More than a railway

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2014

Crossrail took the ‘Excellence in the Public Sector’ crown at the Investors in People Awards. After the ceremony, RTM caught up with the project’s head of organisational effectiveness, Rob Jones.

Crossrail’s achievements are well-known in railway circles, and it has made waves elsewhere too, from archaeology to sustainability. But its latest achievement is people-related, with a major win at the Investors in People awards, taking the ‘Excellence in the Public Sector’ trophy.

There can be few Londoners (and surely no RTM readers) who haven’t heard of Crossrail, but it’s had more national exposure over the summer thanks to the BBC2 series, ‘The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway’.

Construction is currently at its peak, with almost 14,000 people working on the project overall, of whom 1,200 work for the client delivery organisation, made up of Crossrail Ltd and its partners CH2M Hill and Bechtel. The rest work for its major contractors, the supply chain, or as sub-contractors.

Crossrail is a project, a business, and a team. Rob Jones, its head of organisational effectiveness, made it clear that the values driving it and the culture they have created apply to everyone working on it, not just those few hundred people directly employed by Crossrail Ltd.

He told RTM: “We don’t talk about the fact that people might work for CH2M Hill or Bechtel, or that I work for Crossrail Ltd. We’re all on ‘Team Crossrail’. Andrew Wolstenholme is the chief executive of both Crossrail Ltd and ‘Team Crossrail’.

“When it comes to the 10,000 people in the supply chain, we’ve positioned it as people working ‘on Crossrail’ rather than ‘for Crossrail’. Our ambition is that our values are for anybody working on Crossrail: the mission is for everybody, it’s not a case of ‘if you’re on the Costain-Skanska JV (joint venture company), these don’t apply to you’. We’ve tried to be inclusive rather than exclusive.”

A ‘pop-up’ organisation with perpetual values

Jones was thrilled that the project’s human resources and talent development achievements were recognised at the Investors in People Awards on 23 June.

He explained: “Given the complexity and the scale of what we’re doing, but also the fact that we’re what could be referred to as a ‘pop-up organisation’ – we’re not going to be here forever – part of what impressed the judges was the amount we’ve been able to do and our commitment to doing it.

“Given the context, it would be easy to say, ‘we don’t need to do all of this stuff, we’re only a project’. We’ve taken the attitude that we need to be the best project: we’re delivering more than just a railway, we’re delivering a legacy.

“That’s the top line. Below that, [what impressed the judges was] a clarity of purpose around our vision and mission, and putting our values into practice across the programme – both on understanding and recognition, and the amount of effort we’ve put into our internal communications, our performance management, and so on.”

Asked whether the other companies involved in delivering Crossrail ever feel that their own corporate cultures are being trampled on or ignored, Jones told us: “No, because we did a lot of work to make sure we weren’t trampling. When we first started talking about the values, we asked our partner organisations and our suppliers whether there was anything we were saying that would make it difficult for them to continue to have their own values. They said no, that they were complementary. Hopefully we’re creating a virtuous circle.”

All hands

One aspect praised by the judges was the visibility and engagement of the leadership team with frontline workers.

Jones explained that the executives on the project do so-called ‘all hands briefings’ once a month, meaning each of the project’s worksites will get to interact with one of the senior team every couple of months.

“That isn’t just a Powerpoint and a ‘broadcast’,” Jones said, “they turn up and give the verbal topline on what’s gone well and what the challenges are, but it’s then thrown open as a Q&A session. It’s really useful to the teams, because it’s a chance for them to ask difficult questions, and hear the answers. It can be difficult for the leadership to be able to listen to the whole organisation and not just what comes through layers of hierarchy.

“Every member of the leadership also does safety leadership tours around site, including the chief executive, who also does a ‘meet the CEO’ event every month. Andrew goes to a worksite, there are bacon rolls, people are told to put their name on a spreadsheet and they can spend an hour talking with Andrew.

