Qatari Diar 100 Days with The Shard
Construction of what was to be Europe’s tallest skyscraper was under way. The piling was in, contractors were all on site, the tower was just about to clear ground and the towering shard of glass was in progress.
When Qatari Diar took a majority stake, as an informed and active client they asked us to create an immediate post-acquisition plan to address programme issues and conflicts across construction of London Bridge Quarter, and steer construction of the £500m Shard back on track.
We rapidly analysed the construction programme and effected change quickly. With obstacles removed, construction proceeded and The Shard assumed its towering position over London, achieving successful practical completion in November 2012.
Guardian News and Media
Design of a revolutionary new HQ workplace
This was one of those projects where we were asked to bring the distinctive Openeye injection to a collaboration. GNM were bringing all their staff together for the very first time in a new building in Kings Cross. Together with HOK, the world’s biggest architects, we won the bid for the work. Then, tasked with delivering it, we created the new vision of the workplace and the full design brief for how it might work for all the staff and visitors alike.
HOK wanted the fresh perspective that could only come from a collaborator who had never been an architect or a workplace designer. We were not beholden to any preconceived notions, which meant we could create new possibilities, and ask new questions about why things were done the way they were. Freed up, but understanding deeply how people work best and the psychology of work, performance and the effect of environment, we devised a way to express the key values of GNM since the beginning - openness, honesty, integrity and trust- with the more recent value of transparency and a need to be prepared for the digital future.
We added strong business insight and psychology of behaviour to what is usually an interiors/workplace project, and in this collaboration we produced the vision and design brief, later implemented by interiors firm TP Bennett.
Kings Place won the prestigious British Council of Offices’ Best of the Best Award 2009 and Corporate Workplace of the Year, 2010. Four years later, its impact was still being felt, and it won the BCO's prestigious Test of Time award, described by the judges as "a benchmark workplace" and "the epitome of what the award stands for".
Turnaround and Topshop
This was our very first project and holds a special place in our Openeye heart. As Arcadia’s turnaround progressed prior to Philip Green’s purchase, we were asked to look at co-location strategies across their brands of Top Shop, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Burton, Principles, Dorothy Perkins and Wallis. Could we reduce the retail estate and improve the shopping experience at the same time? We observed customer behaviour, we examined shop after shop, we even went off scope and spotted what would be the surge in demand for nail bars and proposed the first ever nail bar within a high street chain (it’s still there all these years later).
The co-locations and proposals were implemented, Arcadia’s estate was successfully reduced and the turnaround went on to successful completion.
The psychology of food retailing
The CEO of this centenarian international food retailer wanted to know what their customers really thought, and really wanted. They’d conducted market research many times of course, but they wanted deeper insight, and the vital gaps in their knowledge which survey after survey seemed to miss, finally filled.
Openeye met with samples of customers, one might call this a type of focus group, perhaps a psychology-based focus group. We facilitated conversations, we investigated, and we allowed the participants to speak freely. And we listened. We even introduced the CEO in the session and invited them to talk directly to him.
As we watched, we all learned, preconceptions were set aside, the vital gaps were filled with vital insight, and the power of psychology in consumer understanding was demonstrated yet again.
Wates - Leadership
Building £700m of construction
The CEO asked us to join the strategic and operational board of Wates Construction, responsible together for managing all Wates live construction sites from £2m-50m each. Our remit was to bring fresh thinking and our forensic eye for detail to the complexities of both this major construction firm as an organisation and its construction projects, from schools to office blocks.
We take the view you can’t lead and resolve inefficiencies in construction if you don’t know how to build and we like to roll up our sleeves, walk the sites and talk with operatives, subcontractors and clients. From the capabilities of continuous piling augers to analysing complete construction programmes, Openeye helped steer the successful completion of over 170 construction sites.
How are you really doing? The Quarterly Review
It’s one of the crunch times for leaders: the time to review performance and present to the CEO. This happens in various ways and formats across industries, but so often, this is a missed opportunity for all concerned.
This CEO asked us to help support his company’s performance review process by examining the entire review process itself down to each and every factor and providing individual review counsel. We were invited to sit in on each live review and used our own brand of rapid Openeye analysis in situ as we watched, listened, and studied the figures and what was spoken, and unspoken. We saw beyond the traditional performance measures to be able to advise immediately and re-design and shorten the process and improve the quality of the outcome in time for the next quarter.
