The Sureserve Group employs over 2,300 people, delivers award-winning projects across the UK in building, improving, maintaining and developing buildings and services for social housing, schools and colleges. The company generates annual revenues of £299.5m. In this interview, The Group CEO, Bob Holt OBE, talks about the importance of trust as the foundation for strong leadership to help businesses recover from past failure.
On the importance of trust:
‘Personally, trust is very important to me and that’s how I have built my reputation as a no-nonsense, ‘straight down the line’ type of person. This is an essential quality of managing people fairly. In the case of Sureserve, I was helicoptered into a business which had failed spectacularly, so I had to create trust immediately which is difficult when you have to let two hundred people go within your first six weeks. Those people who have remained and succeeded I think have significant trust in that ‘what I say is what I’ll do’, and ‘when I say something I mean it’’
On building a high trust culture:
‘It’s all about having a collegiate approach. You have to build a team, and then you have to get them to believe, and they will only believe by you fulfilling your actions. So we brought this team together, gave them confidence that we trusted and believed in them, gave them clear and concise messages about what we wanted to achieve together, and supported them to go out and do it. We still had challenges within the business eighteen months on and it’s difficult for people because they see themselves at risk over a longer period of time but they understand where I’m coming from. They know what I’m trying to achieve and that I will do things fairly. They see that I’m getting support from all the right people and that’s the key.’
On measuring trust:
‘We gauge trust through the representative council. It’s informal, it’s not structured in any particular way, but it gives us an indicator of the level of trust across the business. Another example of measuring trust is the project I’ve been trying to get off the ground which is about promoting women within the organisation and within the industry. We’ve just now got that up and running and I’m delighted with it because it’s got a wider audience, and it’s got more people to buy into where we want to get to. It’s another yardstick for people to measure trust in terms of the open, honest integrity that’s coming from the top.’
The Nine Habits of Trust:
Bob has a philanthropic side to his life. He has led the initiative whereby Sureserve has set up a foundation in the name of the man who formed the business. This is a great example of habit no.8, being morally brave, to self-sacrifice in the interest of the wider good. Evangelical, holistic and inclusive in nature, Bob combines this philanthropy with natural leadership. His honesty, openness, and consistency in delivering on promises come through strongly in the interview and these trust habits have been instrumental in guiding Sureserve’s recovery.
The business is still in the mode of coming out of the failures of the past and it is clear that the nine trust habits will be needed at every leadership level to improve the results, relationships and reputation of the business and to achieve its aspirations for quality of service. Our thanks to Bob for his time and for allowing us to share his insights from the interview.
For more information on the Trusted Executive Foundation please refer to this short introductory video