Why should we – what’s at stake?
For this week’s behind the scenes blog for the Local Authority Hub at Highways UK on 6-7 November 2019, I’m exploring this question with Ashley Prior FCIHT, Head of Highways Services at Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council.
Ashley reflects on his experience with the team at Proving Services, who run the Future Highways Research Group, at Cranfield University. Solihull Council is a member of the group, and have been using the tools that the team have developed to improve value for money in highways contracts.
Ashley begins: ‘In my previous experience, I had built trust and respect and maximised the input from the contractor and supply chain – seamlessly as one, using Early Contractor Involvement (ECI), which we had termed walk, talk and build.
So when I joined Solihull Council as Head of Highways, I was surprised to find issues between the client and the contractor, and the contract was not delivering to its full potential.
What did this look like? Sniping, blame, over-promising, under delivery, incorrect treatments, no challenge, duplication – “we’d better do it as they won’t bother” – late bills, poor communication, invoices in dispute.
I naively thought I could correct this through the application of my previous experience in early engagement, walk, talk and build projects (where members of both team meet on site to plan to design and delivery of the project). My style was: “we’ll just talk to them and sort it out” ! Unfortunately this didn’t work. I thought to myself: “you’ve agreed on site, how can it go wrong”? “Aren’t you talking”?
It was clear that my instinctive approach to building trust was not working for all and that we were going to need some structure and some leadership bravery to try something new’.
Ashley explains that the book ‘Tribes’ by Seth Godin was invaluable in helping to understand the benefits of creating connections with those from inside and outside our own teams, and that this should be the primary aim of any organisation seeking to improve. He explains that it’s about making connections across networks and realising that these are fundamentally about people – trust, respect and communication. Our effectiveness is borne of the links we create at all levels both within and beyond our own organisations.
Does this feel familiar?
I wonder how much of Ashley’s experience feels familiar to you? As a sector we are aware we could do much better at collaborative styles of working. Many attempts have been made, through various working groups, reports, guides, standards and policies to integrate these needs into practical on-the-ground approaches.
But many readily accept we haven’t achieved as much as we need to, deeply or quickly enough.
We are, after all, working to change decades of mindsets and mentalities, across many organisations, whilst delivering business as usual, and adjusting to shifting political and cultural priorities.
Here is a classic example: We (the client) have decided we need a large, all encompassing contract which takes 2 to 3 years to set up and cost millions of pounds to prepare. The contractors have vast resources which we make scant use of.
We no doubt think of contractors – ” the last lot weren’t much good – these are bound to be better”
But why should this be when we are all still the same, with our same attitudes and tendencies to keep things close to our chests!
How would you solve it?
Now, back to Ashley’s experience in Solihull. How did he solve it? Proving Services have created a series of tools that help the Future Highways Research Group members to improve aspects of contract performance around efficiency, effectiveness and aligning to strategic goals.
Ashley explains: ‘The elephant in the room was that each team did not appreciate the other’s worlds and their primary objectives. The mutuality approach developed by Proving Services built on their successful analysis of what makes a good contract, with all its associated inputs and outcomes. The same approach of identifying core factor sets had been applied to mutuality and this allowed both leadership teams to jointly review the current status of the contract.
The specific factor set for mutuality includes things like: communication, trust, joint messaging, mobilisation and decommissioning. Each factor is considered and scored in terms of level and confidence. The lower scores tend to jump out and provide a starting point.
We agreed the top themes which included roles, responsibilities and accountabilities, communication ,behavioural competencies and trust indicators and then scheduled workshops to follow.
Meetings were hosted by a nominated impartial officer and included representatives at different levels from either side.
Over a number of sessions the relationship improved and the last one I attended was very positive and honest, with good feedback from both parties – few complaints, and good quaility work. Not perfect, but certainly improving.
We are working together over the coming years to improve the contract through the establishment of a Service Improvement Plan which has agreed objectives for each year of the contract; we also have an innovation forum and share apprentices through an agreed training programme.
Join Ashley Prior (Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council) and Andy Perrin (Proving Services) live at the Local Authorities Hub at Highways UK, on 6 November 2019, to learn more about the Ashley’s experience, Proving Services tools, and share your experiences of building more effective collaborative teams with your supply chains.
Tickets are free, and attendance is accredited for CPD by CIHT. See what else is available for Local Authorities, and secure your place today.