While design and construction functions are becoming increasingly complex and require ever-more specialization, the disciplines’ segregated silos are crumbling, creating space for integrated systems thinking; new manufacturing techniques; and innovative business models, to name a few.
Simultaneously, the evolution of design and construction functions has taken a leap forward during the past decade, with the transition from electronic drafting to high-resolution digital modeling (e.g., BIM). Ubiquitous digital connectivity, cloud computing, 3-D printing and big data are just a few of the evolving drivers that are responsible for the current melding of engineering, architecture, fabrication, construction and other related disciplines.
These factors are now setting the stage for revolutionary change and have helped prefabrication and modular construction make a comeback at a time when low cost, resource efficiency and tight schedules are priorities. In essence, we are witnessing the undoing of 100 years of expansive industry fragmentation, with contractors and designers taking on the role of new “master builders.”
However, although the time is ripe for disruption and change, we have found that many organizations still struggle to adapt to today’s fast-changing business environment and find themselves stuck in deep-rooted cultural habits and behaviors. From our work with clients and conversations with participants in our recent industry study on the topic of prefabrication, one thing has become very apparent: The biggest barrier to change and transformation as it relates to prefabrication is not technology, it’s culture. Getting people to embrace new ways of thinking and doing work differently are the most challenging (and most critical) aspects of successful change.
The following five recommendations touch on some key areas that can help you build a culture that is ready to break down long-existing barriers and drive change:
- Focus on People and Culture First—The Rest Will Follow. Spend your time, energy and resources on your organization’s people and culture. Helping them learn and grow in their thinking, experiences and competencies will pay dividends later when you need an innovative shift. Shortcutting people development never pays off. Also, don’t expect the leader to come up with all of the innovative ideas. Every role in your business has a different perspective on how things could be done better. Provide an inclusive way for all voices to be heard—and then listen.
- Develop a “Why can’t we?” Culture. Overcoming set ways and old habits were the common themes in our prefabrication research. Introducing an innovative concept like prefabrication requires people to be curious, tenacious, willing to learn new things and willing to take risks. It is also particularly important to develop a culture in which employees are not afraid to make mistakes and where everyone is open to learning from each other’s mistakes. Create a safe place to talk about failures, learn from those mistakes and teach others in the future.
- Have the Courage to Take Risks and Face the Tough Questions. It’s not surprising that innovative leaders demonstrate the courage to take risks. In fact, one of the quintessential elements of the innovation process is venturing into unchartered territory without certainty of success. Courageous leadership in those moments is not easy. Here’s what we’ve learned from innovative leaders:
- Listen to new ideas and assess them for validity, implications (good or bad) and opportunity.
- Clearly identify the benefit of trying something new, and then communicate it as broadly as necessary.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities associated with the innovative risk so expectations are clear all around.
- After you’ve listened to others, ask yourself if you are willing to take the risk on behalf of the organization. At some point, you have to trust your knowledge, experience and intuition.
- Start With a Clear Vision. Innovative companies have a strong vision and clearly communicate why innovation is part of the organization’s fundamental DNA. This helps clarify why risks are taken in the first place and acts as a company-wide guideline for innovators. In the case of prefabrication, start by identifying a compelling prefab vision and communicate that vision clearly to the company. Ask yourself:
- Why are we doing prefab and how does it fit within the broader company vision?
- Do we have the right people on board? Do we have the right processes and systems in place to support those people?
- Establish clear objectives for your prefabrication efforts and investments:
- What do you expect to accomplish? What will be measured?
- What are you willing to spend? How long do you expect a return on investment to take?
- Leverage Young Talent. Many millennials grew up with parents, teachers and counselors who were their best friends and role models. As such, they are excellent team players and care about the company’s success—not just their own jobs (see FMI’s Industry Survey, “Millennials in Construction: Learning to Engage a New Workforce”). The timing for this kind of mindset is perfect: BIM and prefabrication require a high degree of collaboration within and among project teams. Having these young people focused on a common purpose, effective processes, excellent communication and solid relationships can help transform your company over time. Getting the right people on board from the start and then leveraging new processes and technologies (and not the other way around) is key.
As we look to the next five to 10 years, FMI expects the industry to undergo significant changes. Even though there is a lot of talk about technology and robotics, for example, we strongly believe that your people will prevail as the foundation of your success. After all, it’s more than just the culture that you create; it’s also about the skills that your employees bring to the table. That’s why investing in those employees is a critical aspect of meeting the needs and requirements of today’s ever-evolving business environment.