Clancy Docwra’s CTO Tim Edwards on ‘Intelligent Empathy’ and the difference between performance and result

Elliott King
on 10 July 2017

“This is not about the technology, it is about having the high performing teams who can deliver it.”

Clancy Docwra is a national construction company – employing  over 2,700 staff and operating across the Civil Engineering, Energy, Multi Utility, Rail, Renewables and Water sectors.

Tim Edwards is Associate Director responsible for the company’s technology and innovation and he not only oversees traditional IT networks and hardware, but also the corporate and operational systems.  He’s also leading a major business transformation programme, to improve the efficiency of all Clancy’s processes and systems.

We interviewed Tim and asked him to explain how he approaches these roles holistically, and what he’s learnt about managing and deploying new technology in a very ‘traditional’ family construction company.  

DOOTRIX   It is interesting that all of those things – hardware, software and innovation – all come under your remit, and that is quite a positive thing for Clancy and for you. Do you see them as quite interlinked and similar tasks?

TIM   Yes, they are interlinked, and there are a lot of grey areas. I think the role of CTOs and CIOs, in any industry, is getting drawn in so many directions. Previously, you could have been in your little silo just worrying about your email servers and your ERP systems. Now your remit has become huge and all of a sudden you’re are getting involved in which kinds of dumper trucks we should be buying. Increasingly there is a grey area between IT, as we have always known it, and operation technology.

As everything becomes increasingly smart, so the boundaries between the old world – a bit of plant equipment and the digital world – become greyer and more merged.

DOOTRIX  We know that the hardware exists for linking up those things but are there existing software systems that helps you tie that up in a circle, or are you having to build your own systems?

TIM  My job now is to be a systems integrator – how do I lead my plant tracking systems to my ERP system, to my customers’ asset management system, to my own works management system, through to my financials and everything else?

Not only is the plant that we buy now becoming increasingly smart, but also we are building a lot of technology that we put into our plant to make it safer and to make it more efficient. If you are on a dumper truck, for example, you have to swipe onto it with a smart card, and that will then say whether you have got the right tickets to drive that truck. If you haven’t, it won’t start up which removes the risk of unqualified individuals just jumping on board something and, potentially, causing a huge risk.

Now, when we buy our plant, we need to think about how that sits within the wider ecosystem. How is it going to connect to my training and development system?

DOOTRIX    Can you expand on that complexity, and more importantly, how do you go about ensuring that ‘big picture’ holistic planning, leads to better products and systems for the people on the front line?

TIM   The job now that we have to do in IT is two things: firstly, understanding the need, so you have got to have this huge amount of empathy for your internal customer or your external customer – but also you have got to have this process, this methodology, to interpret need into what the solution should be.

When we are recruiting business analysts I am constantly looking to see how good they are at taking the unknown and making it into the known, because that is the job. You guys at Dootrix have done a lot with the police and athletic performance coaches K2, and I have learnt a lot of stuff from both. When you talk to the police guys about how to interrogate people, how to go through a very vague, unknown thing, and then come out with the actual facts and circumstances – that is an essential skill we try to train and nurture.

When you think about business analysts and product owners, that is what they are doing; they are interrogating, to actually get through the vague and the unknown and the uncertainty to get down to a defined, definite thing.

DOOTRIX   In the past you’ve mentioned The HIPPO issue, (the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), so you are listening to other directors on the board and senior managers, but do you find ever that it gets reflected back the other way? Do you think that people protect what they are saying to you because you are the boss and, therefore, you have to interrogate differently?

TIM   As leaders, especially leaders in technology, you have got to be really mindful of being open and staying open-minded and holding back on your opinion. You have got to be really conscious of the culture you are creating and about being deliberate in enabling people to voice their opinions.

There are 2,700 people in Clancy, 1200 of those are guys who drive transit vans and dig holes for a living, so as part of the transformation programme we have spoken to a large number of them, all the way from director to gang, and done that interrogation of talking to them – trying to discover their needs.

When you are really trying to understand the need of your users, it is quite a skill to sit back and really listen and to really interpret what you are hearing and not jump to your previous opinion of it.

Visualisation of a problem is a big thing to me so I have given up my office and we have turned it into a stand-up meeting room covered all in whiteboards, and that is where we do all of our collaboration. It is very visual and interactive – service design using whiteboards and sticky notes. I think there is a huge amount to be gained from using simple methods for solving complex problems.  I think visual problem solving, and particularly in an agile world, going back to a whiteboard and a piece of paper and getting people interacting with stuff in a physical way, is huge in delivering change.

