NEC What I've Learnt : a quick interview with Robin Hayler

NEC What I've Learnt : a quick interview with Robin Hayler

Hi Robin, thank you for your time and we are looking forward to talking with you. To start with, can you describe yourself in 10 words? 

I actually found out something about myself when considering this!

Positive – Easy-going – Creative – Integrity – Diligent – Trustworthy – Engineer (a bit of a cover all!) – Approachable – Adaptable – Team Player

From my perspective, I think these are all attributes that fit well with the ethos of the NEC.

Great, now can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a Civil Engineer and a procurement professional, I’ve worked in engineering for over 35 years and it was following a degree in Civils that I realised I enjoyed both the technical and strategic side of engineering. One of my first roles was working on coast protection projects, and I really enjoyed the design aspect and actually going on site to see how things are built in reality. I think I have always enjoyed the practicality of construction methods, and I later worked in a slightly more strategic way at the Environment Agency. Here I had to look at projects from strategic development to design and through to delivery, at managing budgets, working with stakeholders, and the delivery on the ground. I later moved to East Sussex County Council working in the Highways team where I expected to carry on with project management but instead found that I moved more into the procurement side of things as a major highway maintenance contract was coming to an end. In particular, it was here that I started to really use NEC, and started preparing contracts using it.

And can you tell us about yourself, and your experience with NEC contracts?

I’ve kind of been involved with NEC right from the beginning of the contract in the early 1990’s and used it for both major and minor construction projects. I now work in contract and commercial management, and I like to mentor others on NEC. To my mind, it is the best form of contract.

The best form of contract no less! When did you first start using NEC?

Mid 1990’s, around the time when it first came into practice.

And what do you like about your current NEC job/project?

It’s the flexibility the contract offers which I need in the work I do. When I came to Highways I started to work on multiple contracts dealing with a variety of assets like street lighting, drainage, grass cutting and structures as well as design based services, and we now have a single contract that covers the whole servicewere are working on. The NEC suite of documents gives us the flexibility we need whilst maintaining a degree of standardisation that helps with training and development for those responsible for managing services

Beyond the positives, what is the hardest thing that you've had to deal with on an NEC project?

People. No question about it, people! The way that behaviours and how people use the contract, and how they are with others and each other on the contract is fascinating. What are the drivers to the behaviours, and how can we head those problems off at the pass. Some of my peers in local government struggle sometimes with the concept of the Contractor making and maximising profit out of public money We don’t want to breed resentment, so I always try to encourage open dialogue and a common understanding of each party’s objectives.

Interesting point, and applicable beyond NEC contracts. Can you name one thing that you really like about NEC?

That it’s clear and concise. It avoids ambiguities and how you can help each other rather than creating misunderstanding and conflict.

Excellent. Can you explain to new users the top strengths and the pitfalls?

A strength is around that clarity and conciseness making it easy to understand. In terms of the pitfalls, I understand that some see it as maybe not as intuitive as it could be (unless you know the entire content, so it is best not to look at clauses in isolation. I also feel strongly that there is an assumption that those in the supply chain know as much about NEC as we do, and it would be great if more contractors were able to access training like the Built Intelligence content, that is bite size and accessible, and helps to inform the language that we use in particular.

A nice plug for what we are trying to do Robin so naturally, we will agree with you! What obstacles or unanticipated circumstances did NEC highlight?

I can see that it is more work when the contract is in play, but if you do the ‘hard yards’ it avoids any chance that others play games. As I mentioned, it is always good to have those above the table discussions, where it focuses on the here and now and avoids everything having to be resolved through claims at the end.

Looking ahead, based on what you know now, what will you do differently in the future?

I strongly feel that long-term contracts are key, and building the right team to ensure that longevity of a relationship. When I first started work I was sharing an office with the Contractor I was working with, and this allowed me to understand their drivers, and get a mutual respect for each other’s positions. In terms of my mentoring, this is something that I try to continue and undertook some scenario based role swapping in a previous position. I also have always taken a keen interest whenever there has been a change of key person to ensure the right fit and I’ve even tried to be on the interview panel where possible. At the end of it all, we are all people and we all have different behaviours, but it is vital to leave the contract with a smile on your face, and the project completed!

Thank you. Could you now tell me about a time when you had to make a decision, but didn't have all the information that you needed?

This happens quite often as some of the work we do is very reactive and needs a quick. As I work on Highways, our projects have to be timed to minimise disruption to road users so quick decision making is essential often based on instinct so we can be in and out as quickly as possible on a road scheme.

Time for some soul searching Robin. What is the biggest mistake that you've made with NEC?

That would be assuming that everyone in the industry understands the contract.

And if you could change one thing about NEC3, what would it be?

Genuinely nothing!

First time someone has said nothing. I suppose that leads on to how do you respond to criticism of NEC?

I would say that it is the here and now, so people need to embrace it and get on with it!

Finally, what suggestions do you have for NEC?

Do not make changes for change's sake. I feel that changing ‘Employer’ to ‘Client’ was a step back and it bowed to those who didn’t embrace the language in the contract. But also, I would encourage people to get out on site, and to share an office space with the QS, Contractors team, etc as then you can hear first-hand the issues for those that you are working with!

Thank you so much, Robin, for your time, and we are sure that people who have been mentored by you are in a privileged position as you clearly have a lot of empirical skills with the contract.

About the author:

Robin Hayler is Commercial Manager at East Sussex County Council.

To connect with Robin, visit

Back to blog