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Laing O’Rourke, a multinational construction company, has taken a different approach to their safety needs. They are now using the Solution Focused approach to improve the safety on their construction sites. Over the last 18 months GCI Director, Annette Gray, has helped initiate and embed a coaching culture at Laing O’Rourke to help support conversations around safety.

In this podcast, Rob Mitchell, Coaching Lead at Laing O’Rourke and Suzy Ivy, Training Coordinator at Laing O’Rourke share the impact coaching has had on their organisation. Listen to how a Solution Focused approach can help with forging a better and safer way forward on construction sites.


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Transcript

Leigh Hatcher (presenter):
Hello, and welcome to the GCI Podcast Series. I'm Leigh Hatcher, and a compelling conversation about how coaching is being used in the corporate arena. It's the story of Laing O'Rourke, a big international construction business. It's taking an entirely different approach to safety on construction sites that's solution focused, something pretty unique in big construction.
Over the last 18 months, GCI director, Annette Gray, was invited to work with a big international construction business, Laing O’Rourke, to help initiate and embed a coaching culture for construction site safety. While it's clearly not coaching in an educational setting, the impact of this initiative was so broad and deep, and is such a compelling story, that we felt educators might benefit from hearing how a large coaching project, in a context quite different from education, was undertaken. There are actually many transferrable lessons for educators.
Annette and I are in a Skype conversation with Rob Mitchell, the coaching lead for Laing O’Rourke, and later, training coordinator, Suzy Ivy. We hope you enjoy the Laing O’Rourke story.


Rob Mitchell
I suppose the background of us, Leigh, is that Laing O’Rourke identified that they need to make a step change to improve things, but also in a bigger plane, they wanted to differentiate them from other construction companies around the world so that they were a preferred employer of choice, they had a commercial edge and, I'll say this, breaking that traditional barrier and breaking that traditional skeleton. I suppose one of the briefs they had was to challenge and disrupt the traditional thinking and approach to safety, and ensure that their organization was resilient through new levels of engagement and trust, and basically to move out of that numbers game, and the blame game, where traditional safety methods sat.
Leigh Hatcher:
And of all directions in which you could have headed, why did you go down the coaching track to develop a coaching culture? Why not something else to support the safety message, and why coaching, do you reckon?

Rob Mitchell
I suppose if we, once again, look at the background of it, it's been a very common topic of conversation between senior leaders over the past seven or eight years. If we move to one of the pillars of Next Gear and one of the three pillars of Next Gear, people are the solution. People create success more often than they are involved in failure. If you look at coaching as a platform to increase levels of engagement just through some of the key skills such as active listening, engagement with individuals, increased accountability, coaching fitted all those pieces. And once again, they wanted to be seen as a differentiator. A lot of major companies say and promote that they're involved in building a coaching culture, but when you really dig below the veneer, it's quite thin. I think if you had a dig in Laing O’Rourke there's quite a bit of depth there.
Leigh Hatcher:
Rob, you mentioned Next Gear, could you just briefly explain for our listeners what that is?

Rob Mitchell
Next Gear is the way Laing O’Rourke approach safety. Once again, it's quite a traditional working. It's quite a ground breaking platform. It's underpinned by three pillars. One is people are the solution, the next one is the presence of positives, and the third is safety is an ethical responsibility. All of our safety discussions and tools and tactics hang underneath those three pillars.
Leigh Hatcher:
Good stuff. And this was a different kind of coaching project for you, what kind of approach did you take, because to feel very much outside the normal area of education for TCI and your other perhaps corporate experience in finance?

Annette Gray
What I appreciated when I came into Laing O’Rourke and started having conversations around helping them create a coaching culture, that there'd been a lot of groundwork been done and particularly their focus on safety, it was so aligned to solution focus, it was like all the stars were aligning that we were talking the same language. So what was exciting was coaching and developing coaching skills for leaders was really going to help make safety happen on site and help the conversations be different. And so what emerged is, people when they came through the training is they're going, "Oh, this is talking the same language." So there was real synergy. That was one part, but the thing that's emerged throughout the whole project is the impact on focusing on implementation after the learning. I've never seen it quite done in such a comprehensive way, and Rob ran with that. He went to every site of every person that went through the program and we've had over 205 people through the workshops so far.
Leigh Hatcher:
Bravo to you, Rob. Join the dots for me, Annette. How does your solution focused approach connect with forging a better and safer way forward on construction sites?

