… or, how a group of bright young staff members at cost consultant Davis Langdon found themselves teaching the old board new tricks.

When Davis Langdon’s senior managers decided they needed some advice, they turned not to armies of jargon-spouting consultants, but to a much overlooked source of ideas – their junior members of staff. Twenty of the brightest and best of them, all in their 20s, were gathered together to form the Foresight group. Since its formation last November, it has exercised a surprising amount of influence. Four-strong teams drawn from the group have researched management headaches from internal communications to implementing 3D modelling.

Take Lee Griffin, for example. He is a 29-year-old value and risk management consultant in DL’s London office. He’s been leading research on the best way to disseminate the firm’s business plan to its 3000 staff, because the partners feared it would be diluted by the firm’s expansion. Last June, he and his colleagues made an hour-long presentation on its findings to the board – a daunting prospect if you’re not used to the upper echelons of the corporate world (see “Presenting to the board”, below).

“I was nervous beforehand,” he admits, “but we had worked on it for so long that we knew our subject inside out. And they were so positive about our ideas, I was elated.”

In carrying out the research, one of the first problems the team came up against was the lack of information on the subject. Crucially for the Foresight team, the rest of the company was willing to get involved with their work and responded generously when they sent out more than 600 anonymous questionnaires. Seventy per cent were returned, and Griffin said gaining access to senior members of staff for more in-depth interviews was easy because senior partner Rob Smith had already given his backing.

Griffin says the firm’s four board members generally welcomed their suggestions, which included launching an internal marketing campaign and testing the application of the company values in performance appraisals. The one thing they refused to go along with was a suggestion that all partners be trained to write the business plan, but Griffin could see their point. “It was too much work and a perfectly sensible decision.”

Credit: Max Schindler

There was scepticism among those who saw it as an exercise for the sake of it, but then people realised it would benefit them

Matthew Hicks, Davis Langdon

The team were given some time during working hours to carry out their research but much of it had to be done after hours. The extra work doesn’t seem to have discouraged Griffin – he’s now planning to do an MBA at Henley Management College.

Matthew Hicks’ line manager put him forward for Foresight because he’d already shown interest in how technology was used in the firm. He’s 26, and a senior project surveyor in the Peterborough office, and his team looked at ways of implementing 3D design modelling.

The biggest challenge was finding the right person to speak to, he says. “First I asked in my office who had been involved in projects using 3D design modelling. Then I got in touch with every office in the country to get names and contacts. I was surprised at how happy people are to speak once they find out that you’re working on the same subject.”

He believes people were won over to his cause because they knew his findings would be presented to the board and acted on. “There was some scepticism among people who seemed to think it was an exercise just for the sake of doing a research exercise. But it’s good to see people realise that what we’re doing is going to benefit them in a certain way. They get interested in our research into the use of CAD and other software because it’s going to affect their daily job, too.”

Hicks’ team will present their report to the board in November.

Everyone in the group has their Assessment of Professional Competence qualification, so they’re used to fitting studying and research around work commitments and their personal lives. “I think it’s worth giving up a bit of my own time to produce a good piece of research that will put me in better standing for the rest of my career,” says Hicks. There are even some additional benefits, he adds. “At least you give up watching reality TV programmes.”