Editor’s Viewpoint: Putting people first

Editor’s Viewpoint: Putting people first

Writing in the December issue of PBM, editor Paul Davies looked at the importance of people within the sector.

Listening to the speakers at the recent BMF Conference in Harrogate and York, it was apparent that a select number of topics underpin the current thinking in the sector. Clearly, there’s the legacy of the pandemic-enforced disruption and the challenges to the previously established orthodoxy, for example with increased digitalisation. Supply chain issues and the impact of the shortage of skills — irrespective of whether that is driving a wagon, installing a boiler, or working behind the trade counter — remains a common concern, and then there is the environmental challenge…

You can read our review of the BMF event here, and whilst we recognise the obvious point that the vast majority of our readers were not present in Yorkshire, these wider themes certainly warrant further discussion.

Indeed, the topics are certainly not restricted to the ‘senior levels’ of the industry that typically convened for the Conference. In late October, for instance, the BMF resumed its series of Branch Managers Forums and the same subjects were on the formal agenda and came up time and again throughout discussions at the two-day event in Coventry. This is also true of the Young Merchants Conference held during UK Construction Week.

The underpinning strand to all of these issues is ‘people’. The merchant sector is typically described as a ‘people industry’, where ‘people buy from people’ and the formation of professional relationships and networks between suppliers, merchants and their customers and colleagues is vital in ensuring it will thrive long into the future.

“The ‘Covid experience’ has shown that an industry still criticised for being reactionary and slow to embrace change can adapt rapidly, all thanks to the people in it.”

‘People’ mentor and develop others; ‘people’ understand and solve problems. And ‘people’ have gone above and beyond over the last 18 months to keep things moving in exceptional circumstances.

Whilst the calibre of many individuals, irrespective of their post or seniority, was equally worthy of note before the pandemic, Covid — for all the damage it has wrought — has shone a light on so many unsung heroes and delivered some overdue recognition.

From the stage in Harrogate, practically all of the speakers reflected on the capabilities of the individuals within their organisations and how staff had responded with vigour to the challenges that presented themselves since March last year — from the staff who remained customer facing, to those who thrived working from home and outperformed expectations.

Similarly, the value of staff engagement was highlighted in Harrogate, taking time to understand — and act — on concerns from the workforce. Creating a culture that reduces staff churn and engenders a more positive working environment has obvious benefits whilst in a challenging recruitment market, employers must also consider broadening their search pools for the talent they need.

Behaviours and preconceptions within the industry must be challenged robustly to create a more inclusive environment for women, minorities and those with disabilities. And mental health and well-being is a crucial part of the mix, not least to ensure that people come to work and are willing and able to give of their best.

During the pandemic, staff were afforded a greater degree of trust and empowerment perhaps like never before. And the ‘Covid experience’ has shown that an industry still criticised for being reactionary and slow to embrace change can adapt rapidly, all thanks to the people in it.

Now that we are ‘back to normal’, this must act as a platform for sustained improvement rather than a missed opportunity as we revert to the old ways.

Related posts