Investment appraisals and due diligence
Our founder started appraising tech companies for an investment bank 20 years ago, and we continue to provide appraisals and due diligence today across all sorts of industries, innovations, services and leadership teams.
This example was in the energy business, with our CEO client and his board needing to decide whether to extend another tranche of funds to their investment. We appraised the product and services, market, leadership team and established a clear picture of why another tranche was being asked for at all. We presented our recommendations to both CEOs, together with a proposed strategic and operational plan to help the investment out of their predicament.
We provide a similar comprehensive service for corporations, individual and institutional investors and investment management companies.
Futures - Construction
The future of construction to 2025
We were asked by the CEO of a leading construction firm to bring all our expertise in the world of the built environment together to deliver his board a vision of the future. Covering upcoming and long term developments across society, the supply chain and the sector in general, this was applied futurism from nano technology to 3D printers as tall as houses.
We didn’t just leave it as a stepped vision of the future either, we devised a detailed roadmap for the firm’s response which was used in the new strategic plan, and a precise set of projects were started with our guidance following this piece of work.
What happens in the Boardroom, doesn’t stay in the Boardroom
As you’ll see elsewhere on this site, Openeye values the testing of posits, challenging assumptions and the verification of claims made so often in the media and by “business experts”. We conduct academic research and use this to enhance understanding of the worlds in which we operate, to contribute to the body of research and also improve our knowledge which we can pass onto our clients.
One of our specialisms, perhaps unsurprisingly after so many years advising leaders, is the boardroom. This is just one example where the CEO invited us to increase the performance of a board via both the proceedings of the board meeting and their subsequent decision making on each and every agenda item, and everything off agenda too.
We studied a superbly ambitious board, both as a group and as individuals and examined far more than only was said.
House of Commons
Space, buildings and the future of Parliament
The mother of parliaments had the mother of a problem. It was in a jam – literally. The House of Commons had more people than it had space for. Members of parliament, their assistants and House of Commons staff were crammed in offices and the concentration of so many people and activities across a limited parliamentary estate needed an urgent solution.
We were asked to draw up the official response to the accommodation committee’s paper, led by the then leader of The House Jack Straw, on behalf of the Sergeant at Arms.
In doing so, we also examined the future needs of Parliament, and devised a strategy of consolidation, repair and acquisition to shape the estate’s future property portfolio and changing working practices of the House of Commons to best serve the people.
What do customers really think of us?
There comes a time when the guessing stops, and you have to ask. And ask the right questions. As strategists and psychologists we know self-delusion can be as much organizational as it is individual, but this CEO knew the time had come.
We know what can get lost in too much data, so we removed the sanitization of market research output and accompanied this client through every step of both qualitative and quantitative research from commissioning to interpretation.
The realisation that customers didn’t hold the opinions and preferences they thought, was a revelation to them. We get a real kick out of connecting CEOs and leadership teams with a new reality of what their customers really think and we know how to turn this knowledge into massive value.
Digital Mad Men
Success and creatives
We were invited to appraise an advertising team owned by a national media group. The team was growing rapidly, taking advantage of the digital age of advertising, and there were many avenues for even greater potential. We were asked to maximise its success, organisationally and in terms of output, and appraise its leadership.
As outsiders we were able to bring fresh eyes to the operation, improved productivity and creativity and grew advertising revenues in a challenging business climate. We even accidentally came up with the creative idea for one of the team’s digital ad campaigns for a luxury automobile brand off the cuff, and it landed.
A investigative eye at real costs
We were asked by a CEO to conduct an investigation into a specific but substantial set of costs which their £1bn company had left unquestioned for years and accepted as the norm.
We started from zero and isolated, investigated and compared at every turn. We identified over £36m of wasted spend on materials and purchased contracts in a matter of days.
We then achieved buy-in to do something about it from all parties concerned and the growing cascade of savings and efficiencies began. We left our legacy of lower costs, and a real shift in attitude from complacency to one of challenge and attention to detail throughout the company, which their leaders still talk about to this day.
