This was the year many of our best-laid plans fell by the wayside. But for construction industry consultancy Pick Everard, the pandemic brought with it a new sense of focus and a sharper cultural vision that it hopes to build on over the next five years.
The impact of Covid-19 on the construction industry has been significant but, with a history spanning 150 years and a long-standing culture of fostering a sense of belonging among its people, Pick Everard was well positioned to respond to the crisis effectively. Nevertheless, it did present numerous unexpected cultural challenges for HR and Training Director Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith and her team:
Glenda Creasey, HR Manager, Core Service
Jennifer Cotterill, Senior HR Advisor, Strategic Projects
Hope Thorley, Resourcing Advisor
Tasmin Chamberlain, Learning and Development Advisor
Tomi Aluko, HR Advisor
Charlie Braines, Senior HR Administrator
Emma Cavanagh, HR Administration Assistant
A pre-pandemic vision
In mid-2019 Pick Everard was coming towards the end of its 2015 – 2020 business plan, one that had at its heart a vision to be the most highly regarded consultant in the property and construction industry. The practice underwent a significant growth period during these five years, with new office locations added, higher profile clients won and turnover increasing to £50 million.
It soon became clear, however, that some of its more traditional practices no longer had a place. A new drive for choice, greater involvement and empowerment of its people, more innovation, increased capability and a stronger brand presence were formulated into a series of dream goals that formed the organisation’s new five year business plan ‘Plan 25’. The business wanted a stronger talent density to deliver its new aspirations. New behaviours were required to underpin this, and so a review of company values, with staff involvement, was conducted.
Senior staff worked collaboratively to create a new, dynamic business plan, underpinned by five core pillars - People, Capability, Innovation, Brand and Commercial. A new vision was ready to launch encompassing:
Creating a collective culture, passion and ethos that motivates and drives the team to do the right thing
Inspiring staff to deliver better outcomes for clients
Being accountable for the environment to create prosperous and sustainable communities
As part of Plan 25, the business’s first people strategy was created and a ‘one team’ approach was encouraged with a new call to action – ‘deliver better together’. Four new core values were agreed to guide employees on the golden thread that was to run through the organisation:
Being client oriented
The pivotal moment
In March 2020 the launch of the new strategic plan was ready, just days before the country went into lockdown. Like many organisations Pick Everard was faced with moving a 550+ professional workforce remote, yet the challenges this presented to a traditional practice with increasingly outdated ways of working were multiple.
First, the data that the business held in its systems was not adequate enough for leaders to fully understand their workforce make-up, including individual circumstances such as physical and mental health issues, working preferences, caring responsibilities and any hardship circumstances.
Second, with a workforce comprising many long-term, loyal colleagues, some leaders and managers had enjoyed and benefitted from a full time, full office team presence. This had worked well for them and as a result, there was in some areas, a fear and reluctance to embrace flexible working. Traditional views of flexibility existed including the view that working from home could not be as productive as in-office presence. There were concerns that people would not fulfil their usual contribution from home in a lockdown situation.
Line managers and leaders had never received training or guidance on how to manage remote teams, quite simply because it had never been needed. This was a crucial area in which capability and skills were lacking among a population that were being looked to, to create stability and reassurance, as well as support staff mental wellbeing and maintain productivity in unusual circumstances.
In addition to this, not all staff had the equipment they needed to be able to operate effectively at home. Only a proportion of the workforce had laptops or mobile devices, some colleagues needed two screens and access to other equipment that they simply didn’t have at home.
Communication had also been raised as an area for improvement across the business. Communication had traditionally been inconsistent and unstructured. Some leaders were better at delivering key messages than others, which meant that people generally did not feel informed. Although a desire to ‘look after people’ is a strong part of Pick Everard’s culture, communication was operating in pockets which meant that the multiple areas of the business were not aligned with each other.
In the wake of Covid-19, the practice not only had staff in 550 different locations, but also had a fifth of the business on furlough, reducing even more the opportunity for natural dialogue in the course of the working day.
