Brilliant Project Leader: Expert Tips 1

This is the first of an occasional series of tips from real-life “Brilliant Project Leaders”.  The first is Steve Clark, inspirational General Manager at Chilstone in Kent.

Chilstone manufactures a wide range of garden ornaments and architectural stonework, from finials to fountains and benches to complete temples. They also work with architects and designers to create new bespoke items to order. Their range is on permanent display at their 35 acres of grounds in the heart of some of Kent’s most beautiful countryside, four miles outside Tunbridge Wells.

The Chilstone Secret


Chilstone recently completed its largest ever contract, and is aiming to double its revenue in the coming three to four years. Something remarkable must be going on and I wanted to know their secret.  Their secret seems to be a remarkable team, led by Steve. I spoke to him to learn some of his secrets for leading his team.

Invest to Build your Business

Steve has instigated a series of carefully considered investments, which all have one linking theme: his team. Steve has invested massively in giving Chilstone’s employees better resources, better facilities and better equipment. He has done this for two reasons:

  1. so the team feel appreciated, and
  2. so they can do their jobs better.

Chilstone CraftsmanExamples include a new staff room with a high standard of cooking facilities (it can be cold in a stone mason’s workshop in the winter). Health and safety is important, but so is comfort, so when Steve’s team need new “high-vis” jackets, he went for the best he could find: quilted ones. For Steve, it’s simple: “a happy workforce is a motivated workforce.”

Give your staff the tools to do their job

In a recession, many leaders would limit spending on new equipment and ask team members to “make do”. But when Steve found that there were new work gloves on the market that will make it just a little easier for his team to manoeuvre stone, he ordered one for every staff member who needed them. Yes, it was a lot of money if you think only of the cost; but it was a small fraction of the improved morale and working efficiency.

The office team gets the same treatment: not just regular IT upgrades – hardware and software – so they are always working with the best kit, but they are now working in a new building that serves as an office suite and showroom.

Always make your Staff feel Appreciated

Chilstone CraftsmenBuying gloves and quilted vests, and even upgrading a staff room are tokens. People appreciate them, but they can soon come to expect them. So Steve believes in the human touch; small gestures that make a big difference.

December in Kent saw heavy snow. Steve Clark, General Manager, was there taking his turn at the least popular job of all: shovelling snow and sweeping the yard. And he was also able to cheer cold workshop staff (and, no doubt, himself too) with bacon butties and hot soup. Yes please! He makes a special point of thanking staff for their work – especially on days when they have made a special effort to be there, or to deal with a particular challenge.

And here is something that has fallen out of fashion. Chilstone celebrates its staff members’ birthdays and anniversaries, which is something that friends and families do, we note.

Challenge your staff to Innovate
… and reward them for their ideas

It’s a hard job coming up with all of the ideas in a business, so Steve spreads the load, inviting everyone to make suggestions. This is no impotent suggestion box, however. Staff ideas have made a real difference to the business and have resulted in big investments and new revenues. So Steve rewards staff with recognition and financial reward.

ChilstoneUrn3It was the staff who suggested putting Chilstone products at Kent’s visitor attractions and you can now see ten Chilstone sculptures at Groombridge Place, linked by a quiz for visitors. A resource for Groombridge Place and priceless marketing for Chilstone.

He also challenged workshop staff to come up with new designs re-using existing moulds. As an incentive, he offered the proceeds from the fifth sale of any item a staff member designed, to the designer. Some of Chilstone’s sculptures are pretty pricey (but good value, we’re sure!).

The “so what?”

Brilliant Project Leader by Mike Clayton
Steve is one leader whose example inspired my forthcoming book, Brilliant Project Leader.  What are you doing to make your project management into brilliant leadership?

Do let me know through the comments section below and, if you think you have some really good examples, drop me a line using the contact from below, and maybe we can do a phone interview.


One thought on “Brilliant Project Leader: Expert Tips 1

  1. ibrahim

    Ithink he is agood example of what real leader and manager should be. some people not believe on human side on bussiness and that is wrong,iam right!


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