Construction as an industry has several fundamental challenges which have been growing in criticality over the past decade. From the narrow margins on winning bids to the precarious cash flows propping up the delivery chain – it is an environment where organisations are at risk of insolvency at the tiniest of shocks. Figures from the UK’s Office of National Statistics show that in the 2 years to Mar 2019, the number of construction firms operating in the UK shrunk by 10% to 290,000. The number of participants in the sector is shrinking and this is despite the volume of work continuing to grow under the weight of numerous government regenerations and modernisation programs.
Where industries have such fundamental challenges, it requires radical transformation to create the step change required to escape the seemingly inevitable collapse of some firms in the sector. Government interventions in policy and support to set standards and create an equal playing field, collaboration on an industrial scale to look at problems holistically, and adoption of technology to remove inefficiencies and redeploy human intellect to higher value tasks.
Of all of these actions, leveraging technology is often the easiest and quickest win yet as an industry the construction sector remains one of the least digitised. Why is that? According to a number of surveys, it seems individuals unwilling to change is often cited as the primary blocker.
It is actually not that surprising in all honesty. In my line of work, leading technology adoption through a business change consultancy the number one challenge I see is that the people that need to change, that need to adopt new technology have very limited (if any) capacity to make changes. Change introduces risk, risk is uncertain and uncertainty costs time and money. In an environment where, money is already dangerously scarce, you won’t be looking to tinker with this – even if it is your only chance of long term survival. Better to control what you can to keep things steady than rock the boat and lose out to competition or upset a client.
But that assumes nothing comes and deals a blow to everyone.
Well, that wakeup call came in December 2019 when the world was gripped by Covid-19 and overnight every industry regardless of size was turned on its head without a recovery plan.
What materialised in the following 18 months was largely the industry trying to find ways to continue to operate whilst finally considering how digital technologies could help enable regain a suitable level of operations. As of January 2021, another 40,000 firms were at risk of insolvency, possibly taking that 2019 figure down to 250,000.
If the industry needed a wake up call then I think Covid-19 just dumped a bucket of ice cold water over its head. WAKE UP it screamed. Still think you don’t have to change or that you can hang in there.
The reality is that however you look at it, change actually starts with you! We can pretend someone else will come in and fix the problems whilst we get on with our day jobs but the reality is that the problem is so pervasive that it will take coordinated and holistic action that no one can sit back and wait for solution.
In my experience three core things need to be present for individuals to be able to consider making change
- Motivation - do you really want to see that change take place? Are you committed mentally and physically to step through the highs and lows that will come with making a change?
- Capacity - are you able to create the time and space for you to focus on the actions that will make the change come to life. Are you willing to stop doing things to create that space or perhaps know and accept that certain things won’t get done if you are to make this change?
- Support - do you have the support around to energise you when challenges materialise, when your determination is challenged, and your motivation perhaps starts to wobble?
Whether you want to lose weight, run a marathon, climb mount Everest, travel the world, move house, improve a process or transform an industry you cannot escape that at the most basic level you will need these three things persist during the change.
I remember early on my career as a project manager, I had to fight tooth and nail to have training and communication activities included in our projects. These activities are the absolute basics of change management – they are pivotal to realising benefits. To me it was an obvious change we need to make to change the outcomes of our project deliveries – but no one was initially listening. They were caught with just surviving day today. I knew until I made a stand, until I showed my persistence and proved the value few people would listen.
Change started with me, it took motivation (not want to see changes fail to land and cause stress in our operations teams), capacity (making the time to understand why things were the way they were and doing something about it) and support (knowing the work I was doing was actually wanted by the people we were trying to support - those impacted and those paying).
Change starts with you because the simple reality is that when driving change all you really have control over is your own actions. How others respond to that and what actions they take are almost entirely out of your control - although you can influence by the results you deliver.
One lesson we all must take from Covid is that leveraging technology is at the centre of designing a stronger and more resilient business and industry. Making change, technology or otherwise should rarely be about saving money – that perhaps might be a by-product. It has to be about making something more resilient to shock, to redeploying human intellect to more complex activities whilst removing as much inefficiency and waste as make sense for the activity. Technology adoption and digitisation in general have always been an organisational imperative. Change is the only answer but we must be willing to make change happen in ourselves.
We must be willing to campaign for change for our organisations and bold enough to join forces to accelerate change across the industry.
Change starts with you. But are you ready to disrupt yourself or will you wait until self-destruction knocks on your door.
By Ket Patel, Business Change and Transformation Consultant – Technology Implementation and Adoption.
Marlowe Consulting: Marlowe Consulting | Business Change Management Specialists