How to lead a successful town planning team

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Matt Fraser, team manager - planning at Penguin Recruitment, spoke to Richard Henley, director at hgh Consulting, about what it takes to lead a great team.

Richard Henley

Richard Henley, director, hgh Consulting

Hgh Consulting is a niche town planning consultancy which was founded in 2015. Its clients span across the public and private sectors, giving employees opportunities to work on a wide range of interesting and challenging projects, from small residential and mixed-use schemes, to education, leisure, compulsory purchase order(CPO), commercial and industrial work, through to large scale estate regeneration and garden village developments.

Richard, what challenges do town planning leaders face when it comes to leading and motivating their teams and how do you overcome such challenges? 

At hgh Consulting, we challenge ourselves continuously and strive to motivate our team by enabling all levels of staff to be involved in a wide range of projects at different stages to foster professional growth, independence and hands-on experience.  We aim to stand ahead of the competition for talent by providing a flexible working environment, quality IT systems, flexible benefits and competitive salaries, and bonuses that give rise to a positive and team centric environment led by hands-on directors. 

What techniques do you use to motivate your teams effectively? 

We avoid the ‘silo-mentality’ approach to project work through flexibility as we do not have fixed director or sector-centric teams, which avoids project monotony and keeps our team motivated with exposure to a range of clients and project work. We have a clear understanding of our company principles, expectations and goals.  Regular weekly team meetings ensure all staff are aware of the range of work within the business and the ability to be involved in new projects.  Bonuses and promotions are regularly attained by our staff, reflecting positive professional growth and recognition of quality and performance. 

What makes a great leader in the town planning sector? 

Principal core attributes revolve around professionalism, ethics, integrity, fairness and leading by example, and mentoring staff at all levels through the business.  All the directors at hgh take great pride in ensuring that these attributes are delivered on each and every project and reinforce these in all the work that we do for our clients. 

What makes a great town planning team that is well-led? 

A business is only as good as its component parts – its people. In a relatively short period of time, hgh has been fortunate to have grown to become a gender balanced, highly motivated team of 19 practitioners and support staff who have come from a number of competitor companies. They recognise and believe in hgh Consulting’s principles enshrined in the directors’ personal approach through positive leadership and continued business growth.  

In addition to hard work, it is important to have fun as a team and we regularly organise team socials, client events, study tours and related consultancy CPD and business development sessions.

What key factors should town planning leaders consider when recruiting new staff for their teams? 

To some extent this depends on the level of staff the business is recruiting for, but there are a number of core factors that underlie recruitment at hgh Consulting:  

  • Adaptability: As planning consultants, we are required to take on many different roles, so being able to adapt to these roles is key to being a successful planner. 
  • Calibre: High academic achievement and honed written and verbal communication is paramount, as well as being an independent and clear thinker, organised and hard working.
  • Team-working: The ability to work independently with initiative is important, but so is working with the wider hgh team and having the confidence to request assistance and guidance at the appropriate time from directors.  
  • Networking skills: At more senior levels, the ability to network and generate new business is important to increasing brand recognition and business growth.
  • Talent partner: Working with a talent partner that understands the nature and scope of work you cover, as well as your clients’ requirements, will help you attract the most relevant high calibre candidates. Together with Penguin Recruitment, which hgh Consulting regards as a highly successful and well-respected town planning sector recruitment company, we can identify and secure the best candidates for our business. 

How can leaders ensure their teams' skills are kept up to date? 

hgh Consulting engages in a proactive personal and professional learning programme by supporting attendance at seminars and corporate continuing professional development (CPD) events, independent learning, obtaining additional qualifications, sharing team news and relevant cases, alongside regular external technical consultant CPD events. 

We are active members of leading organisations including London First, New London Architecture, Planning Futures and PanDA, which regularly hold events, and we actively encourage all levels of staff to attend these to improve and reinforce their experience, knowledge and networking abilities. 

As a business we also hold biannual staff reviews to identify key work areas or growing specialisms that we actively encourage and support through external learning opportunities, funding academic qualifications and supporting CPD.  

What are your top tips on how to lead a successful town planning team?

Above all you need to enjoy the work that you do, the people you work with and be open to learning something new each day. The hgh Consulting business has continued to grow and celebrate success with a recent new senior staff member appointment (associate director) and from within the company, one of our planners recently received a ‘distinction’ in a part-time planning masters course, funded by hgh, and another qualifying as a chartered town planner.  

Work harder and smarter, use technology where appropriate, but not as a replacement for personal client contact, and achieve continued planning results to reinforce loyal client confidence. Despite the enveloping uncertain political climate, we envisage strong and continued growth in the coming years, and we are always looking for high calibre planners to join the business and build on our success story to date. 

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