Annette Gray
The key link is around if you change the conversation you're going to change everything ghat surrounds it. And doing safety differently, which Laing O’Rourke are really front runners in the industry, in terms of their approach there, it meant that the conversations had to be different on site, rather than leaders telling people what they needed to do, but asking questions and asking them to come up with ideas of what needed to do. Because the third principle of Next Gear of being it's everyone's ethical responsibility to have a mindset for that and a lens for that. Everyone on site needed to be doing that, but if you had a leader talking in a way that was very command and control, that was contradictory to that principle.
Leigh Hatcher:
Rob, have you ever experienced anything like this approach before, and then what impact have you seen from it?

Rob Mitchell
Over my career over the past 10 years involved in that leadership safety space, I'd say I'd worked to differing degrees on large scale resources projects, primarily with BHP and Chevron. I think one of the benefits of Laing O’Rourke is being a smaller organization it tends have the ability to be more agile and creative in the way they do things. Much quicker response. What I have seen is stronger relationships being built. We're an international business. We're spread across the whole continent of Australia. Physically we can be a little bit separated, so relationships within Laing O’Rourke are particularly important. I've seen the coaching piece and also the Next Gear piece build those relationship and I've always found that stronger relationships always lead to greater outcomes. One of those outcomes has been a higher performance.
Leigh Hatcher:
Which is where the rubber hits the road. But as Annette said, a key to this is implementation and you've gone to an extraordinary effort in making sure this kind of hits the ground running.

Rob Mitchell
One of the challenges that I've found with rolling out large scale coaching programs over the last five years is always the sustainability piece. People go to that initial skills transfer, but how do you maintain that skills transfer where it's actually becoming part of a person's day to day work. So the small pickings, the follow ups, the phone calls, the emails, checking how people are, is definitely where the rubber hits the road and it's where the value imparts itself to the business.
Leigh Hatcher:
You're listening to the Coaching in Education podcast. I'm in conversation with Annette Gray, and Rob Mitchell from the Laing O’Rourke construction business. Now one person who's been tremendously impacted by this coaching approach and really run with it is Suzy Ivy, training coordinator, who's seen a tremendous impact from it in a number of arenas.

Suzy Ivy
I guess my first exposure to the growth coaching model really opened my eyes to the difference between mentoring and coaching. Prior to attending the two day program, I'd really only been exposed to the mentoring program and what mentoring was all about. But I knew instantly that coaching was for absolutely everyone and you can use it anywhere and with anyone. That really resonated with me. The first thing we learned in the program was to shut up and listen. Now that's actually not as easy as you think, Leigh. I'm still actually coaching myself on this one.
Leigh Hatcher:
Me too, Suzy.

Suzy Ivy
It'll be an ongoing thing, I can tell you. But it's really about listening, really listening. Annette taught us to do that well, but as I said, I'll be probably coaching on that forever, but I'm okay with that. Also, prior to me going to the two day coaching program with Growth Coaching international ... I'm on a construction project ... we'd actually put together a training program for our construction supervisors. And initially, we'd included a mentoring skills competency to be included in the program. But after the coaching program, I immediately changed it and replaced it with a coaching skills competency, rather than the mentoring. It really fitted a lot better, and it was just something the supervisors that I knew on our construction project could easily adapt and it was going to be a key factor to managing their crews. We then, as a project, went on to adopt the coaching program for the rest of the staff.
Leigh Hatcher:
So now you do quite a bit of coaching in your role, I wanna know what's been the reaction of people to using this coaching style and what have you seen it do to relationships, Suzy?

Suzy Ivy
That is a really good question. The reaction and the response to, I guess, my coaching style has been the biggest surprise of all. I was really astounded, and to be honest, I continue to be astounded each day I use it, with just how easy coaching is and how powerful it can be. The responses have been very positive. It's marvelous to coach and to see those people benefiting from coaching. I actually even use it at home with my husband, but he doesn't even know that yet. He might now that he'll hear the podcast.
Leigh Hatcher:
He might now that he'll hear the podcast.

