Construction and High Heels

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This month is all about hard hats, construction, consent, compliance and seismic engineering. Which may seem somewhat of a juxtaposition to the perception of the work undertaken by First Follower. 

But let me take you back twenty odd years. I was the Communications Manager on the Hallam Bypass freeway project (which to this day I can recite the spiel ‘this $165M, 7.5km freeway project will reduce congestion and improve access through the growth corridor of Casey, the fastest growing municipality in Australia. Removing 10 sets of traffic light…’ oh boy!

The office was a set of ‘high end’ portables and the project run by the formidable George Mavroyeni (who taught me more about working hard, managing expectations and attention to detail than anyone in my career. He almost broke me too, standing me in very good stead for a life in professional services!). 

The engineers used to take great delight in popping me in the work vehicles with a hard hat, high vis vest, steel cap boots to ‘check out the cut and fill’ or inspect the ‘full diamond interchange’. I’m sure someone must have some photos somewhere…

My job responsibilities included all aspects of community liaison. It was back in the day where community consultation was seriously grass roots. Sure, we had the internet but certainly not social media or sophisticated techniques to encourage community input.

We had open days where residents could come to the project office (portables) and view the plans, a community liaison group and there were the engineers…and me. We would also letter drop streets aligning the reservation, advising residents when we would be in the area to speak to them about the project.

Then I, accompanied by an engineer (Paul Dall’oglio often got this task) clutching a rolled up full length plan (a couple of metres long typically), go door to door and introduce ourselves as representatives from the project. 

There are many tales to be told about this experience, including the gentleman who invited us into his home and proudly showed us the taxidermied deer by the fireplace…which he had shot himself. Not knowing his views on the freeway project at that point, Paul and I exchanged a look, wondering who would defend who…It was all good though, he loved the freeway idea!

It was a highly effective, if not time intensive, approach. 

The reason why it was so effective was because we were able to communicate the information through a combination of technical and non-technical language, translating it into insight, accessible to a range of audiences. This is not rocket science for those who work extensively in community engagement and consultation arenas.

The point was people were going to be impacted because of the decisions being taken by government, contractors and stakeholders. They needed to understand and can engage given the impact on their day to day life.

Fast forward back to present day. We are working extensively across the Tasman now, regarding navigating the New Zealand (NZ) regulatory environment, multiple stakeholders and the building consent process and translating the seismic compliance.

I love this work, collaborating, educating and influencing in the market. It’s messy and complex but I know the public value that results for our communities when we can effectively translate with those who are experts in seismic engineering, including BVT Engineering Professional Services. 

A year on from the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, the spotlight is absolutely on (and rightly so) compliance and regulation in the building and construction industries. There are those who are pushing back on the increased compliance requirements, citing regulatory burden, unfair costs to their business with increased materials and administrative overheads. 

The standards and building code are not new. The reality is most people in the community wouldn’t have any desire to learn about the intricacies of seismic compliance. But if a seismic event occurs, and a structure fails due to design failure the potentially for loss of life and loss of business continuity is devastating. The costs of not complying are much higher, and we owe our communities to ensure we work with those in the market who are committed to meeting the standards set and enforced by those who are experts.

Ceinwen McNeil is the founder and managing director of First Follower, an international strategy consulting firm which designs and executes growth strategies for professional services. Drawing on over twenty years of business development and client management experience in both the public and private sectors, she founded First Follower to enable businesses to successfully navigate step growth change. Ceinwen’s direct approach, commercial acumen and exemplary stakeholder engagement skills make her a highly sought-after adviser. Visit www.firstfollower.com for more information.

Ceinwen McNeil