What challenge did you tackle and overcome in your business this week?
Well I’m six months into my role now and every week brings a fresh challenge. When I became Chair of the NDA I knew there’d be some really complex challenges ahead and that was a big incentive for me to take the job. I’ve soon realised that the nature of decommissioning is one of constant change but my experience tells me that change can present opportunities. I’ve found that there are some great people at the NDA and I’m learning so much from them. Together we can tackle our challenges, maximise the opportunities and produce the best solutions for the nation.
Which ongoing business challenge is occupying your thoughts this week/month?
It has to be health, safety and the environment. The NDA’s mission is fundamentally focussed on reducing the hazards and risks at the 17 legacy sites we own around the UK. With a flexible approach we can create opportunities out of the risks we manage. That’s what the UK Government and our stakeholders expect of us. I’m pleased to say that we have clear vision and a strong strategy to manage the risks from some of the World’s most complex challenges. To build on this we need to develop our leadership to strengthen our culture and build on the extensive capabilities we already have. And I’m a great believer that a more diverse leadership is a better leadership.
We have had 2 national lockdowns and a range of regional tier variations over many months. In what way has your approach to these lockdowns / tier restrictions permanently influenced your own way of working and have you made or will you make any further adjustments now we are in a 3rd lockdown?
Our initial response to Covid was how do we keep our sites safe and secure while at the same time ensuring the safety and well-being of our employees. We took an early decision before the first lockdown to close all but essential work at our sites – only carrying out work that was necessary to keep plants safe. Since then we’ve slowly but cautiously brought workforces back on to sites. We’ve done this by engaging with our regulator and listening to our trade unions. We’ve implemented new measures and thought long and hard how we can do things differently. This has helped build employee confidence that it is safe to return to work.
We’ve been developing new ideas borne out of Covid circumstances on how we can do things differently and better. It’s also given us a greater appreciation of the value of our supply chain. Over the years I’ve learned how fragile some suppliers can be under certain circumstances and how important it is to develop a vibrant and sustainable supply chain. At a very early stage of the pandemic we took a decision to support our suppliers, so that when we restarted our operations, they’d be ready to support us once again.
Given the reliance on technology during lockdowns, do you now envisage an acceleration in digital/workforce transformation in the short-medium term?
For close on twelve months we’ve had a policy that those who can work from home do work from home. Like everyone else we’ve had to adapt and embrace technological introductions and as a result I think we’ve become more agile in the way we work. But the nuclear decommissioning industry is synonymous with learning and adapting, using innovative applications and new technology to progress our mission safely and delivering value for money for the UK taxpayers. In a sense, this has been just another example of how we are always looking to do things differently but with due care for health and safety while caring for the environment.
What are the new working norms starting to look like for your organisation?
In the last twelve months we’ve learned so much about how we can work in the future. The challenges thrown down by the pandemic have made us realise that there are other ways of doing things and doing them better. That’s not to say it’s been straightforward and without difficulties, we’ve been tested but I think we’ve stood up well to the challenges.
Having to adapt to workplace guidelines at our sites/offices and working from home have been very challenging. These adaptations have made huge impacts on the way we carry out our business and our expectations. Our response to stay at home has been good but not everyone can work from home and not everyone wants to work from home. For those we physically need at our sites we’ve been imaginative in reducing risks and their time at the workface. In that respect I think we’ve been successful in agreeing a sort of social contract with our employees.
Gradually we’ve been able to bring more employees back to workfaces and get on with the tasks the nation wants us to fulfil. But we’ve only been able to do this by taking our employees with us, agreeing together that it’s safe to come back to work. Those staying at home are now much better equipped to carry out their tasks. In the longer term the expectation is that we will adopt a mix of home and office working. So, we’ve a fair degree of confidence that we’ll come back a more agile and effective organisation and the new working norm will, at some stage, allow us back to full production.
There is a dramatic reduction in carbon footprints during lockdowns, what is your business planning to do to help continue this going forward?
The very nature of our work means that the environment and sustainability is central to our thinking. We are a massive environmental remediation project, one of the world’s most complex. So, our commitment to reducing carbon is huge. Working with the Carbon Trust we’ve set ambitious carbon commitments and developing a roadmap of opportunities to support delivery of the UK Government’s 2050 and Scottish Government’s 2045 carbon targets.
There are always opportunities to do more. For example, we’ve seen during the pandemic how we can do far more remotely than people thought possible. As an organisation with sites all over the country this is a major shift for us. We want to introduce small regional working hubs to reduce our previous dependency on site-based offices permanently.
Whether it’s decommissioning, managing waste, construction, demolition or transporting materials, we are looking at all that we do and how we do it. Sustainability is a global priority and we have to play our part. Although achieving our mission is so vitally important, the way in which we do it matters just as much.
In terms of personal well-being, what changes have you made and will you stick to them post lockdown?
The health and well-being of our employees is so important. And clearly also reflects the health and well-being of our organisation. Working through the pandemic has put new stresses and strains on our employees and in response we’ve put a new focus on mental health. We’ve realised like never before the importance of inclusivity. From the start we stepped up our communications keeping our employees informed and listening to their experiences, concerns and needs. We set out to make sure that no one felt isolated nor lonely and that help was at hand for anyone who did.
The surveys we’ve conducted have given us a much better understanding of how they feel. The lockdown has taught us so much more about bringing our people closer together, making sure they feel valued and respected. The lessons will help us fulfil our ambitions of making the NDA an employer of choice and a great place to work. We have to carry on the good things that we’ve learned after the pandemic is over.
Who or what has inspired you this week? (They don’t need to be famous)
I’ve been struck by how COVID affects us all and by how people of all ages have responded. Captain Tom is the obvious example. But I have to share the experience of my seven year old nephew who sent a birthday card to his three year old cousin saying “I really, really hope I can see you soon. I miss you.” I found that incredibly moving.
Given the recent announcements pertaining to a roadmap out of lockdown are you planning to book a summer holiday this year? If so where ideally would you like to go?
I know that sounds very appealing but honestly I’ve not given it any consideration! Like many, I’m keen to see what’s happening first and any in case home in the summer is glorious! What will occupy my holiday thoughts will be skiing next winter, which is a must for me!
Any words of wisdom?
I’ve been reading recently about public inquires and how by their very nature they are reflective exercises and to a degree informed by the benefit of hindsight. I’d like to share the wisdom imparted by His Honour Judge Teague QC reflecting in his report last year into the tragic death of Anthony Grainger.
“…the Chairman of an Inquiry must be a seer after the event, examining society’s conscience, revealing even those things that could not have been known at the time and, in the process, illuminating a future to which it might not otherwise have been possible to aspire. To disregard after-acquired knowledge when considering whether a historical decision or action was objectively justified risks subverting the purpose of an investigation.”