Trust has always been at the heart of the construction industry. Whether you’re turning up for a day at work at the Gherkin in London, enjoying a rugby match at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium or catching a train at Amsterdam Centraal, you need to trust that the infrastructure around you is well-constructed and safe.
And of course, as a construction professional, you need to trust that your colleagues and collaborators can fulfil their commitments – so that projects are completed and everyone is rewarded.
Despite its importance, trust has often been seen as something that’s difficult for businesses to quantify: a nice to have, rather than a key metric. But there are behaviours associated with higher levels of internal trust and better relationships on projects. Equally, this has measurable benefits for the bottom line, as we explored with FMI in a new report,“Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust.”
The results for EMEA are positively. Respondents in the UK and Ireland each report higher levels of trust in their organisation than the global average of 36%: this rises to 38% in the UK and 40% in Ireland. So what can we learn from Irish and UK companies about how to create trust – and how this benefits projects on the ground?
Empowering Individuals with Clear Expectations
Trust starts within each organisation, in the way that construction businesses manage employees. Positively, construction businesses in both Ireland and the UK are particularly successful when it comes to empowering individuals. For example, 38% of organisations in the UK say individual roles and responsibilities are well-defined, compared to 32% worldwide.
Defining clear expectations for employees is key, according to the Head of BIM and Digital Engineering at a UK-based global construction company: “We set straightforward and simple strategic goals that everyone can buy into. Everyone is more effective and not focused on potentially conflicting personal goals.”
It’s also about being clear and open about the reasoning behind requests, another behaviour that’s more common in the UK than other regions. Over a quarter of UK firms say that people are very likely to be explicit about their requests (26%), compared to a global average of 22%.
How Internal Communication Delivers €600,000 in Savings
When employees are more confident about what’s expected of them, they can be more open and communicative in return. This is a prevalent attitude in Ireland, where 40% of firms say that individuals are extremely likely to express their opinion or offer suggestions to their superiors.
A foreman manager at an Irish general contractor explains that this is core to the company culture: “People can express their ideas. No one’s going on a solo run. You have the benefit of other ideas and other opinions.” The company has also invested in tools to support communication: “We have a person on site, using technology to constantly communicate with those in the office. This provides a bit of comfort for all parties.”
Fostering high levels of internal trust leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention. Globally, FMI estimates that companies with the highest levels of trust save up to £582,000 or €685,000 per year in lower voluntary turnover. Higher trust then can have critical benefits for the
Building Trust with Other Businesses
Higher levels of internal trust lead to better collaboration and project success. A senior project manager at a large UK-based general contractor summarises it this way: “Organisational trust is essential in the construction business. Without trust, you don’t successfully go into business with other companies.”
The high levels of trust in Irish and UK construction businesses also translate into better collaboration. Globally, less than a quarter of construction professionals say that collaboration is very high in their business, but this rises to 30% of Irish businesses and 33% in the UK – the highest worldwide.
According to the senior project manager, this certainly isn’t an accident and comes down to taking proactive measures to build relationships between teams. At his firm, project meetings kick off before deploying to the project site. Each team member is also empowered to identify situations where others may not trust them and focus on improving the relationship, improving productivity.
The £3m Dividend of Confident Collaboration
On a project level, better collaboration leads to better outcomes. The Head of BIM and Digital Engineering points out that “when everyone works towards the common goal, they are more confident that their schedule and budget will be met. They know what work is getting done and when it will be completed.”
This is reflected across the UK, where professionals are more confident than their global peers that project schedules will be met (38% compared to 27%) and the budget maintained (29% compared to 22%). This can have big benefits for the company’s financial performance. According to FMI, firms with the highest levels of trust miss fewer deadlines and so save up to £3.1m or €3.6 a year.
Businesses that have good levels of trust and collaboration also receive a higher level of repeat business; in fact, 42% of firms in Ireland work with repeat clients more than 80% of the time. This in itself can drive margins that are between 2 and 7% higher – a significant boost for profitability.
Three Steps to Building Trust
Trust is far from a nice to have; higher trust is associated with serious financial benefits. But the experiences of construction professionals in the UK and Ireland underline the fact that high trust levels don’t happen by accident. It’s about taking the steps internally to empower employees, and then collaborating transparently with partners on projects.
The Trust Matters report highlights three overarching steps to improving collaboration in the business:
- Measure and monitor trust in your organisation, through routine surveys
- Minimise uncertainty, through transparency, clear roles and responsibilities and candid feedback
- Simplify collaboration, using digital tools to provide a single source of trust for all projects
Building trust isn’t always easy. But it’s worth investing the time and energy to do so. The rewards can be big.
For the global results, download “Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust.”
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