I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as being competitive, well, not overly so. I like to win, but it isn’t the be all and end all – a message I have to deliver to my two boys when they trudge off dejectedly a football pitch following defeat, like their worlds have imploded and life will never be the same again.
But I was immensely proud to win something recently – and more so because it was completely unexpected. I emerged victorious at an end of course “were you properly listening to everything” quiz on subcontract procurement. I know, it isn’t the greatest of victories and it is hardly the sexiest of subject matters, but I was chuffed because my fellow competitors were Quantity Surveyors, procurement and project management professionals – and I am, well, not any of those by any stretch of the imagination.
Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not gloating or sniggering at my fellow competitors. And I’m not professing to have unearthed a hidden talent for subcontract procurement that has been sitting within me waiting patiently to be unleashed. I think the secret to victory wasn’t just listening, or being bright eyed, bushy tailed and showing all the enthusiasm of a giddy child excited at the prospect of learning something shiny and new. It was piecing together the information and insight that I’ve gathered up during my career and applying them to the “real life” scenarios I’ve been exposed to in my varied and constantly evolving role here as Head of Enterprise and Engagement.
I’m a journalist by trade. I’ve worked in PR, communications, marketing (B2B and B2C), business development and sales, stakeholder engagement, recruitment, business support and politics. It’s always been about telling stories, simplifying complex information, delivering clear and compelling messages and finding solutions to tricky situations. And I’ve had to learn on the job about the industry sectors I’ve worked in, which has included construction and nuclear. So, I do know some things about supply chains, contracts and contracting and, generally, how construction projects are delivered, by listening and learning from others far better versed and experienced in these things than me.
Taking part in this course gave me a greater understanding of the machinery of subcontract procurement – how it should work, and how it often doesn’t. It gave me an insight into the perspectives and motivations of the players involved and understand why barriers appear and why frustrations can mount. It allowed me to apply all of this to the situations I see in my work for the Swimming with the Big Fish SME Matchmaker Service, where I work closely with supply chain SMEs, and also the bigger fish who contract with them. This course brought everything to life. And I could see how communication, along with the ability to recognise different perspectives and find solutions and compromises (things I know about!), is key to success.
Solomons has a steely focus on working with clients, and their supply chains, to get projects delivered on time, on budget, without defects, while at the same time unlocking a whole host of socioeconomic and environmental benefits. It shouldn’t be about having to deal with frustrating and costly conflicts and disputes and the general misery caused by traditional and adversarial practices that still prevail in the construction sector. Instead, it’s about fostering a spirit of collaboration and transparency, where everyone involved in a project has the opportunity to “do their thing” and come out a winner.
That’s the big picture success of a well-managed construction project. And those are surely much greater stories to tell – and one’s I’d much prefer to be telling.
The theme for this year’s Learning at Work Week – “Create the Future” – is about how lifelong learning can help achieve work (and life) goals, positively shape communities, drive forward innovation and achieve organisational ambitions.
On seeing it, I immediately thought of my little victory. Yes, I got a nice glow from it, but the bigger glow came from getting some CPD under my belt, sharpening the old brain cells and being much more confident in supporting and advising colleagues who live and breathe subcontract procurement with some fresh, and hopefully useful, perspectives and insight.
Now, that is definitely “bigger picture” stuff and a victory worth celebrating.