This page provides all of the Business Improvement Themes available through the Constructing Excellence Gateway.
Your Business Processes
Benchmarking is a method of improving performance in a systematic and logical way by measuring and comparing your performance against others, and then using lessons learned from the best to make targeted improvements. It involves answering the questions:
- ‘Who performs better?’
- ‘Why are they better?’
- ‘What actions do we need to take in order to improve our performance?’
Whilst benchmarking has been used occasionally in the construction industry for many years, the recent surge of interest has been encouraged by the publication of sets of national Key Performance Indicators that allow companies to measure their performance simply and to set targets based on national performance data.
A benchmark is “the best in class” performance achieved for a specific business process or activity. It is performance that has been achieved in reality, and can be used to establish improvement goals. Note: the term ‘benchmark’ is sometimes used incorrectly to refer to average performance or even to refer to a minimum acceptable standard. Care should be taken to use the term correctly.
The way that your organisation conducts it’s business within the Construction Industry can be improved in a number of ways. A place to start would be to view the processes you currently have in place and assess them by primarily:
- outlining what they are
- highlighting areas that could be improved
- identifying ways of improving the process that are manageable to you
The decision to make the change can be assisted in a variety of ways including incorporating tools and techniques that can manage the process. Business processes are an ingrained aspect of every organisation’s functionality. The success of your business or organisation will heavily depend on them and their effectiveness will materialise in how the following are conducted:
- partnering arrangements
- supply chain relations
- internal procedures
- external procedures
- customer and client management
Tools currently available to assist organisations within the construction industry with identifying the effectiveness of their business processes include:
- Business Excellence Model (BEM)
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- ISO 9002 and family
- Environmental and Social Impact Indicators
- Total Quality Management
Every organisation conducts it’s business in a different way. Your organisations business plan will influence what business process you employ. The majority, if not all, have one goal in mind – to achieve increased profits and productivity. As the industry changes and embraces more lean ways of working, the processes you have in operation must be flexible to incorporate these shifts. One thing is sure and that is your processes should be lean and capable of providing opportunities for you to maximise your organisations functionality in a competitive market.
What is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge Management is the term used to describe the processes that can enable organisations to share and exploit the knowledge and learning of its people. This can result in:
- increased efficiency in project implementation,
- reductions in wasteful costs,
- greater innovation,
- greater success in winning new business
Through Knowledge Management the vital lessons and insights that are usually locked up in peoples’ heads can be made available for others. Managers and engineers that are facing unfamiliar environments and problems can be better primed and prepared. Of course there is no substitute for direct experience, but with effective knowledge management, people do not need to go through all the same painful learning that their colleagues or predecessors have already absorbed. They will not need to repeat the same mistakes, re-invent the same processes or rules of thumb.
What is Knowledge and Why Does it Need Managing?
Knowledge is not simply information. To have knowledge about something involves the ability to judge and interpret rather than just having been told about it.
Knowledge is typically accumulated through experience or education, but there are management routines and techniques that can help to share what people know. Knowledge also comes in different types:
- explicit knowledge – knowledge that is easily communicated or written down
- tacit knowledge – knowledge that is held in peoples’ heads and is difficult to pass on to others.
Tacit knowledge is often the most crucial, because it can form a distinct advantage over competitors. It is much more personal and cannot be easily picked up and imitated by your rivals. By contrast, explicit knowledge can be easily assimilated, distributed, or simply copied and taken away. To be transferred, tacit knowledge requires person-to-person contact, or else individual learning and experience. It is not just a matter of copy and paste.
Knowledge management is a fashionable buzzword and many tools, publications and events are available. It is a difficult and time-consuming task to filter through them to assess what is genuinely useful. This is particularly so for smaller firms that have limited time and resources.
However, managing your company’s knowledge does not have to be an arduous task. You are probably already doing many of the things that contribute to knowledge management and it is worth evaluating how your existing tools and activities are helping to create and exploit knowledge.
To find out more download our Introduction to Knowledge Management.
Lean construction is the term used to define the application of lean thinking principles to the construction environment.
Lean manufacturing, so called because it resulted in fast assembly times, low material waste and volume outputs to suit the changing market requirements, was first recognised on the automobile manufacturing line at Toyota in Japan. The extension of these ideas to the business environment was termed lean thinking. Its central theme is value. An organisation must understand the real value it delivers to its customers and do so in the most effective way making best use of world resources and its people.
In practice this means subjecting an organisation, its processes and people, to a close scrutiny aimed at identifying that value and studying existing work processes to remove the waste that prevents that value being effectively delivered.
Adopting lean thinking results in a highly flexible, profitable company but the process to achieve it requires radical change and takes a number of years.
There are five principles to guide the change work:
- Identifying value from the point of view of the customer.
- Understanding the value streams by which value is delivered.
- Achieving flow within work processes as waste is removed.
- Achieving pull so that nothing is made/delivered until it is needed.
- Perfection recognising that improvement needs to be constantly sought.
