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Insights How to seamlessly deliver change: 6 ways to transform the world

Meet Naomi Rial, director of the Rail Engineering Practice in the UK Transportation division at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group. She is an experienced leader who heads a team of around 160 engineers, designers and project managers. An integral part of her role is delivering change programmes. 
Naomi is also passionate about developing people's careers. Since joining in 2019, Naomi has helped co-create a Two-Way Mentoring programme, and it enables colleagues in their early and senior careers to take turns mentoring each other:
"Less experienced colleagues benefit from career advice, while more experienced colleagues learn about personal style or how new policies are landing. We've had some wonderful feedback about powerful pairings really supporting one another."

She's also a mum who works full time, leaning into our flexible culture to thrive: "I enjoy being able to buy maximum holiday and sometimes take additional unpaid leave to spend as much time as possible with my children."

Are you ready for some transformation? Here are Naomi's top 6 tips for using change principles to positively impact your world:
How to successfully deliver personal change:

We all instinctively know what we enjoy doing and what we don't. What gets us out of bed with a spring in our step. And what we do because it's part of the job. I love leading teams of people. 

I joined Atkins just over two years ago as operations director for the Engineering practice. As the first role for me in a commercial organization like Atkins, being Operations Director gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet lots of people and, importantly, understand how the division works.

I realized soon after joining that the role would be a stepping stone to becoming a Practice Director. So, I used it to establish myself in a new company, lead some organizational change and immediately add value with a 'new' person's fresh perspective.

A mentor once told me that careers don't go in straight lines; they go in zigzags. The important thing is to have a good idea of the destinations you're happy to travel to, and then take opportunities that take you in the general direction. Sometimes the next move is sideways, and that's fine if it ultimately gets you closer to your goal.
Tip 1: The key to making positive change in your career is knowing what you enjoy, where your preferred destinations are, and having great friends and mentors to support you along the way.

How to deliver change in challenging situations:

In my first couple of months at Atkins, I was asked to complete an organizational change that involved reintegrating an Early Careers Practice back into the technical practices within Engineering. At the same time, I also had to cover the Practice Director role for the soon-to-be disbanded Practice. My main challenge was that the managers within the Practice weren't supportive of the change and had particularly liked the Practice Director who was leaving.
My approach was to be open, honest and supportive to the team going through the change. I prioritized designing and delivering clear communication about the changes and finding great new roles for the displaced Practice Managers.
There were significant benefits to having a separate practice for our Early Careers colleagues, so another essential element of change was maintaining them in the new setup. We achieved this by creating a virtual Early Careers community where many focus areas could be continued and supported. I took ownership of setting the community up, and I still provide sponsorship for it today, two years on.

Tip 2: While being liked is nice, being respected is often the best success in a work situation. 

How to ensure change makes a tangible, sustainable difference:

The transformational East West Rail Phase 2 project is one of the most significant UK rail upgrade projects of recent years. The £1.5 billion project will regenerate and rebuild the existing disused railway between Bicester and Bletchley with over 100km of new track. It will provide improved links between communities, including the first direct link between Oxford and Bletchley/Milton Keynes in more than 50 years. Transformed connectivity and journey times across the UK will unlock economic growth to new areas through new housing and jobs opportunities. The links will provide a more environmentally friendly and low carbon option, encouraging people out of cars and onto public transport. 

Our designers have been instrumental in developing the detailed design for this scheme, and construction is currently underway, with completion planned for Early 2024. We're delivering the works in a close partnership between Atkins, Network Rail and two contractors in the form of an alliance. Team members have been embedded in a project team working towards a common objective. 

Tip 3: Cooperation is key to developing sustainable solutions. As an organization, we've learned the benefits of delivery in such a highly collaborative environment. We can implement works more cost-effectively through direct links with contractors at early stages in the design process. Working this way also provides an excellent platform for developing and deploying innovative technology, from automating design through digital tools to exploring new materials such as polymer sleepers for the new railway.

How to change hearts and minds:

It sounds very clichéd, but the best thing about working at Atkins is the people. The typical Atkins colleagues I've come across are dedicated, talented and collaborative. Many of my team are Design Engineers for railway-specific disciplines, and I am regularly blown away by their dedication and hard work on projects for our clients.
I'd say that the key strengths of my team are attention to detail, high levels of professional ability and dedication to getting a job completed as required by the client. We have strong Practice Managers and Team Leaders who support the winning and delivery of work and the wellbeing of our people.

Tip 4: When it comes to making big changes, it's not always possible to get everyone to believe in them, but you can get people to understand them. Most people are naturally resistant to change, so do a lot of work upfront, creating the vision for the change and articulating why it's necessary. I've found the best way to instigate change is to be open about what's required and clear about why it's needed and what it will mean for everyone as individuals and teams.

How would you make the change for gender balance? 

Atkins has a strong plan for improving Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I), and within the Transportation division, I've had involvement in further defining and delivering the programme.
Atkins is getting its approach to flexible working right. And pre-pandemic, it was one of the things I found appealing about Atkins. Work isn't all London-focused, and in fact, very few people regularly work in the London offices. Colleagues are generally based in one of the many regional offices closest to where they live. While there is some need to travel, many colleagues join meeting on Teams – remote-working was already well-established pre-pandemic.
We've had a female MD for the Transportation division for three years. Having female role models in senior positions is key to inspiring and giving confidence to future female leaders. The division also has a Senior Women's Group, which has been valuable in discussing common themes, providing mutual support and encouraging the next generation of women. Importantly, we also have some great male leaders and active allies who recognize the value of ED&I to the organization.
Tip 5: Promoting women within the business is essential, but attracting talented women is also important. I'm particularly keen to hear from female engineers and project managers who could have a bright future at Atkins. Encouraging more females into STEM subjects at a young age is crucial, and we have a strong community of people at Atkins who do outreach work in schools and colleges.

How to ensure business transformation keeps pace with a changing world:

Businesses need to continue to evolve and change to meet the demands of clients and remain relevant and competitive, and Atkins is no different. Two main areas of focus for us are Engineering Net Zero (ENZ) and Digital Transformation.
With ENZ, we're looking at how we can reduce the carbon footprint of our designs through to construction and, secondly, how we can support clients in their quest to reach Net-Zero.
Tip 6: A good example of how we do this is something my team is doing. We've created a digital component library for electrical designs. The benefit of the library is that it reduces design variation, and with greater consistency comes increasingly efficient delivery.