Insight

One Family. One Team. One Loyalty – J Murphy & Sons

Toby Turner, Founder & Managing Director of Holtby Turner Executive Search finds out what loyalty means to Steve Hollingshead, CEO of Murphy Group for The Changing Face of Loyalty. It’s built on far more than just bricks and mortar…

Toby Turner: You’ve recently released your ten year plan outlining impressive plans for growth, trebling the size of the business and increasing turnover and profitability by 2025. How do you intend to protect Murphy’s vision and values during this period of change?

Steve Hollingshead: First of all, it’s important to understand that change is not about discarding the past: it’s about understanding the strength of the past and then improving on it. Change ought to be seen as a real positive, but unfortunately it can sometimes be seen as a negative. Continuous improvement is how I would prefer to look at it.

Our vision and values were an essential starting point for the ten year plan. Three or four years ago, Murphy engaged a third party to come into the business and facilitate a conversation, to establish and put into simple terms what was the vision of the business and its core values. That was a very effective and meaningful exercise because it got all our employees engaged at all levels of the business. Now as long as we stick to our operating model, which we fully intend to do, we’ll be true to our vision and values. I think where businesses lose their sense of purpose is when they change their operating model to support the financial metrics.

What we have to be really clear on, as a business, is the reason for change – because not everyone is aware of the need for change or continuous improvement. This is one of the most important things that we do: looking at how to form the most effective channels of communication to bring things into sharp focus and make them relevant to everyone within the business. We’ve got a great communications team now, and I’m absolutely confident we’ll get there, but you can’t just say something once and expect everyone to get it! You’ve got to reach out, you’ve got to form communities, collaboration networks and so on, to get the message out there.

To me loyalty means delivering on the promises I make – whether that’s to our employees, clients or stakeholders. I believe loyalty is about being truthful, honest and authentic. That’s how I feel personally, and that’s how we do business here at Murphy.

Toby Turner: At Holtby Turner Executive Search, we know that Murphy’s got one of the strongest reputations in the industry for a positive people culture, from your ‘one family, one team’ approach to your ‘never harm’ policy. How do those policies engender loyalty among your employees, and why are they important to larger business objectives?

Steve Hollingshead: One very clear imperative around the ‘one family, one team, one Murphy’ ethic is to work together, sharing our knowledge and capabilities across the different projects we work on. Another thing we do is look after each other and that’s where our never harm policy comes from. It’s a deep-rooted cultural value of the business and has been a tremendous vehicle in our cultural development programme, to bring people together under one banner effectively and unite people around what is good. I think it’s policies like these that help to generate engagement and loyalty within a business at all levels. And we’re not just talking about loyalty to a brand, we’re talking about loyalty to each other as we work as a team, as we develop our capability sharing and so on. These are the reasons people stay with the business: it’s that shared experience, that shared desire to deliver great projects – that’s the important stuff, in my view.

Toby Turner: Given the traditional family nature of Murphy, loyalty must be a primary cornerstone of the business. Do you view this as a reciprocal dynamic between employer and employee?

Steve Hollingshead: It is reciprocal – of course it is. What we want is for people to join Murphy to have a great career. We don’t take people on for the basis of one contract, although there are many companies out there who do; we bring people in on a long term contract, with the promise that there is a long term career for them at Murphy. I want to make sure through our matrix organisation that people who join in one area of the business have the opportunity to move across different functions, sector streams, and aspects of delivery. Because if people want to come and invest their career in Murphy, we’ll invest in them for the long term.

Another interesting point is that there are different kinds of loyalty within a business, not just between employer and employee. If you look at why people stay with businesses even during difficult times, they stay there because they’re supporting their team. Then there’s a loyalty to the heritage as well to consider, to what they’ve worked hard to build during the course of their career.

Toby Turner: How does Murphy engender loyalty among its employees in the main, and how does it earn loyalty from clients?

Steve Hollingshead: Loyalty with our clients is generated through great delivery – there’s no doubt about that. There is a real appreciation from our clients that when we do the work, they feel comforted by the knowledge that we’re going to do a good job, they’re going to get the job delivered, and there’s going to be a good relationship there: it’s not going to be a difficult process. I think that’s a great reputation for a business to have, and it’s reflective of the culture developed by John Murphy many years ago. He was a man of his word and he wanted to develop a business that delivered on its promises.

In terms of generating loyalty among our people, it’s very much about delivering on your promise around continuity of employment. I see that played out so many times in this industry through recessions, and how many times this industry jettisons people – it’s shocking. The industry needs to learn its lesson, because in the last recession we lost about four or five hundred thousand people from the UK construction industry, and they never came back. We have to create new opportunities regionally and internationally because if we don’t grow, people will only see glass ceilings and no development. If you’re growing, you’re changing, and that can only be a good thing.

Toby Turner: A recent government survey indicated that the construction industry needs to work harder to attract young people, who tend to view the industry as old fashioned and not very dynamic. Looking to the future, what can be done to change that perception? 

Steve Hollingshead: There are all sorts of issues that prevent our industry being an attractive employer in modern society and we must work a lot harder to make construction and engineering more attractive. We want to develop our younger staff, who are hungry for challenges, energised and see change as a positive thing. We offer lots of opportunities through in-house training as part of our award-winning Murphy Academy, mentoring schemes, and on our graduate and apprenticeship programmes.

At a fairly superficial level, we think of young people and millennials being attracted to high-tech industries, and construction isn’t viewed as a high-tech industry. But in actual fact there is a huge amount of technology involved in construction – particularly in infrastructure projects.

I think we need to advertise that in a more intelligent way. Construction is too often seen as just bricks and mortar and concrete structures, but actually when you look at smart railways or motorways, there’s a high degree of modern digital technology involved. This includes business information modelling (BIM), a real focus for us, which draws on many of the skills that young people who’ve grown up surrounded by technology already have.

We’ve also got to tell more good stories about the great successes modern infrastructure can bring, notably in terms of economic growth. That means celebrating programmes like HS1 and HS2, the launch of Hinkley Point power station, as well as the expansion at Heathrow. I get the impression whenever one of these programmes is launched that there’s a lot of negative publicity around it, and that impacts the view people have of the construction industry. Whereas in hindsight, we always celebrate these achievements.

How could we have ever lived without the Olympic Park, for example? I go there often and it’s tremendous – especially when you think of what was there before. You go there now and there are fantastic, world-class facilities that really improve our society. So if that wouldn’t get a young person out of bed in the morning, to be part of creating something like that, then I don’t know what would.

To download the report in full, click here. Or to discuss how our research for The Changing Face of Loyalty could help your organisation, call Toby Turner at Holtby Turner Executive Search on 020 3371 6680 or email to set up a meeting via toby.turner@holtbyturner.co.uk