These principles can be applied at a number of levels:
- By an individual design company who recognises its clients to be both the owner of the buildings and those downstream in the design and construction process.
- By an individual component supplier who delivers value through their component products eg bricks, concrete etc.
- By a PFI organisation who provide value to different clients through the provision and operation of a building product eg a hospital or a prison.
- By a group of companies who provide value to various clients through the provision of a building product eg city office space.
The benefits of adopting lean thinking are:
- Making good profit margins whilst contributing to improving the social infrastructure by protecting the environment and respecting the people who work for you.
- Creating a construction industry for the future that attracts young people who view it as a vibrant, satisfying, healthy environment in which to employ their talents.
Risk Management helps to identify the things which could have a significant negative impact on your business. It is a process for evaluating the impact of these risks and developing a strategy for minimising their effects.
The strength of Risk Management is that it helps to move you towards a greater certainty over business deliverables. Some companies have been able to build on this greater reliability and improve both their business profile and relationships within the supply chain, which contributes to improved medium-term performance.
Investment in Risk Management is traditionally accepted as being most appropriate for use on projects (or internal company changes) which are perceived to be high risk. However, some commentators will argue that it is an increasingly relevant approach because of the acceleration of innovation within industry generally. Additionally, with growing awareness of the risks associated with construction projects, the industry’s clients are increasingly making use of tools like Risk Management, which give them more certainty. It is accepted that generic approaches to Risk Management are maturing and becoming simpler to apply.
Risk Management is an ongoing management process, which will tune itself to the business approach and culture within an organisation. It is an investment which may not yield returns in the short term and therefore, whole-company commitment to the process is essential, to ensure that its adoption and incorporation are properly supported.
Whether you are regularly involved in construction projects or have a one-off need to commission construction work, you will be interested in securing a final product which offers value for money and satisfies owner and user needs, now and in the future.
Value Management is a powerful yet simple, structured, methodology.
- It matches the delivered building to owner and user needs, improving performance and quality whilst reducing costs and eliminating waste.
- It focuses on defining the client’s needs and priorities (for example, capital and/or life cycle costs, sustainability, speed) in simple terms, but precisely.
- The whole team works together, under the guidance of an experienced Facilitator, to identify, to satisfy, and to exceed, the client’s expectations.
The methodology can be applied to any business or economic sector including industry, government, construction and service and at any point in the project from brief through operation to maintenance and repair.
Some functions of Value Management:
- Increase Predictability
- Increase Productivity
- Increase Turnover
- Increase Profit
- Increase Output per employee
- Exceed Expectations
- Get it Right First Time
- Reduce Capital Cost
- Reduce Borrowings
- Reduce Construction Time
- Reduce Time to Market
- Reduce Defects
- Reduce Accidents
- Reduce Maintenance Costs
- Reduce Operational Costs
- Reduce Staffing Costs
The success of Value Management lies in an experienced Facilitator bringing together and focusing the combined intellect of the whole project team, including the client, in a non-confrontational environment.
The Business Benefits summarises case studies that, by reference to the functions listed above, show just how Value Management has benefited construction projects.
Standardisation and pre-assembly are used in most industry sectors to improve customer satisfaction and increase profitability. The principles may be applied individually but maximum benefit will accrue where they are used together as part of an overall project strategy.
CIRIA (1997) defines standardisation as ‘the extensive use of components, methods or processes in which there is regularity, repetition and a background of successful practice. More generally, an agreed shared framework for project decisions, such as common interfaces or a dimensional grid’. There are several forms of standardisation.
CIRIA (1997) have defined pre-assembly for a given piece of work as ‘the organisation and completion of a substantial proportion of final assembly work before installation in its final position. It includes many forms of sub-assembly. It can take place on-site, but more usually off-site, and often involves standardisation’.
Many different terms are used to describe pre-assembly. These vary between different sectors and even within the same sector. However, for this Introduction we have identified three basic forms of pre-assembled units.
The following related issues should be given priority:
- Clear understanding of client needs and project characteristics
- Measurement of benefits
- Application within a project-wide strategy
- Process re-aligned from construction towards manufacturing
- Optimisation rather than ‘unthinking’ maximisation
- Early and effective involvement of suppliers and manufacturers
- Integration of design and construction
- Procurement methods which suit involvement and integration
- Changed management approach
- Changed supply chain logistics
- Changed site logistic
There are a number of definitions for whole life cycle costing, but one currently adopted is:
the systematic consideration of all relevant costs and revenues associated with the acquisition and ownership of an asset.
Essentially whole life costing (WLC) is a means of comparing options and their associated cost and income streams over a period of time. Costs to be taken into account include both initial capital or procurement costs, opportunity costs and future costs. Only options which meet the performance requirements for the built asset should be considered – those with lower costs over the period will be preferred.
Initial costs include design, construction and installation, purchase or leasing, fees and charges.
Future costs include all operating costs, such as rent, rates, cleaning, inspection, maintenance, repair, replacements / renewals, energy and utilities use, dismantling, disposal, security and management over the life of the built asset. Loss of revenue may also need to be taken into account – for example to reflect the non-availability of the revenue-generating building during maintenance work for example.
