Construction firm boss reforms HR after going undercover as a labourer

The chief executive of a construction company has been able to reform the way his HR function operates after going undercover within his own organisation.

Stephen Martin, the boss of Clugston Group, spent two weeks working as a construction labourer on a number of different sites, to identify problem areas within his 600-strong workforce that HR had missed because of their predominantly office-based role.

By shedding his suit and working alongside the other labourers, Martin said he was able to get an “unfiltered view” of how his staff saw the company and the issues they were concerned about, identifying real problems with communication and skills.

The findings led to a change in communication channels and skills training, but also to a change in how the HR function operated.

Insisting it was not HR’s fault that these problems were not identified sooner, Martin told Personnel Today: “I have nothing but praise for the HR department, they have a tough job. HR managers are treated differently because they have a suit and tie on so they can’t communicate with the workers and find out what’s really going on.

“It’s a question of how you communicate on their level, and with the best will in the world, HR can’t do that from the office.”

Learning from his undercover experience, Martin is adamant his HR team will now spend more time on sites, building up the trust and respect of the workforce and learning more about specific concerns.

While undercover, one of the biggest problems Martin was able to identify was that his regular e-mail communication and notices to staff about developments within the business were not getting through to many of those working on the construction sites.

“I thought I was getting my message out there about what we were doing, but it became clear that workers on site were not getting that message because we were not talking to them in a format or language they wanted,” he said.

To address this, Martin set up teams consisting of labourers, supervisors and managers who meet frequently to discuss developments in the workplace.

During his time undercover, Martin also identified a skills gap developing in his workforce as many skilled and experienced workers prepared to retire. To combat this, he will launch a ‘Bridging the Gap’ scheme to encourage those with the skills to pass them on to younger workers.

Stephen Martin’s experiences undercover are part of a Channel 4 Series called Undercover Boss, which will be aired on 25 June.

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