The most coveted 12.8 acres in the world
This was about diplomacy, agility and intelligent thinking. The controversial circumstances around the last minute withdrawal of the first Chelsea Barracks scheme were being played out in the national and international press. Masterplan, scheme designs and planning applications were cancelled and the most expensive piece of land in Britain once again lay in dusty emptiness. Because of what happened, the country was watching.
We were asked by the CEO of Qatari Diar, the owners of the land, to create the overall new vision for the site. We saw the space as a hugely historically significant and a quarter, not an enclave, that would leave a truly legacy. We helped establish a new architectural masterplanner competition and with EC Harris, we created a new and unorthodox design brief for the masterplan that sought the re-introduction of new garden squares to London for the first time in over 100 years.
Our design brief was specifically designed to illicit and allow ingenious responses from the shortlisted firms. Dixon Jones, Squire & Partners and Kim Wilkie were appointed joint Masterplanners, the scheme was successfully granted planning permission in June 2011, and construction is now in its final phase.
Devising the Telegraph’s Olympic Game Plan
When the world’s biggest sporting and marketing event was going to come to London, Telegraph Media Group asked us to conceive their company-wide London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic strategy and operational plan.
This was not just about planning the best content, but also to commercially capitalise on the Games and bring the enthusiasm for wellbeing and fitness to TMG’s staff too. It’s been said we created the blueprint for how to cover an Olympics. We developed the strategy across all of Telegraph’s activities: from digital initiatives to sponsorship deals; from editorial development to hospitality; from accreditation of journalists to staff motivation, and the specially developed website.
We thought the official LOCOG ticketing guide could be better, so we created our own for the Telegraph’s audience. When this was picked up by the BBC and Sky TV they described it as ‘The very best guide in the world’, and urged their viewers to use it instead.
The Telegraph was recognised as the most commercially successful newspaper media organisation of the Olympics, won numerous awards for its multi platform coverage, was the only newspaper to be nominated in the BT Sports Industry Awards, 2013 and won European Website of the Year.
The fight against MRSA in our hospitals
3M is one of the leading healthcare suppliers to the NHS. Following the highest levels of MRSA and C. difficile outbreaks in history, the government initiatives were failing. 3M’s leadership asked us to cut through the rumours and suppositions, and find the real reasons for the rise of these infections in hospitals.
Through forensic questioning, secondary research and in-situ hospital studies we uncovered how and why MRSA was spreading. Then together with 3M’s product development team, we identified and devised 3M infection prevention products - from hand cleansers to catheter insertion site products - and formulated processes to accompany their use that would protect staff, patients and visitors across acute hospital environments.
These 3M products are now used in every hospital in the UK. In the time since this work was carried out and the products released to the NHS, incidence of MRSA has fallen by over 85%.
The problem with apprenticeships
Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives need careful choice, and even more careful implementation to be meaningful. Our client had invested in a skills and training programme to improve communities, but faced challenges of vague and ever increasing purpose of the programme itself, unpredictable human behaviour and poor attitudes of attendees. There was lack of clarity of what progress would mean for the charity and the individual, and the issues raised by measurement.
The CEO was concerned and asked us to take a look. This was rapid Openeye analysis at work again: just one day of examination of the charity’s activities and problems top to bottom, friendly challenge and fresh solutions. It would be fair to say they were astonished at how quickly longheld issues could be resolved and the light which now shone on their future.
The art and science of bidding
Bidding and tenders play big roles in some industries, and this CEO was shocked at how much time, effort and budget was spent on the bidding process - millions each year in fact. That would have been more digestible if the win rate was high, but it wasn’t.
We were asked to help. We stripped it back and brought judgement and careful reasoning to the way bidding was done and created a bespoke mechanism through which all prospective bid responses would now pass. And we did this whilst maintaining the creativity and energy of ambition to win.
We distilled the essence of best bidding practice into fewer but higher quality bids and coached the bid teams in live situations. The win rate started its stellar rise from the next bid.
Families & Succession
Keeping it in the Family
As family businesses understand, the past is no predictor of the future. We work with the unique culture of family businesses, both as advisors through Openeye and as coaching psychologists through Deborah Samuel Coaching.
