So, how do we think differently about the construction business? Many of the following concepts are a bit outrageous. But many of them also are not new; they come from companies that do these things already. Perhaps there are ways to adapt these ideas to the construction industry and your business.
- Start each meeting with an innovation exercise. There are thousands on the internet. Example: This is a pen. Hold up a pen and say, “this is a pen”. The next person takes the pen and says, this isn’t a pen, this is a __________ and makes something up. It can be anything. The next person takes the pen and says, this isn’t a (the second person’s idea), this is a ____________. Keep it going for as long as you come up with interesting ideas. You can also make it practical. Ask about current company or project issues. This is a great way to brainstorm.
- Innovation roundtables. Create diverse innovation roundtables that meet periodically. Use “Yes, and …” and brainstorm. Ask the question: Why are we still doing this? How can we do it better? Is there a technological solution?
- Play at least 20 minutes per day. For 20 minutes every day, make it a rule that everyone must play. Have games at the office and on the project. Let your brain take a break and just have fun. You will be amazed at what this creates.
- Create a physical environment for innovation. Incorporate a lot of colors and textures that excite your brain. Have common areas for collaboration and play areas to have fun.
- Reward Innovation and take more risks. The risk-averse nature of the construction industry stifles creativity and innovation. Reward innovation, cultivate it and revel in it. Don’t condemn ideas that didn’t work; just move on to the next one. Edison found 999 ways that a light bulb didn’t work before he came up with one that did.
- Add quiet rooms. Create a room to listen to music, have quiet time, or take a power nap. There have been dozens of studies showing spikes in productivity with this type of setup.
- Make every employee do anything other than work for one hour a day. It can be anything from surfing the web to rollerblading. This gives them some downtime and clears their head for thinking in innovative ways. Employees will be more creative, less stressed, and more satisfied.
- Let employees bring pets or children to work. This decreases stress and can increase employees’ time at work.
- Create a results-oriented work environment. Let employees set their own work hours and self-direct what they want to work on. Management can set work goals, but not tell employees how or when they need to be done. Depending on the position and the project, there are many days where employees could work from anywhere.
- Collaborate with each other (industry-wide, even competitors) on best practices for marketing, purchasing, procurement, and delivery. Help each other and share the rewards. Come from a place of abundance where there is enough work for everyone.
- Give employees as much time off as possible during the workweek and for vacation without checking in. This is vital for your employees to recharge their health and well-being, as well as their longevity.
- Spread love inside and outside of the company. Work doesn’t always have to be serious.
- Re-brand the company and fill it with spirit. Most contractors’ and engineers’ brands says trustworthy, reliable, stable, ethical and probably a list of other very nice words. But these words are a bit stuffy. Look at most commercials on television for a variety of products and services. All of them are filled with positive emotions: Coke: Open Happiness. Love: It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru. Harley Davidson doesn’t sell motorcycles—they sell freedom and independence. Construction has really missed the boat. The company that figures out how to brand itself with fun, love, humor, innovation, and creativity will rise above the competition.
- The High Five Gauntlet. When someone has a great idea, set up a gauntlet in the office or on the project and have the person with the idea “run the gauntlet”. They will run between two rows of people giving high fives to both sides.
- Standing Ovations. Whenever someone comes up with an idea or creative solution at any time (during a meeting, at lunch, etc) get in the habit of giving that person a standing ovation. Everyone can get in on this celebration and you can expand the reason for the ovation such as good news, a great win, a safety or other project milestone, a birthday or an anniversary.
Here are a few bonus ideas: What if you came up with a completely new way of delivering construction services? What if you used a GoFundMe model as a way to finance a building? What if you built projects for free and received a percentage of the rents for the next 20 years and made 10 times what you would have made with the traditional model? What if you became more of a service contractor that took care of clients from cradle to grave? You could help with the initial design, financing and building, as well as maintain the building throughout its life. That is a continuous revenue stream instead of a pay-for-services model. Companies like IBM, AT&T and HP are adopting this model. They no longer sell products; they create a relationship for life. This fits perfectly into the lean model and the Toyota Production System.
Owners are starved for a lean and integrated project delivery approach to building. It may seem like it’s all about low price, but there is a backlash to the low bid mentality. The only ones making money are the lawyers. And according to Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines, “spirit” and intangibles are much harder for the competition to replicate. Again, this is the people side of lean. If you can create this type of culture, your projects will thrive and owners will love you.
These ideas about lean, innovation, and people focus may seem ridiculous. It may seem impossible to do any of these in the construction business, especially on projects. But the bottom line is that the companies that actually implement these kinds of radical changes and find new ways of working will dominate the industry. It may not be the ideas listed above; new strategies would have to be adapted and changed to fit company culture and industry standards. But the firms that continue to limp along with concepts that are hundreds or thousands of years old are doomed.