The timing of future costs must be taken into account in the comparison of options. Future cost flows are discounted by a rate that relates present and future money values – which may include an allowance for inflationary changes.
Opportunity costs represent the cost of not having the money available for alternative investments (which would earn money) or the interest payable on loans to finance work.
There is a growing awareness that unplanned and unexpected maintenance and refurbishment costs may amount to half of all money spent on existing buildings. Estimates of the value of the unplanned portion in UK construction output range from £8 billion to £20 billion per annum.
Your Internal Culture
The theme of Your Internal Culture is about getting the best out of people through the development of a culture of openness, honesty, trust and respect that encourages and facilitates the contributions of all participants in successful delivery of projects to the mutual benefit of all those involved.
Having an ingrained Client Focus in the way you do business with others can provide benefits such as:
- Developing long-term and mutually beneficial relationships
- Increasing the possibility of repeat business
- Keeping in-step with the needs and concerns of your client resulting in client satisfaction
- Reduced wastage costs and profitability
The construction Industry is striving to improve its customer/client relations. Clients increasingly want cost, price and quality to be delivered as a matter of course. They expect the industry to go further by working in a culture of co-operation and trust, focused on the needs of the customer. However, this works both ways and contractors are increasingly seeking to win negotiated work and to build real relationships with clients.
A Model of client satisfaction can be split into two sections – Differentiators and Essentials.
Differentiators – set you apart from the crowd as you actively demonstrate:
- Trust, openness and respect
- Anticipation of problems and problem solving
- Planning and workshopping
Essentials are required as a must to even get on the shortlist:
- Cost predictability
- Time predictability
- Health & safety
- Appropriate experience and expertise
- Financial stability
Construction projects involve many different contributions from diverse types of companies and organisations. It is crucial that they all work together effectively. What ever your contribution to a project, you can improve your performance by seeking feedback from the other members of the supply chain.
In today’s highly competitive market, successful organisations must be open to change if they are to maintain their business advantage. Being forward looking and receptive to new ideas are essential elements of continuous improvement.
Continuous means ongoing. The process never stops and sustained success is more likely in organisations which regularly review their business methods and processes in the drive for improvement.
Essential factors for continuous improvement
- Total commitment from senior management
- Opportunities for all employees to contribute to the continuous improvement process
- Ensuring employees know their role in achieving the business strategy
- Managing the performance and contribution of employees
- Good communications throughout the organisation
- Development and training of staff and linking training activities to operations and business strategy
- Signing up to recognised quality management systems and standards
- Measuring and evaluating progress against key performance indicators and benchmarks
By continually reviewing these areas, change can be managed effectively and continuous improvement becomes a natural part of the business process. It creates steady growth and development by keeping the business focussed on its aims, priorities and performance. The continuous improvement process has been shown to bring significant benefits to all types of organisations in a variety of sectors.
- Better business performance resulting in increased profits
- Enhanced customer satisfaction
- Improved staff morale
- Better job satisfaction and improved recruitment and retention figures
- Better communications within organisations
- Improved relations with suppliers
- Shorter lead-in time to market
- Better use of resources
- More efficient planning
Nobody wants accidents, yet each year there are between 70 and 80 deaths, thousands of disabling accidents and thousands more persons suffering ill health as a result of work activities in the UK construction industry. The extent of human misery as a result of accidents or ill health at work cannot be calculated.
It is clear that accidents also lead to substantial losses – the most obvious of which are financial losses to employers, employees and businesses. The construction industry, by its nature, can also have a significant impact outside the immediate work situation, in particular causing risks to members of the public and to the environment.
No one should need convincing that the management of health, safety and welfare in the industry should have the highest priority. Accidents and ill health are caused by the failure to control risks in construction. The strategy to reduce accidents and cases of ill health begins with the identification of hazards and the elimination and control of risks. Nevertheless, there will always be risks that cannot be eliminated and have to be managed as part of day to day construction work. Good performance results from a coming together of all persons and organisations within the industry, each contributing in their own way to the end objective of achieving safe working conditions.
There is no mystery to this subject but best performance does require planning ahead, the cooperative effort of all concerned and the deployment of appropriate experience, expertise and resources.
- Legislation and enforcement
- Industry guidance and standards relevant to health and safety
- Education, training and certification of competence
- Safety management strategies and systems approaches
- Safety in planning and design
- Safety in the construction period
- Safety during maintenance and use of the project
- Occupational health in construction processes
- Auditing, monitoring and reviewing health and safety performance
Why is leadership important
In the 1990s the DTI and CBI surveyed over 100 of the best UK companies and found that they shared a number of characteristics (Competitiveness: How the best UK companies are Winning). One of these was that vision and change began at the top and was cascaded through out the whole organisation.
‘Leaders make a difference to the business, rather than just making the business work.’
