Yesterday I was able to attend the Constructing Excellence in Essex event at Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford. The event was entitled Better Skills for Better Business, you can see the flier for the event here, but I wanted to post today about Liz Lake and her attitude to staff.
Liz Lake is a Landscape Architect based in Stansted. Liz set up her own business from her back bedroom in 1985 and now has 20 staff. She told the audience she hasn’t had to lose any people over that period and given the recession and the fact that when we first met the firm was working very heavily with developers, this is a testament to her good management. I thought I’d share with you just a few of the things Liz said.
“Consultancy is people oriented, so you must look after your people.
“Link your staff development to your business strategy.
“You must have payscales and job descriptions; they give your staff a pathway to progression.
“We have staff appraisals; on personal development, not money (that is done separately). Find out what your people want to do so your plan can include for it.
“We have a skills register that is a public document. People can state they are very good or good at something, or that they need training or would like training. This enables them to express an interest in learning new things.
“We support our landscape architects through a part time MA at the Writtle College of Design. To afford to do this the business had to get bigger, but it has grown with the work and we are more resilient for it.
“People stay with us because they want to. When people go off and leave your firm to set up their own business, it is probably because they feel they are in a dead end job. I’d rather my people stayed with me so I could help them develop, and that way we make money out of their success.
“We spend around £600 a year on each member of staff’s training needs.To pay for external training we actively look for grants, and sometimes suppliers find funding for us.
“They bought a big TV for the meeting room – I thought they wanted to watch the World Cup but it was for web-based seminars. We now do a lot of web-based training which is excellent because people don’t have to waste time traveling.
“We have CPD training from manufacturers, if you’re prepared to accept the hard sell, the training can be high quality.
“In house we have Monday meetings, in house CPD to discuss issues and share knowledge, and specialist groups such as Landscape Graphics and Computer Strategy. These groups help our people interact and teach you how to present ideas to your colleagues.
“Each senior person also has a mentoring role and is expected to teach others, which is good for personal development in itself.
“If I didn’t trust the people I work with I’d be doing gardens. And that’s it.
“So what are the benefits?
- “Staff are highly motivated;
- “Skills are acquired and shared;
- “The practice is known for being technically competent. I’d rather by known as expensive and very good than cheap and not very good;
- “As a result of this reputation we have been able to run training days with Landscape Officers and other influential people which has raised our profile further.
- “We were recently asked to buy advertising that would associate ourselves with English Heritage. I was able to refuse the advertising because our expertise is well enough known that English Heritage asks us to train their people.”
- “The type of work we do is often called a lifestyle business, because you can’t make money at it. However, we have a lifestyle business that makes money.”
I first met Liz Lake around seven years ago speaking to a group of women in enterprise, though some of my colleagues in other firms had aready worked with her people. Shortly afterwards I was fortunate to visit her practice and she gave me some very good advice which helped me make my next career decision.
Liz is a very busy woman and it is difficult to get a chance to hear her speak, but I recommend her to you. And who wouldn’t want to work for a practice like that?
If you’d like to know more about Constructing Excellence in Essex, CEE are organising a visit to Bradwell Power Station on 2nd March and Meeting at the Pasisvhaus Centre for Disability Studies in Rochford to talk about Ecobuild in action on April 25th. For more details contact the co-ordinator, Val Rozga.
Image: From Liz Lake website: St Osyth Priory Essex Project