Steves Blog

Lifting the bonnet on Network Rail

28 February 2015

This year's George Bradshaw Address on 25 February was delivered by Mark Carne, the new Chief Executive of Network Rail. A year into his tenure he took the opportunity, not to talk about the Digital Railway - his pet subject, but to lift the bonnet of the Company he is focused on improving in the coming years and months.

He has two philosophies that guide his leadership: the first is that safety and performance go hand in hand and the second is that people should have the ambition to be better every day.

On the first philosophy, his view is that if people focus on what it takes to do things safely, performance will follow based on the logic that to do a job safely, it must be well planned, be carried out by competent, motivated people using the right equipment in the right way. All of which are the ingredients of high performance. In my view this makes absolutely sense and is the backbone to effective project management processes.

On his second philosophy, to do things better every day will require an environment that allows people to perform to their full potential. He acknowledges that Network Rail do not face the same level of competitive pressure as most commercial sectors, due to the captive market with passengers having little alternative other than to use its services. So he recognises that strong leadership is required to drive through a lasting culture change. He wants his leaders to turn the organisation upside down, to listen to those with the ideas, to help them prioritise and to then enable people to make the changes needed. We all know that some of the best ideas come from those at the coal face, the challenge Mr Carne has to overcome is the layers of middle management that often block rather than enable change and the introduction of new ideas.

It was also refreshing to hear that he likes working with profitable suppliers! He likes building successful relationships that encourage innovation and new ideas and he believes that the supply chain should be rewarded for this. Commoditising the supply chain and contracting in a way that creates a race to the lowest margins is not sustainable - well said that man! He wants to build long term partnerships with suppliers giving them the chance to build improvement into their work, rather than worrying about chasing down the next small contract.

I have already played this view back to one of our clients who needs to address the desire by others in the company for high quality output for lower than market rates. I believe that clients need to be confident to pay the right price for the service they expect. Another one of my clients has coined a thought provoking phrase, which is "we can no longer afford to accept the lowest price!"

With these philosophies and the approach to the supply chain Mr Carne has certainly embarked on a major journey, which will take years as opposed to months to reach his desired destination. But having looked under the bonnet he certainly seems intent on turning Network Rail into a well oiled machine and a railway network that we can all be proud of!

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