DOOTRIX   Which leads neatly, but perhaps surprisingly, into what an interior designer taught you about designing software solutions for men in Transit vans. Do you want to elaborate on that a bit for me? Do you have someone redesigning your house for you?

TIM   No, I don’t. That would be helpful. But I find interior design fascinating, not from the fluffy cushion stuff, but, that whole approach of understanding us as humans and our behaviours and our psychology and the impact of the physical world on the people within it.

If you are designing an app for any industrial environment like ours, you would go out and observe users their environment, and how they do it, and pick up the behavioural clues, before they started designing the solution for them.

I think the approach that (interior designer) Ilse Crawford takes, has a lot of parallels to digital design and some of the work that your Product Owners and UX designers would do at Dootrix. Interrogating the human needs and having empathy for your user and their existing environment first, and then you do observations.
Ilse Crawford talks very elegantly about her process. Something that you think is actually quite creative is actually very procedural, very systematic and very scientific. She calls it interrogation as well, interestingly, and she talks about having empathy before the interrogation.

DOOTRIX   Measuring performance, of both systems and teams, is one of the most important metrics for all companies, but at Clancy you’ve been taking a different approach. You talk about the difference between performance and results. That is interesting. What do you mean by that?

TIM   In sport your result is the score at the end of the game. You have lost the rugby match by 32-4 and you have got no idea about how you got there or why you were so bad, whereas your performance is, not only what happened during the game, but what you did prior to the game, so your preparation, your planning, your tactical and emotional performance.

As in most businesses, we are obviously focused on the commercial numbers, quite rightly, and we are also always focused on the safety numbers. We have lots of reports each month to tell us how well we are doing commercially and how well we are doing with safety, but they are just the results; that is not actually our performance. So how much time and effort do we, as managers, put into looking at our performance as individuals and as teams, and working deliberately to improve that?

We all rock up to work every day and that is our performance, so what do we do to actually work on that and not get fixated on just the numbers and the money?

If you are lucky during your career, you will normally get developed in your technical performance, and they might spend a bit of time developing your tactical performance, so you might go on a managerial course or you might go on some other leadership course. But then we spend very little time, as managers in business, developing people and supporting them on their physical performance, their emotional, contextual performance.

It is not just good enough being a super-talented dev or super-talented business analyst; there is a lot more to your performance than just your technical skillset.

The traditional theory is that your intrinsic motivation comes down to autonomy, mastery and purpose but we use a different language at Clancy, we call them control, confidence, and connectedness. With our teams, I am constantly working to help them develop, for themselves, a greater control over their work; give them a greater sense of purpose or connectedness to what they are working on, how that makes a difference to the business; and confidence comes about from your training and your previous experience, so that you are confident in what you can do.

If you are going to talk about building high-performing teams and you are going to talk about building a high-performing culture, you have got to work on your own performance first. You have got to practise what you preach. You have got to think about how do you manage your time, how do you manage your physical performance, your mental performance, because you can’t help others if you are not practising that yourself.

DOOTRIX   In contemporary management thinking there’s a lot of talk about building company ‘culture’ to drive innovation and to create positive change, but it sounds like Clancy have had that kind of foundation, naturally, right from the start?

TIM   Our mission at Clancy is, quite simply, ‘To make life better for all of our families.’

It is a very unusual and a very nice place to work because it is family-owned and the family are very much in the business. But the Clancy family aren’t the only family within The Clancy Group. There are generations of other families who have been in the business for 30+ years. People say, when they come to the office and they walk in through the door and they walk out of the canteen, you can feel it, you get the sense of it.

Michael Clancy, who founded the company, came over to England from Ireland, in the same generation that my grandparents did. He built the business from zero to an £8 million business. Since 1986, his two sons have taken it from there and turned it into a £270 million business, through hard work and building trust.

I think that is really well-understood in our business; the teams out in the vans, in all weather, digging holes in quite difficult situations, that is our factory floor, that is what earns us our money.

We are in a business where many of our staff have worked in the business for 15, 25, 35 years, and our longest customer we have as a business is a 35-year relationship. We sign contracts that span decades quite often, so it is all about long-term relationships, and they are always built on the lads in the vans delivering.

They always have to be the first and last thing we consider. Understanding (their work as) users and designing solutions for them is what our department does. We are not a very political company. It is a real honest, quite simple company – but actually having that emotional empathy to get on with your colleagues and to build long-term relationships is key.


We are working with Tim and Clancy Docwra on several projects to help ensure that digital expertise and innovation underpin all of their essential services. If you’d like to talk about how we could do the same for your organisation, please get in touch.


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