Stephen Dobinson is a director at Arc Building Consultancy, an independent firm of chartered Building Surveyors based in the Midlands. Like every business, Arc has been affected by the well-documented Covid-19 pandemic, with the company forced to adapt to new working practices. With these changes having sparked genuine consideration as to how businesses will continue to operate day-to-day under the so-called ‘new normal’, Dobinson lifts the lid on how his business has met the challenges posed by the pandemic while offering further insight into the leadership behind the firm.
Speaking on a Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland podcast with our communications director, Scott Challinor, Dobinson did not hesitate to admit that he has always been enthusiastic about technology and innovation and bringing those elements into the running of the business. With the coronavirus outbreak forcing the hand of office-based workers to begin carrying out their duties remotely, Dobinson feels that working in such a manner came as a natural step, making for a seamless transition into new working procedures.
Dobinson said: “I have always been big on technology and staying up to date and ensuring that people have all of the information they require at their fingertips. In any industry, information is power and putting such an emphasis on technology meant that home working was a natural next step for us, and it has worked well for us moving over to such a way of working during this crisis.
Despite the change in working practice proving to be a smooth one, Dobinson was keen to point out that a balance still needed to be struck between working at a distance and enabling interaction between people, be they clients or colleagues.
Dobinson explained: “Business works around people and interaction as much as anything else, so striking the balance between working safely at a distance and having that interaction is important. Fortunately, technology has allowed us to do that during this time. We have never been fixed around a nine-to-five working day in our industry as chartered surveyors, we carry out work to deadlines as and when clients provide us with work.”
Indeed, part of what has made navigating the pandemic a less challenging task for the firm is entirely down to the team of people that keep the business running and how they have applied themselves during one of the most unprecedented challenges of our time. Moving on to the topic of assembling that team, Dobinson was happy to shed light on Arc’s recruitment philosophy.
He said: “Over the years, we have perhaps brought people in who we thought were the so-called ‘finished article’, but their own philosophy maybe wasn’t quite right for our business. We decided, therefore, to look at bringing in younger people to develop, rather than those with ready-made technical skills.
“I am a believer in the idea that people must be given the leeway to try things for themselves and learn by their mistakes. Where there are setbacks, we don’t lambaste people, but rather we ask the question of what they learned from that mistakes and encourage them to question that.
“Giving people confidence and empowering them to believe that they can do things for themselves and make decisions of their own without referring to more senior staff members is hugely important from a leadership perspective. That applies especially in an industry such as ours where projects usually have one person from our office working on them, rather than huge, collaborative team efforts.”
Dobinson believes that without a clear pathway to growth and development, it becomes difficult to convince new recruits to buy into the collective vision of the business.
“People must be able to grow and develop, otherwise they’ll simply get bored. Equally, I want people to have the confidence to eventually question me as their leader. I want them to have limitless ambition.”
Ambition and motivation are certainly two qualities that Dobinson looks for in prospective recruits, as he elaborated on the podcast.
“People who are enthusiastic and have a certain self-motivation and drive come across more strongly than technically superior candidates. Industry is about people, so people-skills, motivation and personality are hugely important.”
Dobinson also took the time to offer some wisdom for those people who are stepping out into employment for the first time, as well as those beginning work in their first leadership roles.
“I take the view that leadership is about inclusivity and bringing people with you. It is about establishing a consensus of a view rather than imposing one on people, and about getting people to buy into your vision.
“Engagement within any industry is a key aspect. I would advise anybody therefore to keep in touch with the news and have an opinion on the topical matters and issues of the day because it is so important in being able to engage with people.”
In Dobinson’s view, any new or aspiring leader or indeed new employee must also bear in mind that adaptability and flexibility are two of the most vital qualities any business must have in order to survive, which has been made all the more apparent by the ongoing pandemic.
He said: “In people management terms, everyone has enthusiasm in them, and as a leader it’s about bringing that out in people. There’s always something that people can offer, it’s about finding it, sitting people down and talking to them and making it fit in to a business plan.
“That is how we look to progress as a business. We don’t remain set in our ways and bend people to fit in, we make the business flexible to enable it to work around people and find a new ways of doing things and even branch into new sectors. Business is about people.”
The full Leaders Council of Great Britain & Northern Ireland: In Conversation podcast featuring Stephen Dobinson and Scott Challinor may be found here.