Case study: Scafit - people centric approach to staff wellbeing and development
Scafit changed its business model and approach, to focus on staff wellbeing and development with excellent results for the staff, the business, and the wider community.
A few years ago, the owners of Scafit, a medium-sized scaffolding business operating in Palmerston North and Whanganui, had to take an unexpected month off. When they came back, they found their business was on the brink of collapse. A mixture of poor management, staffing retention issues and bad advice had nearly brought the company to its knees during the owners' absence.
This was a major turning point for Scafit, as the owners realised they had to change the way the company worked. They decided they needed to work on creating a business focussed on developing a high-performing, well-trained, loyal and happy team that could contribute to the growth and longevity of the company.
The owners knew things had to change but were initially unsure of the exact recipe to follow. The owners of Scafit started investing in the business and its people. They initially focussed on ensuring the right people were in the right roles. Then they brought in a leadership development expert to run a leadership management essential skills course to train and equip key managers and those identified as potential leaders. From the success of the first course, they developed an inhouse training course that became available to all their employees. This helped set off a bigger cultural change within the company.
In addition, Scafit developed a comprehensive employee wellbeing programme, which evolved over time and includes benefits like quick access to a physiotherapist, comprehensive health and life insurance, all-day breakfasts, and six appointments to a psychologist if required.
"Developing leadership at all levels drives culture. I'm sure it starts with the right people in the Waka." – David Crowley, Managing Director, Scafit.
There were early signs that this people centric approach was working. Staff were being looked after, trained up and provided with new personal and professional opportunities. As a result, staff retention improved significantly. To fully understand the impact, Scafit wanted to measure the company's performance more objectively. Each year, Scafit's performance gets externally assessed, which helps them continuously improve the business over time.
Scafit's people centric approach is a terrific example the Accord's third mid-term goal - More thriving people and organisations. Businesses and individuals thrive when they are successful in achieving their unique goals and ambitions. Scafit has done a great job at developing its staff, which in turn has led to the development and success of the business itself.
Scafit case study video
When Scafit decided to change its business approach and operating model, it didn't need to start from scratch. Scafit already had a strong set of company values in place. The problem was that these values were not being put into practice in the day-to-day operations.
Vision and values(external link) - scafit.co.nz
Scafit decided to take a good hard look at its management practices and whether they were putting the right people into the right roles. To assist with this process, they formed an advisory board chaired by business consultant David Gaynor. The management team also found mentors within an organisation called Collective Intelligence that helped develop the soft skills required to build better leadership. The Collective Intelligence kaupapa is connection and belonging, diversity and inclusion, mana enhancing and aroha. They focus on the wellbeing and development of leaders and future leaders and how they can be better and more meaningfully supported. They achieve this by enabling powerful, unbiased feedback from competent people.
Collective Intelligence(external link) - collectiveintelligence.co.nz
Scafit also employed a leadership and management expert, Catherine Gavigan. Over 4 years, she led a leadership course for the management team and other selected individuals from the company. Catherine helped Scafit co-develop a bespoke inhouse training course available to all employees who are keen to learn and grow within the organisation. The course consists of a set of modules covering topics like basic induction, the company's tikanga, soft skills, technical skills and leadership skills. Since many of the staff had a difficult time learning in the school environment, it was important that the course was accessible, safe and engaging for everybody. By teaching new skills and providing a career pathway from starter to management, the course has helped develop staff both personally and professionally. In addition to engaging and developing leadership capabilities, the course has a heavy focus on setting goals and helping staff understand their 'why'.
"We found goals provide motivation, which in turns creates positive behaviours in individuals" – David Crowley.
Scafit did not stop there. Their people centric business model required them to strive for something better and to address their employees' needs. Over the past six years, Scafit have evolved and developed a comprehensive employee wellbeing programme that includes benefits such as:
- Access to a private physiotherapist that the company funds. Employees get a first appointment within 24 hours of an injury, and the physiotherapist manages a return-to-work plan.
- Access to clinical psychologists for employees dealing with mental health challenges that the company funds.
- Company-wide life and trauma insurance.
- All day open kitchen, starting with breakfast, which allows all employees to have a sit-down meal together before heading off to their worksites. The kitchen stays open all day and employees can help themselves. Ice blocks are kept in the freezer for when workers are operating in high temperatures.
