Leading by example Digital Transition of Construction Series

In a four-part series for Irish building magazine, Ralph Montague, Architect and Director at ArcDox BIM Consultants, provides some thoughts and insights into the four pillars of transition, as identified in the National BIM Council ‘Roadmap to Digital Transition of Ireland’s Construction Industry 2018-2021’ – namely Leadership, Standards, Education, and Procurement.

The National BIM Council ‘Roadmap to Digital Transition of Ireland’s Construction Industry 2018-2021’ has identified ‘Leadership’ as one of the key pillars to address in achieving digital adoption. It has described a desired “future state” as follows:

“…an industry that possesses digital skills and work processes that will place the Irish AEC & FM sectors on a trajectory of greater competitiveness. The vision is for a new destination that will inspire, stimulate innovation and motivate people to change and adapt to working more collaboratively to achieve improved project outcomes and optimisation of the whole-life performance of assets…”

It is one thing to simply state a future vision for our industry in a report, but the question remains: “Where are the leaders that will bring this industry from its current state to the future state?” The answer is simple. It falls on everyone participating in the Irish AEC & FM sectors to bring this future state into being.

Understanding leadership

Leadership implies a social relationship between those who lead and those who follow. It is not necessarily a position, title, or personal endeavor (although you can pursue leadership, as long as others are following you). Of course, there are different kinds of leadership. There are those who lead through power, fear and tyranny, making others follow by the threat of taking something valuable away (like losing your job, livelihood, or reputation etc). And, there are those who lead through example, by encouraging and inspiring others to grow and excel in what they do towards a common objective.

Leadership doesn’t necessarily imply a two-class society (those who are leaders, and those who aren’t). The reality is that we are all leaders and followers at the same time. Society is made up of complex hierarchical social structures, such as families, communities, organisations and governments.

Within all of those structures, there are times when you’re leading others and other times when you’re following. If you are a parent, you’re leading your children, and if you are the captain of a sports or social club, you’re leading a group. You may be a junior associate in an organisation, overseeing two or three other people. You are a leader, but at the same time, you also have to follow other leaders within your social structures. Even if you think you don’t lead anyone, you still have a responsibility to lead that part of yourself that needs to do the right thing versus that part that wants the expedient or short-cut.

Good versus poor leadership

The question is, how are you leading? There is good leadership, and there is poor leadership, and everything in between. The first important thing to recognise and accept is your own responsibility in leadership, as well as your responsibility in following other leaders. That doesn’t mean you should blindly follow other leaders, and simply do what you’re told – it means you should take responsibility to recognise and question the good and bad qualities of the leaders you answer to and decide how to act. When you can, you should choose carefully who you follow, and whom you will lead. And always be conscious and aware of your own good and bad qualities when leading others.

Knowledge and understanding

There are people who lead in ignorance, and there are people who lead based on good knowledge and understanding of how things work. Of course, no person has complete knowledge and understanding of how all things work, so all leaders are operating to some degree of limited knowledge and understanding.

Good leaders will make it their business to listen, read or take the views and opinions of many different people into account to gain a broader level of knowledge and understanding and help make better-informed decisions – particularly the views, opinions, knowledge and understanding of the people they lead. Bad leaders, however, are typically self-opinionated, and incorrectly think they know it all, often ignoring the views, opinions, knowledge and understanding of others.

Almost any endeavor in life is a collaborative team effort. Good leaders recognise the skills and resources that others bring and associate with people who have a wide variety of skills and resources to complement the collective effort of the group or team, to get the job done.

Leadership and vision

As we look to move and progress our industry from its current state to the future state, leaders must provide the vision that will encourage and inspire others to follow them, or participate with them in the collaborative effort. Vision is like a roadmap – it is completely useless, unless you understand two things: where you are now, and where you want to go. With that understanding, you can then plan a route between the two points.

In more free and democratic societies, people won’t automatically follow leaders, just because they’re told they should. Leaders have to sell the vision and describe to their co-collaborators why it is important and what is the value or incentive for others to get involved. As we are often reminded, the first question any person asks is, “What’s in it for me?” Without providing that answer, it is very difficult to motivate people to follow.

Of course, selling a vision is not enough. People will need the required skills and resources to be able to complete the tasks that will achieve the desired outcomes. Good leaders will recognise any gaps in skills and resources and make sure they are addressed. They will not make unreasonable demands on people who don’t have the required skills and resources. In other words, good leaders don’t set people up for failure; they set people up to succeed. Lastly, leaders have to provide a clear action plan, which is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound).