(Directors Briefing on Leadership)
Leadership is key to the internal culture of any organisation. Without effective leadership it is unlikely that you will be truly successful at motivating staff, focusing on clients’ needs or maintaining business improvement.
Why is it particularly important to the construction industry
In its ‘Rethinking Construction’ report published in 1998, the Construction Task Force identified committed leadership as one of the key drivers for change. They defined this as:
‘Management believing in and being totally committed to driving forward an agenda for improvement and communicating the required cultural and operational changes throughout the whole of the organisation. In construction, there is no part of the industry which can escape this requirement: it affects constructors, suppliers and designers alike.’
However, they also reported that
‘The Task Force has met many managers of companies in the construction industry over the last few months and, while many wish to improve company performance, we have yet to see widespread evidence of the burning commitment to raise quality and efficiency which we believe is necessary.’
What are the characteristics of good leadership?
The DTI competitiveness survey identified several common traits of leaders in top companies. These included:
- champion of change
- good communicator
- leads by example
- risk tolerant
- motivator, failure tolerant
- good delegator
Particularly in small companies, it can be difficult to differentiate between management and leadership because you may be involved in all aspects of the business. It may be difficult to ‘let go’ once a company grows and you start to rely on people who can do some parts of the job better than yourself. In ‘How to be a better leader’, it is observed that:
‘you manage tasks, and lead people.’
When we think of motivated people, we think of those who take initiative, are enthusiastic, are creative, put in extra time, encourage others to pitch in, overcome obstacles and get things done. But these behaviours are only the outward signs of motivation. Motivation itself cannot be ‘Seen’. This becomes evident in how we talk about motivated people. We say things like ‘they know what they want’ and ‘they’re driven’. These descriptions get closer as they’re referring to an inner state. Motivation is an inner commitment.
In a work environment, motivation is the extent to which an individual is committed to work goals. At its best, it also extends to the individual’s commitment to the company as a whole.
Because motivation is an inner state, we cannot tell people to be motivated or do it for them. We can only create the conditions under which someone is likely to make an inner commitment. The art of motivating staff is really the art of providing them with the wins they seek in a manner which secures from them their commitment to the wins the company seeks. But to the above must be added a proviso: you cannot expect others to be motivated if you’re not motivated.
What does motivate staff?
Most managers believe that things like pay, security and status are high motivators whereas all the evidence shows that they are not. Get them wrong (i.e. underpay your staff) and low levels of motivation and high levels of staff turnover are likely. But getting them right will not generate high levels of motivation. It merely lessens the potential for dissatisfaction.
Research across numerous industries tells us that staff satisfaction and motivation are greatest where staff feel valued, cared for, are allowed to use their discretion, enjoy a sense of achievement, enjoy the support of their colleagues and the company, have an intrinsic interest in the job, do jobs that offer variety, are given appropriate training, learn from the job and have a fair chance of advancement.
Clearly, getting the pay and conditions right is important but creating an environment in which people are able to thrive is where the real challenge lies.
People in high motivation companies talk about the atmosphere at work being:
Effective teamwork in construction: an introduction
Construction is a collaborative activity; only by pooling the knowledge and experience of many people can buildings meet today’s let alone tomorrow’s needs. But simply bringing people together does not necessarily ensure they will function effectively as a team. Effective teamwork does not occur automatically. It may be undermined by a variety of problems, such as lack of organisation, misunderstanding, poor communication and inadequate participation. This leaflet sets out some of the key ways in which construction teams can harness the collective energy of all their members to achieve a common purpose.
What is teamwork?
Teams are groups of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose and hold themselves mutually accountable for its achievement. Ideally, they develop a distinct identity and work together in a co-ordinated and mutually supportive way to fulfil their goal or purpose.
Effective teamwork results from:
- a team whose membership and size matches the task
- good leadership and attention to team-building
- commitment by team members to understand and identify with one another’s goals
- the development of team goals ‘ a shared vision
- a sense of common ownership of the task at hand and joint responsibility for its achievement
- co-ordinated effort and planned sharing of tasks evenly across the team
- the open exchange of information within the team, and
- honesty, frankness, and trust among team members.
The benefits of successful teams
Effectiveness is the extent to which a team is successful in achieving its task-related objectives. Successful teams achieve:
- a wider range of ideas than individuals working in isolation, and better decisions
- improvements in participants’ confidence, attitudes, motivation, and personal satisfaction
- greater clarity in expressing ideas through group discussion
- greater optimism ‘ by focusing on positive outcomes and putting less weight on problems
- more effective responses to changes ‘ as improved trust and communication help a team to adapt
- better understanding by team members of the nature of their individual contribution ‘ and of the needs of other team members
- more efficient use of resources, especially time.
Selecting team members
In forming and managing a team, it is important to consider not only team members’ competence and experience, but also their ability to share information and co-ordinate their actions. Those who are unwilling to discuss assumptions, negotiate options and explain proposals are unlikely to work well as team members. Teams are best formed from participants who are willing to:
- commit themselves to a shared goal and hold themselves responsible for its achievement
- listen and respond to others in an objective and productive way
- take on different roles in the group in order to accomplish shared ends
- are open and honest with ideas, concerns, and values
- avoid bringing hidden agendas into team meetings.
