Like so many SMEs, Solomons Europe had to adapt overnight in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
And, like so many SMEs, the effectiveness and success of our response was down to the drive, determination and passion of each and every team member.
Company co-founder and Strategic Director Kerry Doig shines the spotlight on the tireless efforts of our People & Performance team – Dawn Powell and Victoria Clements – during this extremely challenging period.
In Spring 2020, Solomons Europe was in the midst of an ambitious growth plan. Having started off as a team of two, we were on the final stretch of achieving the goal of 60 people supporting some of the most complex and largest developments taking place in the UK.
Our dedicated People & Performance Team (P&P Team) have been crucial to delivering this plan. They focus on ensuring job satisfaction and helping our talented and ambitious people progress their careers with us. They are crucial to first finding and then nurturing the talent we need to achieve our target of long-term and sustainable growth.
The P&P Team were poised to deliver several internally developed initiatives to support this. We had recently recruited four career conversion candidates, who hailed from sectors including law. They had taken on new client roles to gain invaluable project experience and support their journey through the challenging accelerated training programme our candidates undertake.
We had also implemented a new process for fast-track promotions across our teams. This enables our people to showcase their talents and achievements, enabling talented team members to secure early promotion and create new opportunities for the business.
The P&P Team had also formulated an idea to progress our successful social impact initiative, ‘Team 15’. This brought together people from Solomons and businesses from a wide variety of industry sectors across our regions in the North who had ambitions to become Chartered professionals, in the process partnering complimentary businesses and people to share fresh knowledge and perspectives.
On the back of Team 15’s success, the P&P Team planned to launch our own internal Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) Accountability Club. The club would support team members who had expressed an ambition to secure Chartership but were yet to find the right time or momentum to go through what is an extremely demanding – in terms of both time and effort – process.
In addition to these career enhancement programmes, the team were also beginning to develop our highly ambitious and ground-breaking Health, Resilience & Wellbeing plan, to offer a holistic range to help our teams achieve equilibrium – mentally, physically and professionally.
Our business was riding high. We were full of energy, excitement and ambition. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.
As a business that provides services to the construction and engineering sectors, the potentially devastating impact of the pandemic became clear immediately. Having survived two recessions, things felt very different, almost paralysing. We had no control or visibility of what the future may hold. We had no reference point. There was no way of predicting where this terrifying pandemic would take our jobs, our business and our people.
Almost overnight, the P&P Team had to work alongside our Board of Directors and our teams spread across four offices in the North West, Cumbria and North East, to review and plan exactly how the business would deal with the highly unpredictable landscape the pandemic had created overnight.
How were we going to keep our people safe? What could we do to preserve jobs? How could we all stay connected? How would our people going to manage family responsibilities? How could we enable them all to work productively from home?
Faced with this pressure of adapting to this sudden and serious challenge our senior team had to become experts in Covid-19 safety, digital systems for remote working, personal health, wellbeing and emotional support. And much, much more.
Our P&P Team immediately stepped up to the plate. They became trusted confidants, guardians and supportive friends to the whole team, not just in a work context, but across every facet of the emotional rollercoaster the pandemic was taking our people on.
They were required to offer a shoulder to cry on, to pick up signs both big and small of concern and worry, to offer coaching, counselling and wellbeing support wherever and whenever it was needed. And they did this while dealing with their own concerns about work, family, health and home schooling.
The P&P Team dedicated themselves to ensuring everyone was taken care of, could ask questions and seek guidance, and rely on their full, unflinching and, when circumstances dictated, confidential support to keep them safe, secure and visible in the strange new world we all found ourselves in.
As we worked hard to ascertain the full impacts of the pandemic on the business, the team was involved in several pioneering and mission critical activities at the outset:
- Ensuring everyone was informed and equipped to tackle the challenges of homeworking – overnight
- Ensuring every single member of the team had a point of contact in the business and were fully appraised of the latest safe working practices and requirements
- Undertaking comprehensive Covid-19 risk assessments of client sites and offices and providing guidance on safe working permissions for team members who had critical worker status on particular contracts
- In addition to these urgent and essential safety and support duties, the team also were acutely aware of the need to ensure connectivity and self-care were top of the list in terms of ensuring team wellbeing and resilience
- In addition, the P&P Team had to carry out analysis with the Board of Directors on matters including the risks and impacts of the business’s ‘no furlough’ policy
Jobs and roles across the business evolved and became fluid, and with a steely focus on being mission critical to ensure our collective survival. We had to work with the utmost agility and precision in pressurised and urgent situations – based on information, sometimes contradictory, that was changing on a daily basis.
After successfully negotiating the initial priority of keeping our teams working productively, the P&P Team provided further support and programmes for remote working, which included:
- Developing and curating a programme of ‘Lunch & Learn’ sessions to support health and wellbeing
- Developing and curating a programme of CPD sessions on key industry topics
- Organising a ‘virtual’ Christmas Party
- Water cooler and it’s nice to be nice’ catch up sessions
As the Government Roadmap reaches its final stage, the P&P Team is now focused on how to bring our teams back to the office safely and confidently. They have been involved in every facet of dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and adapting to the world it has created. Of all of our teams, their remit changed most. They now have a host of additional duties and responsibilities to consider, with long term wellbeing and resilience a huge area of focus.
They have, and continue to be, an essential and influential part of our pandemic survival story. They have embraced every challenge with gusto and determination, driven by a desire to ensure our teams, and the business, not only got through this period, but came through stronger. And that goal has been achieved.
During the past 18 months and faced with all the challenges laid in front of the business, the Solomons Europe team grew from 50 to 60. The P&P Team inducted all new starters via MS Teams, Zoom and other remote tools, and ensured they were brought on board and fully supported. Our career conversion candidates have continued to thrive and develop their skills. In excess of 10 promotions have taken place. And our RICS APC Accountability Club not only launched but delivered stellar results, with two of the four initial team members already achieving Chartership.
The fantastic work the P&P Team was delivering pre-pandemic did not take a back seat in spite of the huge curve ball it threw. They have developed their own personal and professional skills exponentially and will continue to have a lasting and influential impact on the shape of our people business going forward.