Suzy Ivy
I guess it's when you talk about relationships, Leigh, that's actually why I'm in this business. I love building relationships, and the coaching program really allows you to really get good at that and I guess, maintain those relationships. I know every industry is built around relationships, but it really does make for a better day when you can use the coaching skills well and really keep those relationships going.
Leigh Hatcher:
Too right. I wish our listeners could see Annette's face, because she's just sitting next to me beaming at all this. Rob, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Has this whole exercise, in your view, and this new kind of approach to culture, actually led to a safer workplace? Seems it has.

Rob Mitchell
I suppose, Leigh, my answer is yes to that. Sometimes, it can be quite difficult to quantify a non-traditional approach with a traditional yardstick. However, our safety statistics are better since the introduction of Next Gear coaching. People are more engaged and accountable for their sphere of influence. Our supply chain and our clients recognize that our projects have a culture of care and concern, and the relationships are much stronger than they would have on normal projects. The fallout of those stronger relationships is a much more trusting and caring environment, and a better safety performance tends to drop out of that, in my experience.
Leigh Hatcher:
Terrific. Suzy, can you give you a real life example of how this has actually changed work practices, safety on the ground, relationships? How's it working in practice?

Suzy Ivy
Absolutely. I've been coaching one person on this project in particular since late, I guess, last October, who had been having some challenges with building and maintaining those relationships, as we spoke about before, and also, in a broader sense, collaborating with the team. Look, that's really important when you're working on a construction project like we are here. The growth coaching model was so easy to use and it just seemed to work really well with both of us. We focused on short-term goals and a particular part of the model that worked really well for me and for us was probing questions. They allowed this individual to really figure out the next steps to get closer to that goal and the timeframe of when we were going to achieve those goals. Because we're in construction, the environments can be quite harsh in the field with the surroundings and the pace. The coaching skills and our relationship that we built, it allowed this person to really interface a lot more easily with all the stakeholders. Now stakeholders, that includes staff, sub contractors, clients, community representatives. By using the growth model, I could see that this person was achieving short-term goals and these really led to real outcomes.
Because we're in construction, the environments can be quite harsh in the field with the surroundings and the pace. The coaching skills and our relationship that we built, it allowed this person to really interface a lot more easily with all the stakeholders. Now stakeholders, that includes staff, sub contractors, clients, community representatives. By using the growth model, I could see that this person was achieving short-term goals and these really led to real outcomes.
I guess another example with how the growth coaching, I guess, leads through to safety and how that has affected our project, we also adopted coaching at our safety pre-start meetings and toolboxes. For those who don't work in the construction industry, that's when a group of workers, sometimes really large groups, we get together in the morning at early times in the morning and we talk about what the daily operations of the crews are going to be through the day. That's really crucial for setting up crews for their work day. They need to understand the risks involved with what lies ahead in the day.
We replaced the narrative of a lot of these pre-starts, which were so negative, with solutions focused meetings. And with the crews, we now achieve better outcomes. The coaching is all about, "How can we do this in our day altogether?" Instead of using such a negative narrative. And as Annette said earlier, it's really about involving the crews and about having those conversations. Before you know it, in one meeting, you've got everybody coaching each other.
Leigh Hatcher:
What a great result. Well, Annette ... oh beaming one, if you can wipe that beam off your face ... when you hear all this, how does it leave you feeling, especially seeing the breadth of ways in which this coaching approach has been applied with such great results?

Annette Gray
It makes me, as a practitioner, as a consultant ... it's so exciting to hear an organization run with it like this. That's always been our aim at Growth Coaching that it can be applied the next day after the learning, and that's clearly coming through that it hasn't been hard to apply and it's being used widely by all. So it's so exciting. If I look at organizational trends in coaching, and there was a report last year on that, global report, Laing O’Rourke are doing around coaching, so they had someone like Rob in his role that was able to drive it internally. The conversations are happening between so many people in so many different roles. So yeah, very exciting and I just can't wait to see what the next phase brings.
Leigh Hatcher:
A huge well done to all three of you, Suzy, Rob and Annette. Thank you so much indeed for joining us. It's been a great and inspiring conversation.

Rob Mitchell
Excellent.

Suzy Ivy
Thanks for having me.

Annette Gray
Thank you, Leigh.

Leigh Hatcher:
You've been listening to the GCI Podcast. Check out our other range of inspiring conversations at  http://www.growthcoaching.com.au.

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