Colas Limited provides transport infrastructure services throughout the UK, Ireland and overseas. It has 16 operating centres within the UK and its head office is in Crawley, West Sussex. Colas employs approximately 1,660 people, and achieved a turnover of £282.9m in 2012.
As part of the Colas Group, it shares the knowledge and resources of one of the world’s leading road construction and maintenance organisations. It uses the Group’s global strength and its local capability in the UK market to provide services that include highway and airport runway maintenance, renewal and construction, street lighting, bitumen products and asphalt manufacture, and material recycling and management of waste.
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We’ve been using the EFQM Excellence Model to provide us with strategic direction since 2005. Having previously undertaken assessments using the Highways Agency’s capability assessment toolkit (now superceded by the strategic alignment review tool), the leadership team decided to adopt the Model and its structured framework to enable it to continue on its excellence journey.
We already had many improvement teams in place – but these were reorganised to better reflect the Model’s criteria, prevent duplication of effort and enable ownership of improvement opportunities. This was supported by the development of a new business improvement process which allowed for the assessing and prioritising of improvement opportunities. While the primary aim of this was to prevent the introduction of too many changes at once, it was also to help coordinate improvement, prevent overlaps and ensure alignment to the strategy.
Drive and focus
We undertook an external Model assessment in 2005 and this was followed by a further assessment in 2008. By this stage it became obvious that a realistic goal was required to maintain the drive and focus on continuous improvement, as well as provide external recognition of our achievements. With a score of 382 against the Model at this point, the next logical step was to apply for EFQM Recognised for Excellence certification.
One of the main challenges we faced in preparing our first submission was to make sure that we included all of our high-level approaches and avoid getting bogged down in too much detail. To help overcome this, the submission contributors attended RADAR workshops to develop their understanding and confidence in applying RADAR thinking.
There was also the temptation to address improvement opportunities as they were identified during the submission’s preparation. This had the potential to distract the focus away from the submission and prevent it from being completed on time. This challenge was overcome by raising and assessing the opportunities as they arose, and then pre-empting them by being completely transparent during the assessment.
Excitement and anticipation
We achieved certification on our first application – at the highest level of 5 stars in 2011, and then successfully renewed in 2013. We put this success down to fully engaging with our employees in our performance improvement journey, and we’ve found a positive mood of excitement and anticipation building up in the months prior to each assessment.
In the feedback report from its most recent assessment, the assessors stated that they ‘…would like to thank the people of Colas for the opportunity to visit the sites and to continue to support them on their excellence journey. As we have now come to expect everyone we met was engaged, friendly and keen to play their part in this assessment and the future of excellence within the organisation.’
Since being EFQM Recognised for Excellence, we’ve identified significant improvements across our areas of operation including customer satisfaction, employee engagement and society results. We have also found that excellence certification sets us apart from our competitors and will help us to win new business.