HS2 hired EKFB to deliver civil engineering work on an 80km section of the rail link ©Getty Images
HS2 hired EKFB to deliver civil engineering work on an 80km section of the rail link ©Getty Images

Can behavioural tests help identify the best subcontractor teams?

Behavioural assessments helped build teams with the right skills and attitudes

Large-scale, long-lead projects are demanding and they stand a greater chance of success when all parties work well together. This is especially true when you need multiple suppliers to work alongside one another, find compromises and overcome challenges.

Not many private sector providers perform behaviour analysis of prospective partners before a contract is awarded. However, this is what tier-one HS2 supplier EKFB did to find the most suitable labour providers to deliver its part of the high-speed rail link.

Behavioural assessments (BAs) have been used since 2000 by the UK public sector for major infrastructure and engineering procurements. And they have grown in popularity since 2006, when they were implemented for the Olympic Games in London.

The purpose of these assessments is to increase the chance of a successful outcome by understanding how a potential supplier or suppliers respond to a series of tests. These help the buying organisation determine which companies are likely to best meet their needs and standards, as well as maintain their commitments.

Rarely, however, are BAs used by a private-sector supplier to recruit multiple contractors along the chain. Civil engineering joint venture EKFB bucked that trend when it deployed BAs as part of its procurement for a bank of labour providers for HS2.

Its assessment saw competing suppliers work together on real issues that winning bidders would have to resolve once the contract got under way – and the entire process was managed online.

Collaborative working

Paul Paddick is head of procurement and supply chain at EKFB, the joint-venture body that comprises Eiffage, Kier, Ferrovial Construction and BAM Nuttall. It was appointed by HS2 to deliver civil engineering works across an 80km section of the rail link between the Chiltern Tunnel and Long Itchington Wood.

Paddick says: “HS2 is keen to promote collaborative working. We’re on a journey with them and need to ensure we have the right calibre of suppliers to build long-term relationships with.

“The scale and magnitude of HS2 means we require six labour providers. They will need to work hand-in-glove in an equitable manner for the programme. So this was about getting the right providers and creating long-term strategic relationships with suppliers that we can call on when times are tough.”

John Doyle, managing director of behavioural and collaboration consultancy B2Bppm, who has helped both HS2 and EKFB apply the technique, says Paddick’s team has continued the “golden thread” of the approach taken by HS2, which is innovative for several reasons.

“This is a tier-one private sector contractor implementing a partner selection approach that’s directly in line with the international standard on behavioural and collaborative assessments [ISO44001]," he said.

“It focused on tier-two and three labour suppliers, most of which had never previously engaged in this type of assessment, and brought together a group of competitors to do so. In addition, the exercises and questions were directly linked to issues that would need to be resolved collaboratively in the near future - and they will be the basis to accelerate collaborative decisions in the early part of the contract.”

Assess supplier behaviour

The entire initiative, as well as the training of the assessors, was delivered remotely online, taking BAs to “new levels”. However, the procurement team had one chance to ensure a fair process for all parties involved. Ten shortlisted suppliers attended the remote sessions and worked together through a series of genuine challenges – how they could ensure an even share of work, agree a standard rate card and set up a labour desk.

As they discussed and debated these issues in the online forum, EKFB assessors judged their ability to think on the spot, compromise and communicate. The outcome of these tests was worth 20% of the overall award weighting. According to Doyle, the programme was unique thanks to “the very fact it was all run online and had multiple tenderers occupying the same space on the same day, sharing their solutions in advance”.

 He adds: “The pressure on individuals can be significant because you’re being tested on your knowledge and how you can work with others. A lot of technological stuff can go wrong, so we had trial test runs with all tenderers to ensure their kit was up to scratch; that there were no interruptions; and that they were able to manage themselves online so each party had the same amount of time.”

Six contractors – Carmichael, McGinley, Venesky-Brown, Reliable Contractors, VGC and the Danny Sullivan Group – were appointed last October. For Paddick, the rail project, which is being paid from the public purse, requires exemplary procurement processes that deliver value for money, and BA has proven a worthy contributor.

He says: “HS2’s core principles are value for money, championing teamwork and collaboration, and leaving a positive legacy for Britain – which all resonate with what we’re doing.”

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