The judges' view
Top tips and insight from two experienced Pride in the Job judges
As part of the Pride in the Job 40th anniversary celebrations, we wanted to shine a light on the role of the judges in the competition. We interviewed two judges who, between them, have nearly 70 years’ Pride in the Job judging experience. Read on for their perspective of the competition and to find out their top tips for Site Managers who want to win an award or go further.
Please describe your role in Pride in the Job and how long you've been involved in the competition.
RH: My role in Pride in the Job has been rather a long one! I started out as an NHBC Building Inspector about 34 years ago and held various inspection management roles over the next 14 years and through that, was involved in judging the early and then later rounds of the competition. Then, 20 years ago, I became Regional Director for the East Region so have been involved in judging the later rounds of the competition since then, in particular the Regional and Supreme judging with an independent judge, including 10 years as Chair of the Supreme Judging Panel.
AH: I've been involved with Pride in the Job for 36 years in total, first as a winning Site Manager in Nottinghamshire and then, since joining NHBC 35 years ago, as a Building Inspector and Inspection Manager.
As an Inspection Manager it was my role each year to assess all of the Quality Award nominations from the Building Inspectors in my team and select around 40-50 sites to visit myself with a view to coming up with a shortlist to submit to my Regional Director and that year’s Verification Inspection Manager to select the Quality Award winners. I’ve also acted as the regional Pride in the Job co-ordinator on a number of occasions, involved in selecting the Seals of Excellence.
How do you answer a Site Manager who says, what do I have to do to win?
RH: That’s not an easy question to answer, but what I would say is use everything at your disposal to gain more knowledge about the competition. So, I would start off with your NHBC Building Inspector. Engage with them and ask for their advice about how you can improve and what other Site Managers in that Inspector's area are doing - it might be better than what you're doing on your site! I would expand that to the NHBC Inspection Manager. If the Inspection Manager comes out to look at your site, ask for his or her advice as well. Accompany them on their inspection and ask them to point out things that are good and things that maybe could be improved upon.
I’d also say that if you know someone or have even just heard of someone in your region that's won a Pride in the Job Award, don't be afraid to contact them and ask to visit their site. I know many Site Managers that do this already and some who’ve done this having never won an award and have then gone on to win. All previous winners are proud of what they’ve achieved and some would be happy to take you around their site and give you some tips on the sort of things that you might need to do to increase your chances of winning. There's a lot of information out there. It's just a case of being brave enough, if you like, to tap into it.
AH: I agree and I’d also suggest looking at the marking sheet that is available on the NHBC website to reflect honestly on your performance on your own site. Use the sheet to be your own judge, be objective.
What are your top tips for a Site Manager looking to win their first Quality Award?
RH: The key word I would use is consistency. So, for example, a Site Manager might have six different gangs of bricklayers on the site. If those six gangs are all doing things slightly differently then it's an indication that the Site Manager is not fully in control. But, if the six gangs all put the cavity trays in the right place, they all put the weep holes at the right centres, cavities are all clean with ties correctly spaced and they’re all doing everything they should be doing, then that tells you that the Site Manager is in control and is bringing consistency to the site. It’s even things like boiler positions from the plumber, fan positions from the electrician, tile vent positions on the roof. If you look at different plots from the outside and they're all in slightly different positions, it doesn’t give confidence that the Site Manager is fully in control. Consistency is an indication that they are. All those fan positions will be the same. All those boiler flues will be in the same position, house by house.
The other thing I would say is it's a process of gradually improving things. Nobody is going to change the world overnight. I would recommend taking things bit by bit, stage by stage. Encourage people to do things a little bit better than they've done it before. But a piece at a time, don’t go for everything across all trades at once, aim for gradual improvement. Some things that would have never been done in the early days, for example pointing and full joints of all blockwork, above and below ground, are now standard practice.
AH: My top tip is to concentrate on the basics, the basics of construction. Read your drawings on site. Make sure that the drawing details are being followed. Pay attention to those details. And very importantly, if there is a particularly difficult detail in the construction make sure that that detail is followed through to the nth degree for compliance. I’d also recommend you seek advice from the Building Inspectors and Inspection Manager who are visiting the site - pick their brains, ask for their advice.
What are your top tips for a previous quality award winner who wants to get to the next level?
AH: I think for a manager to get to the next level, they need to look at their site and rather than looking at what is acceptable, look to see where things may be improved, to raise the bar again. They should consider and discuss with their Building Inspector what’s happening on other sites in their area to find out if there is anything they can take away and implement on their own sites.
What does it take to be a supreme winner?
