How to drive culture change from the inside out

The second in a series of articles providing communications advice for each stage of the Construction Leadership Council (CLC)  Roadmap to Recovery , this post focuses on how to drive culture change, with an emphasis on improving professionalism and productivity. 

If you follow the timeline, the ‘Reset’ phase of the CLC’s Roadmap to Recovery is where we are right now. It also calls for some substantial cultural changes in the construction industry, including new approaches to productivity and professionalism.

This phase is built on an expectation of increasing workloads and a robust pipeline of contracts across all four key parts of the construction ‘ecosystem’. Indeed, we do seem to be seeing encouraging levels of activity currently across infrastructure, construction, housing and RMI (repair, maintenance and improvement work).

Vitally, this phase of recovery is also very much focused on people. It talks about investment in skills and training, apprenticeships and professional competence, digital upskilling and occupational health and safety, including an absolutely essential focus on mental health. If you are active in these areas, you need to promote it better than ever before.

Agile collaboration

One of the other major expectations is around the construction industry demonstrating a more collaborative approach. That’s a call that has been echoing across the industry for decades.

There are now examples of collaborative business models in both public and private sector construction, although admittedly nowhere near enough. But crises can be a real spur to collaboration, based on a realisation that, in the face of danger, we stand a better chance of survival by working together than trying to go it alone.

Indeed, what is notable about the CLC’s Roadmap is how the plan itself came together: industry leaders collaborating with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to pull together a plan everyone could get behind, and in a very short space of time. In the face of the national lockdown, diaries were cleared, new relationships formed and creative solutions were identified through a programme of daily calls and online meetings.

What if this agile collaborative approach was applied to the other major challenges in the industry?

As strategic advisers to the industry, we are seeking out these opportunities. It’s about using communications and PR to signal to other change-makers in construction and the built environment that the door is open to new ways of working.

Getting vocal about the big issues

‘Reset’ also means ensuring that our sector’s recovery sticks firmly to the country’s longer-term social, technological and environmental goals.

For example, in the face of the global pandemic and likely recession, the climate emergency could easily have been forgotten. Positively, one of the strongest outcomes and benefits of the recovery plan is dedicated to reducing carbon emissions, achieving our net zero goals and improving the sustainability and resource efficiency of the construction and built environment sectors.

This is one of the most valuable areas for industry communications during this phase too. Decarbonisation is big news, and any steps that you are taking in this area are opportunities to build your profile and positive reputation.

The other big areas of Government and industry interest are also laid out in the recovery plan, including increasing prosperity across all parts of the UK (the ‘levelling up’ agenda), modernisation of the industry through the uptake of digital and manufacturing technologies, and the delivery of better, safer buildings.

If you want to know the big issues and strategic priorities for construction PR for the next couple of years at least, they’re all spelled out in the Roadmap.

Giving a voice to the excluded

How else can we use our communications expertise to help ‘reset’ the industry?

Sadly, one of the key issues not addressed directly in the Roadmap is the need to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in construction. We can and must do something about this.

In recent months, the Black Lives Matter movement has helped to highlight racism, inbuilt bias, microaggressions and unfair systems that blight the path of a construction professional if they are a person of colour. Prejudice and discrimination also destroy the careers of many other groups, depriving the industry of vital talent.

Many construction employers say that they understand that diversity matters, from both a moral point of view and a business perspective. But still the approach to addressing EDI issues seems to lack deep and urgent understanding. Strategic communication professionals in construction can play an important role here, because the first rule of effective communications is to listen. The industry needs to work together to listen and genuinely try to understand the experiences of workers of Black or minority ethnic heritage, and all minority groups, so that better and faster decisions can be made to create an equal and prosperous working environment.

In-depth interviews, surveys and employee workshops all offer a potential route towards better understanding. Thereafter, case studies and the active promotion of Black and minority voices in construction can help get the message across that this is an industry where all are welcome. Within every construction organisation the opportunities exist to accelerate the journey towards improved diversity.

Review your positioning

Finally, it’s worth noting that this ‘Reset’ phase is also the point at which to review brand positioning, marketing and messaging. Take another look at:

  • Company vision and values: are your purpose statement and value proposition (what you stand for, why you do what you do and how you deliver value to customers) still appropriate? Or has Covid-19 led to a fundamental shift in your business? If so, you may need to reposition your company in the eyes of your key stakeholders. Society is increasingly looking to companies to drive positive social impact. Share your values and commitment to creating a more environmentally responsible, resilient and fair construction industry. If you are taking a stand you are more likely be included in the conversations that drive cultural change not only within your company but across the whole industry.
  • Messaging: is your messaging still appropriate? As well as reviewing this at the top level, you should also look carefully at any existing or scheduled campaigns. The tone will likely need to change to reflect the current situation, which is still vulnerable to very sudden changes.
  • Content channels: look at the communications channels you use, the relevance of the audiences and your engagement levels and conversion rates.
  • Resource: do you use a marketing or communications agency, an in-house team, or a combination of the two? Whatever your set-up, do you have the right balance of skills in place for your business in a changing market?
  • Budgets: look at your communications tools and whether they are fit for purpose and offer value for money. If not, now is a good time to look at other vendors.
  • Evaluation: check that everything you are doing is delivering value. Measure return on investment by looking at outcomes, not just outputs. Demand more intelligent evaluation from your marketing and PR teams.

Use this phase to kickstart the work that builds a stronger, more positive image for construction. This will be critical if we are to attract new talent into the industry to address the future skills shortages which, recovery or not, we know we have to tackle fast.

If you’d like to learn more about communicating throughout the Restart, Reset and Reinvent stages of the CLC Roadmap to Recovery, download our full e-book here.

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About the Author: Vickie Cox

Vickie is our senior PR consultant, with experience in building strong media relations with the reporters who matter most, identifying the issues and opportunities of most interest to the media, and planning and implementing journalist contact programmes.

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