Leadership and team-building
Leadership is critical to teamwork: the team leader is responsible for ensuring that members work together to achieve the goal or objective. On occasion, the leader must be able to inspire team members to ‘go the extra mile’. Tasks allocated to individual members of the team should be meaningful and challenging ‘ people work better if the tasks they face are interesting, motivating and enjoyable.
Effective leaders aim to:
- keep participants focused and make the project as a whole demanding for individual team members
- ensure that the team has the resources and information necessary to complete its task
- create opportunities for all members to contribute to the task, and ensure that all feel their contribution is visible to, and valued by, the team as a whole
- avoid blaming individuals for problems in the project or in the team
- be aware of participants’ loyalties to people – or organisations – outside the team
- be fair and impartial
- be willing to share credit with the entire team.
Developing a shared vision
In order to work effectively, a team needs to have a clear vision of what it wants to achieve. This must be one that motivates and inspires team members ‘ a future they feel is worth striving for. If a team is set an unattainable goal, it can have a de-motivating effect.
Teams are more motivated to deliver a vision that they themselves have developed. When team members believe they have made a real contribution to the overall vision they are likely to work hard to achieve it. Shared aims help to create a sense of common purpose and ownership, and promote team identity.
A short paragraph or set of bullet points are useful to summarise and encapsulate the principal elements of the team’s vision and provide a mission statement. Team meetings are an opportunity for a periodic reminder of the team’s vision. Individual goals underpin the mission statement, and an action plan sets out how each member’s goals will be met.
A shared vision, expressed as a mission statement, should be:
- developed through negotiation by the team itself
- clearly articulated and coherently expressed
- re-stated from time to time
- periodically reviewed for its continuing appropriateness, particularly if circumstances or requirements change.
Communication and collaboration
Communication is the process of transmitting and understanding information and ideas. Good communication is essential if a team is to collaborate successfully and make best use of its pooled knowledge. Open communication and information sharing:
- help team members to anticipate what they can expect from one another and when they can expect it
- eliminate surprises and make it easier for members to work together
- engender trust and familiarity among team members
- allow more forceful group behaviour, including the willingness to question and challenge in the search for better solutions.
Team members need to strive for clarity in communication, and to be patient, explaining and expanding where their ideas are unclear. It may be necessary to make underlying assumptions explicit, as options are negotiated and proposals explained.
Open communication requires:
- expressing ideas clearly and using body language ‘ relaxed posture, good eye contact and occasional pauses ‘ to show feedback is welcome
- good listening habits, such as re-stating others’ ideas
- where necessary, seeking constructive clarification and asking supportive questions focused on what, where, how and why issues
- being flexible enough to take on board others’ suggestions and to build on others’ ideas
- between team meetings, keeping all those who need to know regularly informed of individual progress.
Differing views and opinions among team members are inevitable. Ideally the team welcomes divergence and treats its members’ expertise, experience, values and priorities as a source of energy and an opportunity for creative problem solving.
Nevertheless, disagreements can occur among team members. They may arise from different expectations, ambitions, objectives or priorities, and concern the team’s directions, goals, procedures or decisions. Identifying and resolving these is an inevitable part of the team process.
In practice, much apparent conflict often arises from simple misunderstanding, or from the assumptions or suppositions made by team members. Through communication, explanation and negotiation, conflict can often be resolved. Finding a middle ground that all parties are reasonably satisfied with, may be necessary.
Less desirably, in the attempt to avoid conflict, some teams deliberately skate over contentious topics or adopt a superficial agreement that results when issues have not been directly addressed. Team members often feel dissatisfied by the inevitable compromises that result from this approach.
Conflict can also arise when people compete for a particular role in the team ‘ as leader, ideas-person, progress-chaser or critic. An awareness of each others’ roles ‘ and how they can effectively complement rather than compete with one another ‘ is needed to resolve these kinds of conflicts.
In order to deal with conflict constructively the team should:
- discuss competing views, assumptions, opinions and priorities openly
- seek members’ initial thoughts or guesses, and avoid recriminations if initial ideas subsequently need to be modified
- ensure communication, negotiation, information-sharing and co-operation are all encouraged.
Reflection and self assessment
Teams often focus exclusively on the task at hand, and only rarely on the ‘process’ of teamwork. Yet teams which take time out to review processes are likely to be more effective than those which do not. Reviews of the interactions between team members can help to identify deficiencies and address how best to improve future performance. One of the first steps can be for team members to discuss and agree what exactly ‘teamwork’ means to each of them. Such a discussion might range across:
- the importance of identifying individual roles and responsibilities, and defining individual and team goals
- how to get the best from team meetings and encourage participation
- how to achieve effective communication and collaboration between team members
- how teams develop, and how to harness the collective energy and expertise of the members
- how to foster team identity, improve team effectiveness and cope with conflict.