The sensitivities, opportunities, concerns and distinct cultures of the family business is as much about the internal family dynamics, pressures and identification of ability as it is about the performance of the business entity in itself, and when family members work within the business, for new generations to prepare and previous generations to leave. Success can hinge on values which are sometimes in the DNA but not on the board report. We get that. We advise, we coach, we guide and we counsel.
Daily Mail/Evening Standard
The Future: Newspapers and digital media
This was one of Openeye’s first projects. The year was 2003, newspaper titles had started their circulation decline, but the Daily Mail was holding its own more than most with circulation of over 3 million. But The Evening Standard was struggling, free newspapers scattered on Tube train floors providing heavy competition, and a whole new digital world was on the horizon.
We were asked by the CEO and the board to devise the strategy that would navigate the company through this, pushed through to the root of print decline, dealt with the Evening Standard problem, and laid the groundwork for a powerful online digital offering that thrives today.
British Embassy, Jakarta
Our brief was simple and complex at the same time. We needed to capture, translate and communicate Britishness through architectural language with design architects who were creating the new British Embassy in Jakarta. The extra challenge for us was that the design needed to cope with high seismic activity, high humidity, high security, be sustainable, welcome members of the public, and be bombproof. And comprise an ambassadorial residence. And exude Britishness.
HOK’s architects created a striking structure based around a spiral, with a sheltering cantilever entrance; it all appears as if it is honed from a slab of local black granite. We naturally rose to the challenge, and the building rose, completed and opened by HRH Prince Andrew in 2013.
Conflict resolution and the psychology of the angry client
Our CEO and his team had a perplexing conundrum. One of their biggest clients in the Middle East had suddenly stopped answering emails and calls. They were in the set-up phase of a multi-million pound project with them, the first of many with this client they hoped, yet could not reach them. They carried on with their planning, with growing uncertainty, expense and risk. Finally our client succeeded in arranging a face to face meeting, team to team. Openeye was asked to observe.
We were briefed in the morning and in the afternoon we joined the teams as they faced each other across the table. We watched and listened and we pinpointed what was really happening. To us it was obvious within minutes, but our client’s team were perhaps too close and too busy to see it.
This was about behaviour, psychology, meeting dynamics, cultural differences in expression and an understanding of negotiation and position-taking. This was, above all, about the unspoken.
How to win a slice of the $4bn tender Framework
To win a place on the Southern Construction Framework would deliver a new tranche of work for 4 years, secure jobs and if split roughly equally around the framework members, around £400m worth of projects. Already advising the CEO on other matters, we were asked to lead the approach to this bid, deliver a winning response, and coach those involved as we showed them a very different way to respond to tenders.
Out of three packaged lots to compete in, our client’s hope was to win a share of the three. The experience turned out to be career-changing for some, and emotional for others who wished they knew this way years ago. We exceeded all expectations: Willmott Dixon winning a place on all three lots, were the first contractor to win an SCF project bid, and we left a legacy of smarter bid strategy and writing that remains today.
A CEO who didn’t want us and lessons learned
Early on when we started, we made a mistake. It’s one we’re pleased to say we haven’t repeated and we learned, so whilst we’re happy to share with you where it all went well, we’re also honest enough to tell you where we’ve made mistakes and learned from them.
The outgoing Chairman of a company had asked us to support the incoming Chairman/CEO; he was new to such a leadership role, the selection process had been problematic and he was unpopular with staff and customers. Today, as leadership psychologists and executive coaches, we’d politely decline cases such as this, especially as his behaviour quickly deteriorated further. He did not want our help, or anyone’s but we persevered for a few months.
To end on a positive note, nevertheless, we had been asked to review their corporate strategy and realised there was no back-up strategy in case their primary market dropped. No need, the new CEO told us, it would never fall. We went off brief and created one anyway to protect the company. One year later their market collapsed and the board implemented our emergency plan.
Task Force Paralysis
We see this so often. A CEO with the best of intentions asks Directors also with the best of intentions to look into something and a taskforce or working group is created, with a sponsor on the board. And then it stalls, or merely turns into a nicely bound report full of lots of charts which is presented to the board.
