How we became better at delivering Social Value

This article focuses on the tips we used to help our teams get more comfortable planning, delivering and recording Social Value on our construction projects. These tactics assisted us in scoring high marks in procurement opportunities and enabled us to consistently deliver on our contractual commitments.

We’ve used them across our organisation, and they have proven to work.

Let’s get to it.

  • Establish a baseline
  • All that glitters is not gold
  • CASE (Copy And Steal Everything)
  • “Don’t be nervous, be at their service”
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Photos or it didn’t happen
  • “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”
  • Be sceptical, but don’t underestimate the impact
  • Leave an enduring legacy
  • It’s not about you

1) Establish a Baseline

Within our industry, on a typical project, contractual conditions related to social value require us to respect the communities in which we work, care for the environment and value our workforce. For example, an external industry body audits our projects, which acts as a KPI for the customer of the project’s positive or negative impact.

Unfortunately, not all customers require their projects to comply with the auditing body’s requirements. So we set out to establish a minimum baseline by consistently registering all applicable projects, irrespective of whether a customer demanded it. Secondly, by making senior managers responsible for providing the resources required to achieve a minimum score.

Ensuring we provided additional resources to our teams on the ground, with the expectation to reach specific standards, raised the profile of excellent projects while highlighting those that needed further support. Using this external KPI enabled our senior management team to ensure better social value outcomes by directing support to where our projects needed it most.

2) All that glitters is not gold

The disconnect between what constitutes ‘good’ social value and the measurement of Social Value Return on Investment (SROI) is evident in using financial proxies to measure value. An example is a temptation to focus at the bid stage on the ‘Local Spend’, used by inexperienced bid teams to boost the social value financial value ‘percentage’ as a proportion of the overall project value.

Our teams found that commercial requirements often stipulated the best supplier for the project over any alternative selection that contributed positively to a project’s local spending target. As the project progressed, this loss of ‘value’ through overweighting local spend KPIs at the bid stage made for challenging conversations with our customers over failure to deliver against our commitments.

We resolved this challenge by realistically and accurately considering our local spending target pre-submission, neither under nor over-committing. As a result, our project teams could dedicate their time and resources to delivering alternative social value activities rather than being set up to fail on the contract award.

3) CASE (Copy And Steal Everything)

Picasso said, and Steve Jobs quoted him often, “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” However mature your organisation is in delivering Social Value, we must be open and humble enough to learn from others and utilise what works without recreating everything from scratch.

We conducted a top-to-bottom review of how we delivered Social Value within our organisation, soliciting feedback from the Board level to our front-line teams. As with many organisations, we found pockets of excellence, but sharing best practices across the organisation differed from where it should be.

With this in mind, in situations such as these, we guided our bid centre to assist our teams in helping them to ask pertinent questions. This assistance took the form of targeted clarification questions to the contracting authority and methods to understand what the question was asking.

4) “Don’t be nervous, be at their service”

When faced with a bid question, it’s not uncommon not to know what a customer is looking for in the response. While many customers have adopted mandated or industry standards that appear to set explicit objectives, it’s still open to interpretation in many cases.

Furthermore, while procurement professionals have included social value within the scoring mechanism, they may have yet to have had insights from the end-user or customer of the social value objectives that the procurement exercise seeks to obtain.

With this in mind, we guided our bid centre to our teams to help them to ask pertinent questions, including asking for clarification from the contracting authority and methods to use to try to understand what the question is asking. Ultimately, asking them to remember what is considered ‘good’ Social Value is entirely subjective to the customer.

5) Get out of your comfort zone

Research by Deloitte and others has shown that giving opportunities for employees to volunteer for good causes, called employer-supported volunteering, has significant benefits at the individual and organisational level as well as in society. However, we found that often employees wouldn’t take up the offer.

We surveyed our teams to understand why this might be the case, and two key points arose. Firstly, many employees didn’t have the information they needed to understand and use the offer. Secondly, they were worried that line managers would be unwilling to support them leaving the workplace for a day.