Teams can also benefit from considering the social climate they create for themselves, and whether it provides adequate levels of mutual support for team members.
Training is an area of growing importance within the UK construction industry. It covers a variety of aspects ranging from organisations that provide apprenticeships to school leavers, though to trained facilitators who give an unbiased approach in assisting you with the issues of importance to your organisation.
The construction industry has numerous training providers such as the CITB-ConstructionSkills and others that provide training and skills essential for the challenges faced by the changing construction environment. Regardless of what part of the market you belong to, you can always benefit and improve your business processes by incorporating a training programme as an aspect of your employees CPD.
Some of the benefits gained by adopting a training programme for your employees include:
- Greater productivity
- Staff development and retention
- Confident and competent employees
- Increased profitability
The various ways that training can be approached is constantly changing and currently includes:
- Group sessions
- Individual sessions (1 to 1)
An approach will take into account the availability and time required to successfully complete a training programme. With this in mind, training providers within the construction industry are constantly reviewing how best they can provide a programme to suit your individual needs and time restraints. You can now undertake a training programme that is tailor made to your specific requirements and delivered by:
- IT/ Computer Database Driven
- Paper Based
- Seminar/Workshop/ Discussion Groups
- On the Job Training (Apprentiships)
Investors In People (IIP)
Organisations that invest in training for their employees can apply for Investor In People (IIP) standard. IIP demonstrates that the organisation is committed to improving it’s performance through its people. The standard operates on four principles:
The standard, which has now become international, has produced guides specific to sectors in the construction industry. As a result, this can increase an organisations’ potential to become internationally competitive.
In order for organisations to be successful and grow their business they must recruit and retain a diverse range of the best talented people. No matter how much time and money is spent investing in new systems, techniques and equipment, if an organisation does not have the right people for the job, the business will not perform to its optimum level.
Companies which place great importance on the careful recruitment, training and development of their staff, and treat ‘people management’ as a core business activity, will gain a valuable contribution from its work force and achieve a real competitive advantage.
Applying good people management policies, being considerate to people’s needs, and creating a productive and stimulating environment where employess are encouraged to put forward their ideas, are fundemental aspects to the success of an organisation.
Your External Relations
Your external relations deal with your organisations dealings with suppliers, customers, partners, the community and the environment. Your external relationships determine not only how well your company runs, how profitable you are but also how you are seen in the wider community.
Key issues include:
- Understanding your clients and what they want
- Having effective relationships with your clients, your supply chain and the community
- Running your business and projects in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way
In all construction projects the client must brief the industry about what is expected of the proposed building or other construction work. Often there will be a formal written brief or series of briefs that may form part of a tender document. In other cases the brief may be much more informal. However, briefing is more than the writing of documents – it is the process through which the client and construction industry explore, develop and communicate the client’s requirements.
Why is briefing important?
If the client’s requirements are not satisfactorily developed and communicated then the industry will use its experience to provide a product that it hopes the client wants. There is a great danger that in doing so the product will fall short of the client’s expectations. An underperforming building may have a serious effect on the client’s core business.
When should briefing take place?
Briefing takes place throughout the construction process from project inception to completion. It is important that the client is actively involved at all stages to ensure that the project meets requirements. Critical decisions are often taken during the early stages of the project and full client participation in these is essential.
How can briefing be improved?
There is no magic formula for successful briefing. It is critical to devote adequate time and appropriate resources to briefing but these must be directed in a productive way. Much depends on interpersonal and managerial skills. Briefing should be developed to meet the demands of a particular project and set of participants. Factors such as client experience, complexity of organisation, organisational culture, rate of organisational change, project complexity and degree of project development all need to be taken into account. Several areas in which there is scope for improvement in briefing practice have been identified. These include empowering the client, managing the project dynamics, appropriate user involvement, appropriate team building and appropriate visualisation techniques.
Whatever your business, you are likely to be a client for services; arguably everyone in construction should be conscious of their role as a client and can contribute to improved ‘clientship’. Increasingly, better clients are learning how to recognise best value and how to work with their suppliers to obtain it. Communication, business integration, and honesty are the key words in their vocabularies.
So how well do you think you are engaged with a modern client role? Don’t leave it too late to find out – the better suppliers are already aligning with the better clients!
What is marketing all about? There are a great many definitions, but most send out the same key message: ‘successful marketing is based on identifying, anticipating and satisfying customers’ needs in the most efficient and profitable way.
Take a fresh look at a few fundamental questions below. In this highly competitive world, does your marketing strategy stand up to the test? Does it make good financial sense?
You should be aware of what the competition is doing. Have you asked their customers why they prefer the competitor’s products to yours?
Understanding how leading digital marketing companies attack your market and how you fit into it is crucial to maintaining and increasing your market share. Are you focusing on a small slice of the market, or using a scatter gun approach?
Successful organisations are continually trying to identify promising new segments of the market, which suit their strengths. How do your customers currently purchase your product? Could you improve your sales by using additional or alternative channels of distribution?