Leadership in the AEC & FM sectors

In relation to digital adoption for the AEC & FM sectors in Ireland, leaders must clearly understand and communicate the relationship between the value of digital transformation and the level of digital adoption. In other words, if the key stakeholders and participants don’t see or understand the value that digital adoption will bring to them personally and to their business offering or contribution, then adoption will generally be resisted, reactive and slow. However, when participants recognise and understand the value that digital adoption will bring, they will be more receptive, open, enthusiastic and committed to change or adoption.

So the key function of leaders is to clearly inform and communicate this value proposition to all the relevant stakeholders and participants to bring them to a point of recognising and understanding the value for themselves, in order to be receptive, open, enthusiastic and committed to change or adoption. This is the only way that true, lasting and sustainable digital adoption will take place. You can’t force people to do something they don’t want to do, and so, you have to show them why they want to adopt digital, primarily for their own benefit.

Leaders must have a clear understanding of the issues that are currently affecting the construction and built environment sector in Ireland, and the relationship of digital adoption to help address some of those issues – particularly the need to increase productivity and quality of output.

Planning, designing, constructing and operating the buildings and infrastructure that make up the built environment sector are currently slow, expensive, dangerous and struggling to meet the demands of society, as well as having an enormous impact on the climate and environment. The built environment sector is responsible for 40% of energy use, CO2 emissions, use of raw materials etc.

The challenge is to address these issues by improving the time and cost to deliver and operate the built environment, increase the safety and improve the performance and quality to last longer, use less energy, less raw material etc.

The adoption of digital processes of producing, sharing, analysing and updating information that drives planning, designing, constructing and operating the built environment has been demonstrated through a number of studies and initiatives to bring significant improvements in how the construction and built environment sector functions over traditional paper-based work processes (reference World Economic Forum, EU Digital Market, EU Green Deal, EU BIM Task Group, EU Digiplace, Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, Centre for Digital Built Britain etc).

Simply stated, digital adoption can lead to productivity improvements, which will reduce time and cost, improve safety, improve outcomes and performance, improve the physical infrastructure that supports society and the economy and reduce the impact on the environment.

Those who understand this relationship between digital adoption, productivity and performance can see the immediate benefits and value that digital adoption can bring. However, the question remains, “Why are people in the construction and built environment sector so slow to adopt digital?”

The  majority  of participants and stakeholders operating within the sector in a highly fragmented and predominantly SME-driven supply chain don’t understand the value or do not see the benefit to themselves, personally or directly, and so there is no incentive or drive for change. Hence, the primary function of leaders is to clearly establish value on behalf of all the different types of participants and stakeholders and then to communicate this value to these participants, and to help them to realise value to drive lasting and sustainable digital adoption.

Leadership and professionalism

The AEC & FM sectors responsible for the built environment are structured into many disciplines and professions, all playing an important part in the process of building and maintaining the critical built infrastructure that supports almost all aspects of our society.

Sometimes the relationships between leaders and followers can get confused by the professional responsibilities. For example, as a patient with a health issue, I am paying a doctor to give me professional advice. Even though I am the “paying customer” in this relationship, it doesn’t mean the doctor must follow my lead. They are the professional and I’m expecting them to provide me with the best diagnosis and treatment. They have an ethical, professional duty to do that, despite what I might think, or how I want to influence them.

In the same way, clients or employers (paying customers) in the AEC & FM sectors should expect the best professional advice from their consultants, contractors and service providers on how to achieve the best outcomes and results and should not be dictating how professionals execute their ethical duties to them and the rest of society.

There are many examples of catastrophic failures in the AEC & FM sectors, where unprofessional clients have imposed irrational constraints on project teams. There are also many examples where “professionals” simply did what uninformed clients and employers asked, without considering their professional duties.

A journey, not a destination

As noted above, we are all leaders and followers at the same time. Your progression in leadership will be an ongoing endeavor in your life, as you recognise and accept more responsibility and collaborate with others (either those who lead you, or those who follow you), in collective efforts to improve results and outcomes. And for those of us in the AEC & FM sectors in Ireland, the desired outcome is, as already stated above:

“…an industry that possesses digital skills and work processes that will place the Irish AEC & FM sectors on a trajectory of greater competitiveness. The vision is for a new destination that will inspire, stimulate innovation and motivate people to change and adapt to working more collaboratively to achieve improved project outcomes and optimisation of the whole-life performance of assets…”

Ralph Montague is a member of the National BIM Council of Ireland, board member of CitA (Construction IT Alliance), and current chair of the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) Technical Mirror Committee for BIM Standards. He is also the past chair of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) BIM Committee, and RIAI representative to the Architects Council of Europe (ACE) BIM Working Group. He is co-founder of the aecHive ‘Community of Innovators’ platform, and coordinator of the Revit and Dynamo Users of Ireland Groups.

Source: bimireland.ie

Leading by example Digital Transition of Construction Series