MCA Management Awards 2010: Best small firm

Winner

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Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Boxwood with Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering

Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering (BBGE) wanted to break out of a pattern of steady but unspectacular growth and marginal profitability. BBGE had been formed in 2007 to provide a platform for further acquisition in the ground engineering discipline. MD Graham Wren's ambition was to grow quickly through acquisition and become industry leader in its field - a company that everyone wants to work for and with. But this goal could be achieved only with a step change in corporate performance and mindset, taking it beyond traditional standards in the construction industry.

With Boxwood as partner, BBGE embarked on a major scheme of transformational change. The aim was to boost turnover from ú82m to ú120m and net profit from 5% to 10% - in just two years.

The company recognised that although its technical know-how was well up to standard, additional management and organisational skills were needed to achieve these challenging goals and to sustain such a substantial change. The programme was broken down into three phases: an eight-week prepare phase, spent investigating the nature and size of the opportunities existing within BBGE; a deliver phase, where a co-ordinated set of projects to achieve the goals was carried out, with an emphasis on skills transfer and coaching; and a sustain phase, where the company would continue to perform and deliver to agreed targets and continuously improve after the consultants had left.

There was a joint team consisting of Boxwood consultants and full-time BBGE staff - the kind of people who were key to the organisation and hard to release, demonstrating that this programme was top priority for management. The team began by interviewing more than 10% of the organisation to understand culture, issues and aspirations. Then, guided by a number of hypotheses, the team investigated the opportunities for improvement in site operations, plant and maintenance operations, manufacturing operations, sales and marketing and internal business functions.

The findings of this prepare phase laid the foundations for a business case and implementation plan for the next phase.

While the deliverables of the individual projects in the plan would themselves add value to the business, the process of carrying out the projects was designed to change the way people worked - to become more focused and rigorous in approach and hence more successful in making change happen.

The programme for this deliver phase was split into six workstreams, each comprising a number of individual projects, led by a BBGE 'change agent' and supported by a Boxwood consultant.

In total, some 50 individual projects were kicked off during the time that Boxwood worked with BBGE. The consultants worked closely with the change agents and executive sponsors, coaching and transferring skills in performance improvement techniques, project planning, managing stakeholders, influencing people, making change happen and measuring results. The scheme was steered monthly by the executive team, with the Boxwood programme leader in attendance.

In order to ensure a lasting culture of performance improvement, BBGE and Boxwood developed and embedded a continuous cycle of measuring performance, identifying ways to improve, creating and managing improvement projects through to successful completion and measuring the impact on performance.

The journey was long and tough, but after 20 months of working alongside Boxwood, BBGE could see evidence of real results. Despite the economic downturn, turnover had increased by 40% to ú115m, net profit had doubled at 7.9%, and operational downtime had decreased from 35% to 15%. The organisation now has a performance improvement culture led from the top, and a vision to continue setting more ambitious targets.

'Working with Boxwood staff was a breath of fresh air,' says Wren. 'They were direct and honest, making us address issues that we were avoiding or ignoring. They got under the skin of our organisation and really made things happen differently, so that our goal became a reality.'

TAKE-HOME TIPS

With Boxwood as its partner, Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering embarked on an ambitious programme of transformational change to increase revenue and profit, and reinvent the way the organisation worked in order to secure its place as industry leader. After 20 months, turnover had increased by 40% to ú115m, and net profit had doubled to 7.9%.

- Get top-team buy-in from the start - strong sponsorship equals successful delivery.

- Leverage existing skills - People work best when stretched, but not so far that they go completely outside their area of expertise.

- Address people issues head-on - This is a project for you but a career for the client's employees. Take their concerns and suggestions seriously.

The Best Small Firm Award is given to the best entry made by a small firm (of fewer than 50 full-time consultants) in any of the 14 categories, after the Platinum Award has been made.

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