for people with a range of experience all over the world. Be forewarned: These are green collar jobs without the collar.

There are plenty of other ways express your support for the right to shelter. In fact we’ve created a handy-dandy cheatsheet to help you get started.

from brightgreen: how to use environmental leaders

Last Friday Bright Green Talent posted this excellent five point guide:

Dreadlocks, demonstrations and duck ponds – What does today’s environmentalist look like?

What are the characteristics of these environmental leaders and how can you use them to drive your business forward?

1. Big minds: Environmental leaders have a history of excellence in everything they do. Graduating from the top universities, they are aspirational, yet practical. They are naturally drawn to complex problems that span science, economics and society.

2. Learners, not cogs: Don’t expect an environmental leader to become another cog in an organisational machine. They are here to learn and to make a difference. They flourish in small organisations, visionary
consultancies and larger organisations with a big mandate for change.

Continue reading

on be excellent

Around 10 or so years ago I was part of a BE (now constructing excellence) development group which produced the Be Excellent document and tool.

The premise was to increase the awareness of constructions relationship within facilities management and excellence through collaboration by mean of a self, or facilitated assessment tool.

What is Be Excellent?
Be Excellent is a simple but rigorous examination of business practice for all disciplines within the construction industry using the EFQM Business Excellence Model as the platform and take on board the important criteria for Collaborative Working, Supply Chain Management and the “design through to operational requirements” of Facilities Management.
If answered honestly and thoroughly, Be Excellent will identify those areas which an organisation needs to concentrate on to improve performance. Whether the organisation decides to make these a priority is a question of where each sits within their overall strategic plan.

During these last two weeks I have support a number of organisations with Be Excellent, so, with ‘excellence’ being on my mind,  I share my thoughts here.

I continue to use this approach as a first step analysis, helping groups or organisations understand where to put improvement energies and efforts.  It works best as a consensus approach, with a number of assessments done across the width and depth of the organisation, providing an unique and revealing assessment of approaches, deployment and results.  An assessment I refer to as a peoples view of the organisation, which is often at odds with a purely management view.

And here is a main difference between this consensus approach and the top down ISO 9001 improvement or quality models.  People want to be involved, or at least have a voice in shaping improvements, not to be forced into improvements via independent audit non conformance’s.

EFQM ( European Framework for Quality Management) arose out of the 1980/90’s TQM (Total Quality Management) ideas.  The UK construction sector at that time flirted with TQM but never really made the initiative ‘stick’, as it was just that an initiative with a shelf life, and not sustained. Indeed one of the factors that moved me away from employment with large contracting was the lack of ‘stickability’ on improvement, flitting across what was in vogue or required by any client at any one time. It was, and still remains, an add-on to business.

And yet the orginal philosophy and premise of EFQM remains strong and sound, providing an holistic view of any organisation, and in particular the connectivity between functions, approaches and processes, often revealing the weaknesses in the typical siloed organisation.  For example EFQM and Be Excellent force you to address questions such as:

  • How are you strategies, objectives and policies founded on customer intelligence and requirements, now and into the future?
  • How do you manage, recruit and develop people in line with your vision and strategies, How does leadership act as a role model?
  • How do you procure resources to deliver your strategies, are finances, knowledge and information aligned to your strategies, or are they a barrier, and
  • Do processes really translate your vision, objectives and strategies into operations or are they there to satisfy some other ‘tick’ box?

There is an scoring mechanism alongside Be Excellent , but this serves as a device to prioritise actions, and it is the action planning that is the main outcome. From these action plans facilitated workshops can drill down to the real root of issues, using for example the Toyota Five Whys approach, a main ingredient of lean construction or six sigma. Its is amazing where you get to on asking the fifth why, for example a recent exercise identified an issue of poor recognition for good work, 5 whys drilled it down further as:

  • We don’t hear about good things
  • We don’t tell people about success’s
  • We don’t like to blow our own trumpets
  • We look for wrongs not rights in reviews
  • Our lessons learnt exercises focus on negatives and not positives

A programme was then put into place to review the lessons learnt process, to capture good learning points so they can be repeated, in addition to problems to avoid.

Over the years the trends from Be Excellent have become very clear:

  • we are good at approaches, new initiatives, new management systems, achieving ISO standards and other on the wall certificates.
  • we are ok, but not so good at deployment, that is deployment of the approach is not sustained, either over time, or across an organisation, and often suffers at the whim of changing management.
  • we are poor at learning, at analysing results for trends causes, and comparisons, and then on closing the loop to improve.

Sadly, this reflects the view of Deming back in the 1950’s, that we do not close the Plan Do Check Act loop, even less so see this as a spiral, with the Act taking us to a better, more informed Plan position for the next project or time period.  Be Excellent provides the peoples view to kick start and to sustain the improvement cycle.

A copy of  Be Excellent can be downloaded from here and you if would like to discuss this topic in more detail contact us here.

using isite as a bid tool

I received interesting feedback from two individuals last week who mentioned they use isite as a knowledge base when answering bid questions for new work, to ensure they are up to date with current thinking. One of these was local, ie in the North West UK, the other in the USA.
I now regularly use the blog as a bookmarked, knowledge base, to easily recall items to develop work with clients, but I am really pleased to hear that others find value in the site as an archive source of information and knowledge.

Its another powerful plus for blogs.