Efficient ‘marketers’ keep in regular contact with their customers, outside of the usual sales/delivery process. You need to know if your customers are happy with your performance. Are you supplying them with what they really want, or what you think they want?
How successful are you in attracting new customers and also holding on to the profitable existing ones?
Do you have a clear set of objectives, which everyone in your team is aware of? Are they realistic, manageable and well defined?
Efficient marketing departments measure the effectiveness of each marketing activity. They know if their strategy is working and which elements should be pruned or modified to eliminate inefficiencies and reduce costs. Are you measuring your performance?
‘Partnering’ is a label used for a variety of innovative approaches to managing relationships between organisations in construction.
These arrangements have one thing in common – an intention to move beyond the limitations of traditional project relationships. In these, there is little or no integration of the processes used by the different members of the project ‘team’; all too often one party seeks to improve business performance by manipulating cash flows and enhancing profit margins at the expense of someone else.
Partnering is not another new form of contract nor a new way of relating between people. It is a different way of structuring business relationships, which has profound implications for both contracts and the ways people work together.
Most ideas of Partnering draw their inspiration from manufacturing – vehicles, food, aerospace and electronics – where long-term supply relationships have developed between product assemblers and key first-tier component suppliers. Rather than constantly put out tenders and choose different suppliers on the basis of lowest price, assemblers enter into long-term, but relatively informal, agreements with a few suppliers. You can read more about this in the Supply Chain Management Factsheet. Commercial pressure is maintained by benchmarking supplier performance on a number of fronts, with agreed targets for improvement. Suppliers work together with the assembler to deliver continuous improvement in products and processes over time. As a result, all parties deliver lower costs and improved quality without squeezing each other’s profit margins. Steady profits then provide the basis for investment in improved products and processes, and a virtuous circle of continuous improvement is established.
In the construction sector, this model has been adapted into three forms of Partnering.
Partnering has close connections with:
- Briefing the Team
- Value Management
- Risk Management
- Supply Chain Management
- Integrating Design and Construction
Clients needs are unique and each project has its own set of unique characteristics. This means that achieving the right project for the right price in the right time is a challenge.
Client will want to ensure that, as far as possible from the outset, they can achieve the solution they require within affordable cost and by an acceptable date in the future. This will be best achieved if the client seeks independent advice from the outset from an experienced construction professional who will not become part of the project team.
A successful outcome is achievable only where the complexity of the processes involved are recognised and addressed appropriately. The strategy adopted should identify and prioritise key project objectives, as well as reflecting aspects of risk, and establishing how the process will be managed.
Six key steps that a client should follow were identified in the 2002 review of the UK Construction Industry by the Strategic Forum – Accelerating Change. These were:
- Verification of need
- Assessment of options
- Develop Procurement Strategy
- Implement Procurement Strategy
- Project Delivery
- Post Project Review
Whereas, traditionally, suppliers responded to the clients brief, many modern methods of procurement put much greater responsibility on the supply side for selecting and managing the procurement process. This can be seen at the procurement strategy level (eg. PFI) and also at the procurement route level (eg. Design & Build).
In such situations, the best practice supplier can work closely with the client to make informed decisions which are highly beneficial to all parties. Best Practice is very much linked to open-ness over risks and savings that might be associated with specific procurement options – something that is doubly important when working with less experienced clients.
To succeed against the competition, the UK construction industry must deliver quality products and services at acceptable costs as a matter of course. But increasingly its stakeholders all those it does business with or who are affected by its operations expect more from the industry in terms of how it operates and its overall impact on society.
To help meet these expectations the construction industry needs to address issues of community and social responsibility to build trust in its clients, build and retain the best possible workforce and build business success overall.
What is community and social responsibility?
What a business produces, how it affects the environment, how it recruits, trains and develops its workforce, how it invests in the community and respects the rights of people are all factors that determine the overall impact of that business on society in general. Whether that impact is positive or negative reflects a companys culture of community and social responsibility.
The Business Impact Task Force concluded in its 2000 report that:
for business as well as social reasons all organisations should commit to carry out their business in a socially responsible way and uphold the following key principles:
- to treat employees fairly and equitably
- to operate ethically and with integrity
- to respect basic human rights
- to sustain the environment for future generations
- to be a caring neighbour in the community”
Commitment to community and social responsibility is about delivering benefits to both business and society and working continually to improve the positive impact of business on society.
Why is community and social responsibility important for business?
The Business Impact Task Force noted that:
“…behaving in a socially responsible way is not only the right thing to do but makes good business sense, for both large and small businesses.”
Doing good is good for business and a culture of community and social responsibility can help businesses succeed in three ways.
Building the Business
In the UK there is a high correlation between companies being perceived by the public as socially and environmentally responsible and being viewed favourably overall. Consumers value responsible behaviour by companies and reward such behaviour with loyalty to its products and services.
For this reason, no company can afford to be found wanting in fulfilling its legal obligations to society on health and safety, the environment, human rights or race, gender or disability discrimination. The potential damage to a business, its reputation and its sales is great if its own practices, or those of its suppliers or subsidiary companies, are called into question.