Of course, wellbeing goes hand-in-hand with health and safety. One of Scafit's company values is 'Above all, we are safe'. It's crucial that everybody using their scaffolding, whether crew member, contractor or client, is out of harm's way. Scafit wanted to be sure they were performing well in health and safety, and this led them to gaining a number of national and international health and safety accreditations, including ISO45001.
Outcomes and benefits
Greatly improved staff wellbeing, retention, and development
Unsurprisingly, Scafit's people centric business model has had a positive impact on its people. All of Scafit's employees have access to the company's personal development and skills training courses, which not only helps employees build their careers but also pursue their personal goals. This became a profound learning and development opportunity, particularly for those employees who had limited opportunities in school.
Scafit's wellbeing programme and policies have ensured that its employees were being looked after both during and outside of work hours. Company all-day breakfasts have built friendships and support networks. Strong health and safety practices have minimised on-the-job injuries, and access to physiotherapists and psychologists have helped employees look after their physical and mental health. Life and trauma insurance aided staff and their families during times of illness and crisis, in both financial and practical ways. Paying staff above minimum wage and industry expectations is another way in which Scafit practices its people centric approach.
All these factors have contributed to a happier, more productive and loyal team. Staff retention has risen significantly, while absenteeism and sick leave has decreased. Most of their leadership team have come up internally through their system. This has led to some great individual success stories. In one instance, Scafit supported an employee to achieve his level five teaching qualification and now he provides literacy training at the company. Other employees have been able to achieve major personal milestones like buying their first homes.
Investing in the company's culture increased commercial returns
Scafit has invested broadly in leadership development courses, personal development and skills training, health and safety accreditation and a comprehensive employee wellbeing programme. Despite the extensiveness of these activities, Scafit estimates that the total annual cost to the company is less than two percent of its total annual labour cost.
For Scafit to bring these improvements to their employees, they had to see that their investment was paying off and helping the company make a profit at the same time as working towards their goal of creating a thriving business for all. Although Scafit hasn't officially quantified the return on investment, they estimate that the benefits of this investment outweigh the costs by 8 to 10 times. Importantly, Scafit found that their investment had much wider intangible and unquantifiable benefits. The changes to the company culture and leadership style made Scafit a more enjoyable, positive, and rewarding place to work for everybody, including the owners and managers.
The most important asset to a business is the right people
Scafit found that the more they invested in the people, the harder they worked, the more they cared about the outcomes, the more profitable the business became, and ultimately, the more the company could give back to its staff and their families. Treating people well creates a culture of genuine care which reflects loyalty, job satisfaction and productivity. This contributes to a more satisfying work environment in which individuals are rewarded and appreciated for what they do, provided with opportunities to grow, and taken care of when things aren’t going well. It's also critical to get the right people in the right roles. Putting your trust in the right (or wrong) people can make or break a business.
Business values need to be tied to actions for them to work
Despite having had a guiding vision and set of values (known as the 'Scafit Tikanga') for a long time, Scafit found that one of the main reasons their business nearly failed was because their actions were not aligned with these values and business vision. Changing to a people centric business model put the Scafit Tikanga at the forefront of decision-making. For example, one of Scafit's company values is that 'Above all, we are safe'. To put this value into practice, Scafit sought out and gained additional health and safety accreditations and audits to ensure they were operating in as safe a way as possible.
Being vulnerable and asking for help can make a big difference
When we asked the owners of Scafit what they would do differently if they had to start all over again, they said that they would be more vulnerable and recognise that they didn’t know what they didn't know. Asking the right people for advice and guidance can really help. Hiring external leadership and management experts helped upskill Scafit's leadership team. Scafit also benefited from being coached and mentored by other business leaders. Coaching can be as simple as finding people that are doing well and asking them how they are doing it.
Measuring performance allows a business to make ongoing improvements
A key part of Scafit's success is their commitment to assessing themselves as a company and making improvements over time. Scafit didn’t transform overnight. It took several years of learning from their mistakes and making iterative changes to get to where they are now. Monitoring the business’s performance created a useful learning loop. Scafit would implement a change, assess the impact of that change, learn what went well and what didn't, implement a new change based on lessons learnt, and repeat that process again and again. External assessments, such as the B Corp certification, have helped Scafit understand how their business is performing and where they can do better.
Scafit website(external link) - scafit.co.nz