At a Constructing Excellence event, I was one of a panel debating the issue of trust in construction. We discussed these themes and challenges:
- trust from the public: the Grenfell tragedy and inquiry have eroded public trust; there are sector initiatives which may start to rebuild that trust but we have a long way to go to convince the general public that we deserve their trust
- trust from communities: the very process of constructing a project, creates change for a local community; even if the end product is a positive addition to their area, they are often deeply unhappy with the process – this damages trust with that community
- trust in the market: the low margins, lowest price competitive tendering regime, suicide bidding, cartels and so on, as well a wide disparities between the size of trades and their main contractors all create a dysfunctional market for construction services
- trust between contracting parties: despite the number of participants on any project, most contracts are between two companies – each aiming to drive the best bargain, even to the point of weaponizing the contract for their own benefit; this creates adversarial contracting and encourages users to ‘game’ the contractual processes
- trust in the supply network: we talk of hierarchies of companies (tier 1, tier 2) within a supply ‘chain’ – this fails to recognise the critical input every member of a project team makes to the success of a project; perhaps we should change our language to recognise that they are an interconnected network instead?
- trust in the process: most construction contracts do nothing to promote flexible processes which can be adapted to the changing context for a project – as we saw during the 2020 pandemic; their rigid over-prescriptive systems smack of a lack of trust that parties can and will resolve issues sensibly and commercially
- trust in our actions: most construction contracts do not focus on changing behaviours or reinforcing existing positive behaviours; they are sticks, not carrots!
What should we do?
For greater trust and more success, we need to focus on changing behaviours of the whole supply network (from leadership down or from SMEs and micro-enterprises up) to encourage and reward meeting aligned goals.
We need to consider whether we want to be know for having a culture to celebrate or a cult of mistrust.