To address these points, we instigated a messaging campaign that focused on informing our teams of the volunteering opportunity by highlighting how others had used it and how it supported our business aims of being a business with a purpose beyond profit.

6) Photos, or it didn’t happen

Not necessarily photos, but records of the event from those that organised it or those that took part. Evidence of social value activities is vitally important to demonstrate to clients during the contract that we have met KPIs or other key metrics. However, our teams often need to obtain documentation or correspondence that could verify it occurred after participating in an educational event or volunteer time or resources.

Try to understand the numbers of who was in attendance and for how long. Most activities are based on people, time (weeks/hours) or monetary value. However, you should always request evidence if there is a donation of time, money, or resources, but make sure you obtain written permission and conform to data protection requirements.

7) “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”

Feedback is essential in improving our overall Social Value offer, especially when it is an event that we have hosted ourselves. Similarly, if we donate time/money/resources, we should know where it is going and who will be impacted.

A few examples of where this happened include:

  • Our organisation donated to a regional charity but did not record where how they spent the money; we needed to find out precisely what the impact was.0
  • Many of our operational staff carry out site visits/tours for various groups but needed to request feedback to improve on the relevance and impact of future visits.
  • Projects that fail to achieve KPIs but do not have contractual obligations did not carry out lessons learned reviews to understand why leading to repeated underperformance.

8) Be sceptical, but don’t underestimate the impact

When tasked with meeting a percentage of project value returned as Social Value or making commitments impacting the bottom line, it is easy to assume that a customer is asking too much. After all, what impact does Social Value have on the communities in which we work?

To counter these sentiments, we collated real-life examples of where our teams had either taken part in social value activities with direct impacts or were supported in their lives by organisations delivering social value. At an individual level, this approach helped the change from a cynical mindset towards social value to strong advocates of positive consequences.

For example, in the items below, we focused on the specific outcomes of activities and avoided labelling them as social value activities:

  • Delivering mock interviews for pupils at school could give them the confidence to achieve their aspirations.
  • Providing work experience opportunities to students might positively change their career trajectory.
  • Avoiding overspending on projects at the expense of social value activities to make a significant difference to a local community organisation in the form of donated time or funding.

9) Leave an enduring legacy

Your organisation’s service to your customers, clients and stakeholders is considered business as usual. Social value is the additional, positive interactions in the communities where you work beyond the services you provide.

As bid professionals, we are used to considering our client drivers and the impact of our proposals on the project stakeholders, but this doesn’t always extend to the operational teams delivering the service.

At the bid stage, we ensured sufficient resources to capture our successes in the form of dedicated project legacy reports. This step informed our teams of the legacy they were providing and enabled us to demonstrate our value to our customers. Furthermore, we used these case studies in future opportunities to demonstrate our experience, creating a positive feedback loop across the organisation.

10) It’s not about you

Yes, committing to and carrying out Social Value activities supports your desire for your organisation’s ability to secure profitable work with your chosen customers.

Yes, you can prioritise specific activities that give a clear SROI.

Yes, for most of us, the pressure of the day job makes it challenging even to contemplate taking part.

But, Social Value is about maximising the positive impacts and pursuing activities with real-world consequences instead of taking the easier way out.

Social value is not about ‘what’s in it for me?’ or ‘what’s in it for my organisation.

It’s about the people you work with, your communities, and your organisation’s role in the broader environment.

Final Thoughts

This article focused on the tips we used to help our teams deliver better Social Value outcomes on our projects. At the bid stage, we developed our understanding of requirements, backing them up with the necessary evidence to score high marks. Boosting our organisational ‘knowledge’ of social value enabled us to deliver on our contractual commitments consistently and supported our teams to become more efficient and deliver better outcomes for the communities in which we worked.


Content by Steve Cawley

Bid Manager, UK Construction Industry

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