Building the Workforce
To succeed, companies need to attract the best people to work for them. Respect for people, their diversity and their need to achieve a good worklife balance is an important aspect of socially responsible business practice. Firms that fail to improve their attitude and performance towards respecting people will fail to recruit and retain the best talent and business partners.
The construction industry has a generally poor record on employment issues and under-performs on diversity issues. Large sections of the population particularly women and ethnic minorities are under-represented. The industry needs to demonstrate that it values all their workforce, their health and safety, their working environment, training and personal development and diversity, and that it maintains an active commitment to an equal opportunities policy. For this reason, the industrys own Movement for Innovation recommended that firms of all kinds and sizes should commit to achieving the standard of Investors in People as the most effective and most systematic means of developing and demonstrating respect for people.
Furthermore, people want to work for socially responsible businesses that respect not only their own workforce but the wider society. Surveys consistently find that most people believe that a company that supports society and the community for example, by establishing links with local or national charities, schools or other local groups is a good company to work for.
Trust is important in influencing the way employees, clients and the wider community judge a company. A successful company needs to operate with honesty and openness to create trust in its relationships with all its stakeholders.
Although there is no legislative requirement to report on social responsibility, companies that do so tend to be better perceived by their stakeholders. Reporting and communicating their impact on society can help to demonstrate openness and transparency about their operations, a willingness to be accountable for their actions and their seriousness of intent with regard to community and social responsibility, thus developing confidence in their business.
Reporting is, however, not an end in itself. The public will see through cynical reporting and attempts to be politically correct for its own sake. Companies need to demonstrate their commitment is real and produces real results.
The principles of community and social responsibility need to be embedded into the overall business conduct of a company and become part of its core values and objectives. A badly targeted approach will be ineffective and companies need to identify the actions that will have most impact for them, manage them in a professional way and communicate to their stakeholders what they are doing. Without effective communication, no-one will be aware of their work. Without awareness, there will be no benefits to business standing or reputation.
As for any other project, it is first vital to secure the commitment of senior management and the allocation of adequate resources for developing a community and social responsibility strategy. Then, by reviewing current policies and performance, you can identify the issues of most relevance to your company and develop an effective strategy and action plan. The process should be iterative, with review of progress leading to adjustment of the strategy and continued business improvement.
The Business Impact Task Force report Winning With Integrity provides practical advice to help organisations of all sizes gain the benefits of good citizenship and covers several relevant areas, including the workforce; the environment; the community; and human rights.
Business in the Community, a business-led organisation committed to developing business and community excellence, provides advice and support on related areas including racial equality, women in the workforce, and sustainable development.
Investors in People is the national standard and framework to help companies and organisations improve performance through developing their people. Introductory and detailed guides are available from Investors in People UK (, www.iipuk.co.uk).
In this aspect, organisations are invited to review how well they are set up to deliver excellent services to their clients (whether internal or external). Best Practice suppliers take a proactive role in building close relations with their clients and partners. By always focusing on delivering exactly what the client wants, they establish trusting interdependencies that can lead to greater continuity of work and growth.
Best Practice suppliers also keep a constant eye on eliminating waste from their processes and have a clear view on how they are distinguished in a highly competitive market. How well-developed are these activities in your company?
Introduction to Sustainable Construction – or How to meet environmental and social reponsibilities and at the same time improve profitability.
Sustainable construction is generally used to describe the application of sustainable development to the construction industry. The industry is defined as all who produce, develop, plan, design, build, alter, or maintain the built environment, and includes building materials manufacturers and suppliers as well as clients and end use occupiers. Clients and end use occupiers also have key roles to play in delivering sustainable construction.
What is Sustainable Development?
Sustainable development is all about ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come, through:
- social progress which recognises the needs of everyone
- maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment, whilst
- protecting, and if possible enhancing, the environment, and
- using natural resources prudently
Sustainable development embraces the three broad themes of environmental, social and economic accountability, often known as the ‘triple bottom line’.
Sustainable development ISN’T outstanding environmental performance at the cost of a company which goes out of business, nor is it outstanding financial performance at the cost of adverse effects on the local environment and communities. It also does not demand the ‘perfect’ solution. Sustainable development is essentially a goal or vision that forward looking organisations are working towards. A sustainable approach is a balanced approach.
How can the industry help?
The construction industry is central to the delivery of many of the Government’s policies for sustainable development:
- Regeneration of housing, particularly to revitalize town centres (social/economic)
- Planning communities to reduce car use (social/environmental)
- Using energy and water more efficiently (economic/environmental)
- Minimising mineral extraction (economic/environmental)
- Protection of the countryside (environmental)
- Provision of training (social)
Through its activities, whether it is the provision of buildings, infrastructure development or contaminated land reclamation, the construction industry has a major role to play in the delivery of sustainable development.
The challenge for the industry is to play an integral part in providing a better quality of life through its activities, whilst minimising impacts on the environment and local communities.