“There’s nobody from my team saying ‘we don’t want him in there’ or ‘don’t ask that question’. It’s just ‘crack on’.”

Talent and careers

The skills legacy of Crossrail is another important aspect. At the last count, just over 350 apprentices have come through its programme, and it also has a graduate scheme and offers work experience. Jones said: “It’s something we’re very passionate about, but we also realise that without something of this scale, taking this leadership role, it’s very difficult to make these kinds of changes. So, coming back to the idea of not letting ourselves off the hook by thinking of ourselves as ‘just a project’, we have a full personal development planning system, leadership development, and a succession and talent offer – just as a ‘perpetual’ organisation would have.”

Obviously, a project with a defined end date means that people will have to consider their own futures, once Crossrail construction is complete and it is handed over to its operators and maintainers. Jones said: “The challenge is to be open and honest with people. The good thing is, nobody joined Crossrail thinking it was for life.

“The more you can empower the individual to make their own decision and not create insecurity by a lack of transparency, the better. It’s important to be open and honest, and the Olympic Delivery Authority’s experience showed us that you can get really good retention if you do it appropriately.”

Public sector values?

RTM asked Jones how much he and his team – and the rest of the Crossrail workforce – actually felt part of the ‘public sector’, considering that’s what the award was for. Clearly its funding (it has a ‘funding envelope’ of £14.8bn from the government, Transport for London, the Greater London Authority and contributing businesses) makes it public sector, but how do its workers feel? The ‘public sector’ question has come to the fore in rail this year, with the confirmation that Network Rail – and its debts – are now part of the public sector.

Jones said: “I don’t think many people [on Crossrail] would quote the Nolan principles to you – but actually, most of them would live them without realising it.”

The seven ‘Nolan principles of public life’ – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership – apply to everyone holding public office or delivering public services on their behalf.

Jones added: “There’s a real sense of duty about the fact that we’re spending public money, and also a sense of duty in that we’re doing things ‘to’ the public: every time you close a road or have to divert something, it has a huge impact on what is an exceptionally busy city. Duty is the word I’d use. There’s a sense that we’re here to do this for the country, though I personally see myself as a ‘UK plc sector’ worker than a ‘public sector’ worker.”

‘Investors in People is very different now’

Jones told us: “I got a tremendous amount of value from the Investors in People assessment itself. This was someone who was an expert: the assessors are not amateurs at this. He worked very hard to get a lot of openness and gave some quality feedback. It felt like a really valid second pair of eyes – somebody to tell us when something we thought was landing is actually not landing so well, but that something else is really going great guns.

“He spent two weeks with us in May 2013, and visited sites, held focus groups, and the value in that process was just great.

“I first interacted with Investors in People in 2002, and at the time it was often known as ‘Investors in Paper’, because getting an assessment was about blinding them with process and policy and procedure. It was more like an audit.

“But, fast-forward 10 or 11 years, what Investors in People have been able to do with the process, and the value I felt I got from it, has changed exponentially. To anyone still of the mindset that I was, I’d say: try it again. It’s a very different thing today.”

Discussing the awards ceremony and Crossrail’s win, Jones told us: “It was a validation for the organisation: when you say to somebody, ‘we need to talk about engagement’, or ‘we need to undertake the Investors in People assessment’, it’s another thing for them to have to do for us to deliver the railway. So the validation of the work of the organisation, and to get a bit of recognition externally, was lovely. We had a good night!”

The right approach

What Investors in People had to say about Crossrail: “Crossrail demonstrates an example of excellence that shows what is possible with the right approach in even the most complex of situations.

“The fact Crossrail has got from a standing start to this level in such a short time is testament to the simple and practical approach, with visible and accessible senior leadership, single managers leading cross organisational teams, along with additional elements that show determination to be ‘one’ organisation – working together on development activities, mentoring, innovation and six sigma across organisational boundaries.”

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