For a business that heavily relies upon building relationships, networking and business-to-business meetings these had to cease. Work was paused on a number of projects and this presented financial challenges and uncertainty to the organisation. “Morale and our traditional sense of stability was at risk,” admitted Elizabeth.
There remained a desire to still launch Plan 25 but the direction and timing of this was back under consideration in the wake of Covid-19. Working remotely presented a major challenge to the organisation’s desire to work more collaboratively and ‘deliver better together’.
In the wake of Covid-19, priorities immediately shifted to business continuity and protecting the culture and operations that the practice knew, enjoyed and were successful at. It was unimaginable in those early stages that staff remoteness was in turn going to bring a rapid sense of escalation and innovation in ways of working aligned to a number of its Plan 25 goals.
When lockdown was announced, the leadership team knew that the ease of turning to colleagues, sharing ideas and resolving issues together in the office would not be there anymore. HR led the design of new methods of listening, communication and engagement that were embraced to keep people talking, informed and connected with the business.
The launch of Plan 25 went ahead with a virtual roadshow on 28 April, with a business plan hub launched to help staff connect with the Plan 25 journey.
A call out for volunteers to get involved in the delivery of the plan received over 200 responses from people wanting to support one or more of the plan’s pillars. Virtual Teams meetings were set up to agree priorities and exchange ideas.
“The business has benefitted from more collaborative working across the pillar lead meetings linked to Plan 25. We're bringing people together that have never worked together before and it’s offered teams the opportunity to work cross-regionally on new initiatives and shared passions,” said Elizabeth.
To support the implementation of Plan 25 and to bring positivity to a difficult year Pick Everard also launched the business's new corporate values awards, the Being Pick Everard Awards. In its inaugural year 15% of the business were nominated for an award, suggesting there is a desire among employees to express gratitude and celebrate the successes of one another.
“The awards are raising visibility of our new core values, encouraging people to connect more with each other, whilst enabling the winners and nominees to feel recognised for their efforts,” commented Elizabeth.
Looking to the future
As the business continues through Plan 25, the aim is to deliver the agreed priorities, albeit with a mix of office based and remote working.
“We believe the next natural step for enriching our culture further is to focus on behaviours and the development of our managers and leaders,” said Elizabeth.
Through the Pick Everard Professional Map and a new performance management process staff will be supported for a continuous cycle of action, reflection learning and improvement that will add more resilience to the business.
New leadership and management learning opportunities will be rolled out 100% virtually. Using mediums such as a new LMS, video, reading material, Whatsapp groups and facilitated virtual workshops, managers from across the business will be brought together to learn and share experiences.
Following the launch of an online 360-feedback process in August 2020, personal development plans and virtual coaching will also be provided to raise employee self-awareness and encourage more culturally aligned ways of operating. Virtual sessions will also be held to look at key areas of knowledge for leaders as a peer group such as strategic thinking, organisational change and purpose.
“We see managers and leaders as key role models in driving culture change to the next level over the coming months,” explained Elizabeth. “We are genuinely excited about the future and the slightly different, yet stronger strides we're taking to deliver better together.” concluded Elizabeth.
What did our Culture Pioneers ambassadors think?
Our ambassadors agreed that Pick Everard certainly had a compelling story.
“Pick Everard showed how a larger enterprise, with a forward-thinking agenda, can pivot, successfully. Plan 25 was clearly set and then had to be revisited. More attention to how people felt, life considerations and flexibility were clear in the organisation’s Covid-19 response, and seemed to be greatly appreciated by the workforce. Their values held strong and proved their merit in framing the way the responses were delivered and measured,” commented Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer of People & Transformational HR.
“This is an interesting and detailed account of a planned culture change (Plan 25) that was interrupted by Covid-19. It is good to see that the organisation managed to adapt the roll out of this initiative and go ahead anyway,” said Professor Emma Parry, Head of Changing World of Work Group at Cranfield School of Management.
“The fact that 200 employees volunteered to help with delivering Plan 25 and 15% of the business were nominated for the inaugural Being Pick Everard Awards signifies the transition towards a collective culture, even in a remote world, is proving successful,” commented Becky Norman, Editor of HRZone.