RH: I have met a lot of them over the years and what they have in common is that they are all totally and utterly focused on building the best houses that they can build. They are also totally focused on trying to become a Supreme Winner because, for them, it's the pinnacle of their career.
It's not a 40-hour a week task to become a Supreme Winner. They put in time over and above every single day, sometimes at weekends. I remember one of the early Supreme Winners used to take his wife to his site every Saturday and they would be sweeping the footpath and the roads, trying to make sure the site was immaculately tidy just in case the judges turned up the next week. So maybe it’s an obsession with some people!
It just means so much to them. To be on this side of the fence during the judging process and to see how much it means to the Supreme Winners really is amazing. One particular Site Manager winning his first Supreme Award after winning several Regional Awards in previous years said to me, “This is the holy grail for me. That's it now for me. I can rest easy.” Others strive to achieve it year after year.
Based on your extensive experience, what do you think Pride in the Job means to the industry and to Site Managers?
RH: Pride in the Job means an awful lot to the industry and probably even more to individual Site Managers. I've seen grown men and ladies cry when they've won and I’ve seen them cry when they haven't won as well. Many believe it's the pinnacle of their careers.
I know lots of Site Managers that have gone on to become Contracts Managers or Construction Directors. I even know a number of Managing Directors who won Pride in the Job many, many years ago. There's one winner I can particularly remember from the early 1980s. I went to meet him the year before he retired. He was a Construction Director then and had been for many years but he still had his original Pride in the Job certificate on his office wall and his commemorative tie. It meant as much to him 30 years later as it did when he won it.
AH: I think it's the highlight of a Site Manager's year. A manager has probably three main highlights in their working year. One is to achieve the builder’s half year and year-end figures and then Pride in the Job. It's an enormous accolade for a Site Manager, and it's the same for the industry. The industry as a whole really, really focusses on Pride in the Job and take great pleasure from their company and Site Managers’ successes.
What is the biggest challenge to you as a judge in the competition?
RH: The biggest challenge for me is the sleepless nights I get when final selections have to be made at each stage of the Awards. I’ll visit hundreds of sites every year and then we have to whittle that down to, say, 60 Quality Award winners in my region. I find it extremely difficult, especially these days because there are more and more sites out there of a really good standard. It comes down to very fine margins and it's a very difficult process that I wrestle with every year. However, on the flip side, it’s brilliant that there are more good sites to choose from which hopefully means more satisfied homeowners moving into houses that are built to very high standards. So, whilst it is a challenge, it’s a challenge that we're happy to accept.
AH: The biggest challenge for me was managing a Site Manager's expectations. As an Inspection Manager, the very fact I’ve turned up to their site might give an indication to the Site Manager that they've already won but that is not the case. I would visit 40-50 sites in my area and have to reduce those down to the best ones to put through for the next stage of verification. The odds are that most of the sites I’d visit wouldn’t go through and managing those expectations was difficult.
What impact do you think the competition has had on quality standards?
RH: There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that Pride in the Job has helped to raise standards in the industry in many ways. Aside from the obvious competitive element that drives Site Managers to up their game, you also get innovative Site Managers that introduce certain practices which move standards and quality on and, over time, are shared, evolve and become the norm.
AH: There's no doubt that year on year standards have improved. If you have Site Managers who have achieved an award, possibly have achieved several awards, they are probably looking to carry on making improvements year after year to ensure that they keep on winning or win higher levels of award.
And it has a filter effect too. Those Site Managers invariably have an Assistant Site Manager working with them who is being mentored. Those Assistant Site Managers in due course become Site Managers and take with them what they’ve learned from their award-winning mentor. Often, they will try to improve on what they’ve seen, both under their mentor and also on other sites they’ve assisted on. It's a little bit like a snowball going downhill, it gathers speed, it gathers size and gets better as time goes on.
Pride in the Job is 40 years old this year and you’ve both been involved for over 30 years, what is your most enduring memory?
RH: The most enduring memory for me has been carrying out the Supreme Award judging for so many years and going around the country visiting the very, very best sites in the whole of the UK. To meet Site Managers at the pinnacle of their careers in terms of what they've achieved has been an honour and I’m very proud to have been involved for so long. It's a small piece of Pride in the Job, but I'm proud to have played that small part.
AH: The euphoria of award-winning managers really sticks with me. Every single one absolutely loves the moment, and so they should.
I also think the recognition of the trades on winning sites is important. I’ve known many trades complain about the expectations of an ambitious Site Manager, in their words “always wanting more for the same money”. But the moment those trades get a Pride in the Job certificate in their hand, it makes it all worthwhile and they take great pride at being involved.
Judging is already underway in the Pride in the Job 2021 competition. Do you have what it takes? We wish you luck.