Insight

Graham executive chairman: ‘Our goal is to deliver lasting impact for clients’

27 January 2020

Employee training, wellbeing, technology and the environment – ingredients Graham Group’s executive chairman Michael Graham hopes will give his firm the edge as the private contractor enters a new decade. CM reports.

Employees at 150-year-old construction business Graham Group aren’t shirkers. Michael Graham, executive chairman of the privately owned firm, which operates from 23 regional offices in the UK and Ireland, is proud of the fact that absence at the company is 400% lower than the UK national average.

“We believe that if we look after the people who look after our business, we will continue to grow,” he says of the company, which has established a major UK presence having only expanded to the country from Ireland in 1985. “It [the low rate of absence] is a great indication of the team’s happiness and means our jobs flow with greater continuity to the benefit of all our clients.”

Investing in people

Graham Group takes the way it treats its people seriously. It is an Investors in People (IIP) platinum-accredited business – the highest accolade that can be achieved against the IIP standard – and has recently added the IIP health and wellbeing award, making it the first company to achieve both simultaneously.

Michael Graham CV

1984-85: Site engineer, French Kier Construction

1986-87: Planning engineer, Taylor Woodrow

1987-89: Consultant, Johnson Jackson Jeff

1989-93: Pre-construction manager, Graham Construction

1993-97: Director, Graham

1997-2007: Group managing director, Graham

2007-present: Group executive chairman, Graham Group

That investment in personnel is being directed through new channels, as the construction industry starts to embrace digital technology and other innovations. “We have supported the use of digital to streamline workflows and processes for years and we invest heavily in equipping our leadership and management teams with the skills to meet the demands and expectations of a modern, diverse and changing workforce,” says Graham.

“Without embracing a forward-thinking approach, the industry will struggle to attract the staff it needs to meet its future commitments.” 

Digital skills

Graham Group moved early to improve its digital skillsets and claims to have been the first contractor to hold two BSI kitemarks for BIM. With digital construction headed up by Melanie Dawson, the company delivers bespoke training to its 2,200 employees and also works with clients, design teams and wider stakeholders to ensure they are up to speed with the technologies it is using.

“We understand that changing traditional mindsets can be challenging. We champion digital technology from the top of the business and our team can see the benefits of this approach when it comes to advising clients on delivering projects as effectively as possible,” says Graham.

Keeping clients happy is of course one of the overriding considerations when it comes to the priorities the firm sets for upskilling its workers. “Ultimately, our goal is to deliver lasting impact for clients through the work we do,” says Graham. “We have built our reputation on quality and technical competency, and our strategy is to supplement the theory-based knowledge of our graduates and new recruits with a practical understanding of construction from those of us with longer industry experience.”

Sustainable goals

Meanwhile, the contractor is alert to the growing drive to make the industry more environmentally friendly. Recently it launched a revised corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy to align with the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The SDG are a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future and in following the goals Graham Group has committed to ambitious targets, covering everything from CO2 emissions and water reduction, through to social value.

Michael Graham on…

…quality

“We have developed a structured and practical approach to quality compliance that supports our delivery teams to get work right first time. We are active members of professional bodies and initiatives such as Project 13 and we support all of our people to strive for professional recognition such as MCIOB.”

…employee wellbeing

“We’re big believers in creating positive wellbeing by coaching and supporting our people to be physically and mentally well. To support this, we have our Connect development programme and Graham Academy. Connect is designed to help people take control and shape their career path.”

One way in which it hopes to fulfil its obligations under the revised strategy is by greater use of modular construction. Graham explains: “Approximately 70% of our building portfolio now incorporates some component of offsite manufacturing or standardised designs and, as the offsite manufacturing market matures, we want to increase these levels, optimise prefabrication techniques and promote repeat design where functionality and aesthetics allow it.”

Broadening diversity

But it isn’t just within technology and training where the firm hopes to follow a progressive agenda. Graham also wants to make the business more welcoming and inclusive to boost diversity. The firm uses “gender decoders” to ensure it doesn’t use gender-biased language when advertising jobs, but Graham admits that while positive steps have been made, it needs to do more to address imbalances in both gender and ethnicity. 

The company has devised a strategy called Fairness, Inclusion and Respect (FIR) to bring about change. It engages with groups like Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), which encourages females to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths-related (STEM) courses in school or college and has a team of STEM ambassadors working with minority groups and offering work experience opportunities.

The firm can already  point to changes: “Over the course of 2018, we saw marked improvement with a 133% increase in women on our management development programmes, a 17% increase in women promoted to senior roles, a 12% increase in women entering the Graham Academy, as well as a 33% increase in our benchmark score for the WISE 10-step plan over the last two years.”

As far as Graham’s own advice for new recruits is concerned, he urges them to soak up knowledge from senior colleagues. “Practical, hands-on experience, combined with the theory-based learning from college or university will make you a real asset for any company,” he advises.

And he hopes to practise what he preaches, describing his management style as inclusive and collaborative. “For me, it’s a priority to work in a respectful environment, which is why I am such an advocate of FIR and wellbeing,” he says. “I’ve been involved in construction for over 30 years and I am still inspired and motivated by the people, clients and communities we serve to this day.”

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