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People & Team


We used coaching and peer reviews to turn around outdated management

Alexandra Thompson, head of people at Harvey Water Softeners
Alexandra Thompson introduced management coaching to change ingrained behaviours

Name: Harvey Water Softeners
Location: Woking
Employees: 100
Founded in: 1978
Tip: “Make sure you have managers who actually want to do the job. There’s no shame in someone deciding that managing people isn’t their thing.”

The problem

Welcoming a new MD into Harvey Water Softeners presented an opportunity for improvement. The business had been run in a similar way for 40 years, creating a patriarchal culture. But as the firm grew from a handful of staff to 100, it became clear that the old ways of managing people were outdated. The leadership team needed better, more professional ways to get the most out of their people.

The solution

The first change was to create consistent processes for the management team. They were skilled in their fields of expertise, but they had varied approaches to managing people. Alexandra Thompson, the firm’s head of people, introduced coaching as a way to change behaviours. It was a difficult process, Alexandra remembers, but it was successful. The first group of staff that took part benefited from broadening their perspectives.

The next step was to implement a peer-to-peer review process. Alexandra recognised that businesses need to be mature with how they handle 360-degree feedback – if they aren’t, it can be damaging. They designed the process with a training partner who created a set of behaviours based on what mattered to the firm: compassion, accountability and personal development. Over time, they evaluated how well each employee demonstrated these behaviours.

The results

Coaching and feedback immediately improved employee engagement, with most staff members happy to get more feedback on their performance.

In 2018, a US competitor acquired the company. Alexandra believes the improved levels of engagement and focus helped the company through this change. “The acquisition could have been the end of the world. But people are excited about what we can do next,” she said.

“We didn’t want a leadership team that sulked about things. There’s a responsibility to listen now. It’s made some of the tougher conversations much easier – there’s such professionalism and respect. What could have turned into a heated discussion hasn’t. It’s been really powerful.”

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