This project had been like that, caught up in a neverending cycle of moving goal setting, scoping sessions and lots of talk of finding “burning platforms”. It had stalled three times before we arrived and much of the firm’s time had been wasted, and consequently morale was rock bottom. By the time we arrived, nobody believed in the question, let alone in finding any answers.
We know it doesn’t have to be that hard. We cut to the chase, cut out the report writing, asked frank questions and got down to business. The paralysis was over. We made progress, and with that enthusiasm and belief among those involved grew. We got through three half-hearted board sponsors, but who needs a sponsor who doesn’t get what they are supposed to be taking to the board? We dealt directly with the CEO. It was the end of the merry go round, and the organisational delusion was stopped. The outcome wasn’t at all what our client expected, yet we made the breakthrough within just 4 weeks, delivering the answer, the plan and a rejuvenated team. We went on to free another 6 paralysed and rabbit-hole heading projects by the same client.
Wates - Handovers
After the keys and champagne: handover and defects
Handover and defect management across construction companies leaves a lot to be desired, to which both construction firms and their clients attest. Wates knew this and asked us to take a hard look at the problem.
Like so often, we mobilised our forensic investigative approach and dived into this complex arena, taking the perspective of every party involved to find the obstacles and then instigate change. As surprising industry-wide and company realisations were made, the penny dropped again and again, and we put in widespread measures across the supply chain and construction programmes that reduced defects and improve handover.
This was ground up, topping-out down, before and after the ribbon is cut analysis of every step with the customer and user of the building at the centre of it all.
Business - IT Divide
Working with the IT Crowd
We see this a lot. IT are bemoaned by the rest of the business and seen as an obstacle that doesn’t understand the business. Likewise, the business is seen as too demanding and failing to understand the technical implications of the requests they make. And so the tension continues.
This CEO wanted the bickering to stop and was fed up with “IT says we can’t” being the block to so many promising ideas across the business. Openeye understands the technology itself and all the tiers of IT departments: technology and business impact, call desks, lines of support, development, testing and implementation, and the specific culture created within the IT crowd.
We challenged the IT department to devise a strategy of their own, to align to the business and not fight it, to look up from their screens and engage with people and we guided them how to achieve this. We challenged the business to understand the implications of decisions they make, to involve IT earlier and brief better.
Although the culture clash would take longer to resolve, the very next week, for the first time in years, the two sides began work on a clear, shared strategy.
Inter-continental rapid analysis
Often we’re asked to observe, facilitate or consult just for a single day for clients requiring a rapid analysis of a situation and sharp problem solving and solution shaping.
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology is the first mixed male/female co-educational university in Saudi Arabia. With teams across North America, the Middle East and the UK working on the project set up, the fastest way to resolve issues face to face was to meet in the middle: London.
Openeye was asked to facilitate complex discussions between parties of clients, advisors, architects and educationalists from all over the world. We accelerated their problem solving and progress as we swiftly moved through the complex agenda.
This fire pit of intensive thinking and planning bore great results and KAUST was built and opened for its first graduate and research students in 2009 and (sadly, this has nothing to do with us!) today they house Asia’s largest supercomputer.
Growing organisational capability
Our client had an ambition. Winning and building £20m schemes is a very different endeavour to winning and building £100m schemes. This CEO believed they could do it, but not yet, and knew change was required, but needed our help to establish precisely what needed to change and how.
And if they became ready, how could they prove their new capability? In a market where evidence of doing it before is key, how could they win their very first £100m project?
We devised a complete strategy that achieved this, identifying and recruiting new talent along the way, skilled up the teams, targeted the wins and began the climb. They won their first £100m job within months and now have several such sized schemes under construction at any one time.
Those we can’t talk about
Our engagement can range from one day’s work, to projects lasting several months, to being retained as advisers on an ongoing basis. So this is for all the work which we can’t talk about: always complex, usually brought in by the leadership, to bring a clarity and energy. We do this by using rigorous strategic thinking and operational excellence know how. We know the advanced art of negotiation and how to deal with difficult conversations, and we boost this with business and organisational psychology.
We operate with a quiet, intelligent integrity for all the CEOs and leaders who ask us to work with them, and if you identify with the situations we write of here, or the ethos of what we’re about, we invite you to join our clients and contact us.