Concrete path to working better
Case study: Introducing the Great Place to Work methodology in Carlow Precast
Bernard Kennedy: “We’re becoming more like what you would perceive a big business to be.” Photograph: Peter Nicholson
‘Great Place to Work? Sure that’s all bean bags and free food, isn’t it?” While the annual Best Workplaces list typically contains a variety of sectors from retail to professional services to hospitality, it’s commonly misinterpreted as a soft and fluffy HR concern that isn’t really essential, something for multinational tech companies but not really relevant to other organisations.
In late 2014, we in Great Place to Work set out to challenge this misconception by establishing the Great Place to Work methodology in Carlow Precast, which is at the opposite end of the spectrum to multinational tech; it’s an indigenous company providing concrete engineering and manufacturing solutions to large UK water industry infrastructure projects. The organisation faced many internal challenges, while externally it was a time of great change as it was developing new products and markets in the UK.
The first set of assumptions we encountered was of the employees themselves. When we spoke to them, there was frank cynicism about the initiative. The general feeling was, “This is a nice idea, but it isn’t really for us”. After our assessment of the organisation’s structures, the reason for this perception was clear. We found there were no cohesive people-management practices in place. There was no feedback system, no consistency of communication, no established vision.
In this regard, Carlow Precast was typical of many Irish organisations. While the leadership was technically skilled at engineering, it lacked a sense of the requirements for managing people. It assumed employees could just get on with the job. Things were dealt with on a case-by-case basis with no structure for when problems arose. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when you convince yourself things are just too busy.
We worked with Carlow Precast on a framework to address this. Key to this was introducing some of the nine practice areas of the Great Place to Work model. Carlow Precast’s Miriam Kennedy, who oversaw the implementation of the findings as GPTW manager, says “I’m stunned at how much we’ve done. We took all the elements of Great Place to Work and worked our way through the list all the way down to how we hire people and how we welcome people.”
A year on, the dial has moved significantly. While some issues haven’t been fixed yet, the organisation has many policies in place to make things run smoothly. Trust levels as measured by our survey have increased significantly across all metrics, with average organisational trust increasing by 17 per cent.
These figures have translated into positive business benefits. The increase in productivity is positively disproportionate to the increase in staff numbers and cost. With organisational change and staff collaboration, the production hall has increased capacity by 30 per cent without significant capital expenditure. Increased productivity has meant less overtime and weekend work, which improves the staff’s work-life balance, and increases employees’ energy for their work. The organisation’s reputation as an employer locally has benefited significantly, with an increase in unsolicited job applications.
The Great Place to Work process helped Carlow Precast to establish practices that improved the employee experience and its standing as an employer of choice, but it also provided an opportunity for the management to reassess its approach. “We weren’t actually good at business. We were good engineers. We were good manufacturers. We were good negotiators. But the whole business of business was absent from our organisation. We didn’t quite realise that, and to a great extent the Great Place to Work programme helped us identify it,” says director Bernard Kennedy.
“Though we’re a small to medium business, we’re actually becoming more like what you would perceive a big business to be. We were previously stamping out fires – it’s very restrictive. You can’t change the big picture if you don’t have one. Through dealing with the issues the process exposed, we saw the path to the solution.”
Although Carlow Precast is still on a path towards recognition as one of Ireland’s best workplaces, its story to date indicates the robust improvements that can be made in a short time by using the Great Place to Work model as a framework for organisational change.
And not a bean bag in sight!