Case Study: Tidy Slabs – creating an organisation of leaders
Concrete foundation company increases productivity, lowers staff turnover and improves customer service through leadership training.
Tidy Slabs case study video
When small businesses in the construction sector grow, they typically experience a common set of challenges. As they take on more work and increase their staff, business owners often find they need to expand their skill sets to effectively manage their more complex businesses. A significant increase in business can make it more difficult to deliver services consistently and productively.
Concrete foundation specialists, Tidy Slabs, experienced these growing pains. Significant growth in the early years resulted in more than 80% staff turnover, decreased efficiency and significant inconsistencies in the company’s work laying concrete slabs. Inconsistent delivery of work triggered delays in the residential sector, which caused a domino effect for other subcontractors.
Tidy Slabs senior leaders tried to implement 'Lean' and 'Continuous Improvement' methodologies, but they struggled to embed the changes within the workforce. To effectively deliver the sustainable change required to support business growth, Managing Director Andy Garvie recognised that they needed confident, capable and inspiring leaders at all levels of the organisation. Leadership training is now offered to all staff – creating an environment that enables and encourages employees in identifying opportunities to improve the firm’s efficiency and consistency.
Project goal: To improve productivity and consistency of service delivery by investing in leadership development at all levels of the organisation.
- 45 employees – a number which continues to grow
- Earthworks and foundation construction, focusing on offering end-to-end service, from design and tendering through to earthworks and construction
- In the last five years Tidy Slabs have delivered more than 1,500 individual concrete foundations.
Applies to: Owner-operated and small to medium businesses, especially those looking to grow.
- Increase productivity
- Grow employee capability
- Improve employee and organizational resilience
- Restore confidence, pride and reputation.
- Clear career pathways and opportunities to upskill
- Trusted and respected professions
- An environment that encourages and supports thriving mental health and wellbeing
- Increased earning power
- High performance culture
- A stable, healthy and more productive construction sector.
- Being accountable
- Focusing on delivering quality
- Working in a collaborative and inclusive way
- Sharing success and learning from failure
- Fostering careers to nurture the industry's future
- Recognising and rewarding effort and success.
Project stage: Relates to overall business practices.
Beacon monitoring process: The Accord Beacons team will have semi-regular reviews with Tidy Slabs, including sharing lessons learnt from its ongoing leadership development.
Using leadership training to support business growth
A risk in growth for small businesses in New Zealand is mismanagement, and the construction and infrastructure sector are no different. A sole trader who is performing well might employ an apprentice to support their work and help grow the next generation of talent. As the business grows, they might find they need extra support quite quickly. Suddenly, the business becomes a four or five person operation, then its profile increases and grows to a staff of almost 20.
Through this growth issues can arise – the company’s growth and complexity has surpassed the sole trader’s ability to manage the business and the business can become less productive.
Low productivity in the New Zealand residential construction market can often be attributed to a lack of consistency, rather than the speed of delivery. Inconsistency can result in delays, work needing to be redone and alterations for other sub-trades.
Tidy Slabs understood that increasing the consistency of its delivery would increase their productivity, and in-turn support future growth. Managing Director Andy Garvie undertook a 12 month Callaghan Innovation – Better by Lean program facilitated by Intent Group, which explored methods and practices to improve business productivity. Garvie then sought to implement a raft of business improvements and new ideas to improve efficiency and remove resource-wasteful activities from day-to-day operations. However, he quickly identified that it doesn’t matter how efficient systems are if employees don’t adopt them and strive to embed them into business procedures.
To create sustainable change, Tidy Slabs needs engaged leaders throughout the organisation. Employees that are engaged and equipped with leadership capabilities feel empowered to spot opportunities, develop solutions and see the bigger picture.
The challenge of taking on more projects, and laying down multiple concrete slabs at the same time, can only be achieved with a workforce of employees that understand Tidy Slab’s mission and how they can contribute to delivering successful project outcomes. Developing leaders throughout the company means staff can apply leadership skills in a project environment – effectively working with other sub-trades to solve problems.
All staff members at Tidy Slabs are encouraged to undertake leadership development training, regardless of whether there is a supervisor role available or not. New employees are put through slab training, which allows them to effectively operate on site, then supervisor training and general management training.
"We see that our approach benefits everyone. Our leadership training leads to better quality and higher productivity, which benefits us. Employees tend to stick around, but those that do leave take their skills with them for the good of the industry." - Andy Garvie, Tidy Slabs Managing Director
Employees who have completed leadership training demonstrate a more proactive attitude – feeding ideas back to leadership about how systems and processes can be improved. Creating more sustainable systems enables leaders to plan larger projects and better equips them to manage detailed programme delivery.
Tidy Slabs developed a framework to demonstrate how providing leadership training to entry level staff ensures there is an ongoing cycle of new ideas and improvements, helping to increase consistency and productivity.
Tidy Slabs also shares this framework with suppliers and clients. The company believe that if project partners adopt the model and invest in their own leadership development programmes, it will help improve project performance and lift the productivity of the entire industry.
Outcomes and benefits
Tidy Slabs now works to a clearly defined set of systems and processes for every stage of its projects, with confidence that improvements will be adopted and applied to day-to-day business practice. This is what Tidy Slabs calls "sustainable systems".
By applying the Last Planner concept (a tool picked up in their adoption of Lean Construction that promotes team risk reviews on a daily basis), Tidy Slabs track the effectiveness of their planning and monitor key performance indicators (KPI’s), such as the accuracy of the planned date of pouring concrete, and daily task productivity. In the financial year ending June 2021, Tidy Slabs had increased their output by 30% without increasing their headcount, a pure productivity increase.
Tidy Slabs has sites established in Wellington, Wairarapa and Auckland (with a new site planned for Manawatu) and currently maintains an annual staff turnover of less than 10%. Through embedding their culture of leadership and Lean, Tidy Slabs has been able to move past its previous growing pains and is well positioned to ramp up their growth in the coming years.
Success with the Tidy Slabs leadership framework requires business owners to consciously apply and embed it into their business operations, which will progressively drive sustainable change.
Below are some of the lessons learnt by Tidy Slabs in rolling out its leadership framework.
Access more resources for small business owners(external link) - business.govt.nz
Hire enthusiastic and honest people
Creating sustainable momentum for change requires energetic people to drive it. When hiring, consider whether candidates have the potential and capacity to act as a driving force.
Paint a compelling picture
If employees are going to commit to working through the leadership development cycle, they need to understand the vision and goals of the business they are working for.
Inspire your team
Understand what your employee's personal and professional drivers and goals are and how the leadership development cycle can help to achieve them.
Ask for feedback
Take plenty of opportunities to check-in with employees and project partners on progress and consider whether any improvements need to be made.
Learn from mistakes and share learnings with others
Become comfortable with openly unpacking mistakes and sharing them in a way that allows lessons to be learnt and applied by others.
Recognition and Reward
While part of the satisfaction for employees is seeing their suggestions and ideas implemented in the business, leaders need to support that behavior through recognition, and encourage employees to be proud of their contributions.
Get the right help
Don't be afraid to ask for help. This could include asking other business owner/s for a catch-up to share ideas and/or bringing in an external consultant to help you understand and develop a particular skill (e.g. data analysis, leadership training and marketing).
While it can be hard to justify initially, the return on the investment can be exponential.
Pay it forward
Proactively share your learnings and successes with your supply chain partners. This enables them to improve their capability and productivity, which will help your own business be more effective.