Expert talk: New normal calls for more collaboration and strong leadership

Written by LetsBuild

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This simple yet extremely accurate point made by Dame Judith Hackitt, during the third edition of the UK Virtual Town Hall organised by LetsBuild, summarises perfectly the next day for the construction industry after the Coronavirus outbreak.


Ulrik Branner, Executive and Board Member of LetsBuild, was the host of this inspiring discussion surrounded by an extraordinary panel:

  • Nadhim Zahawi MP: Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Business and Industry) and Council Co-Chair in the CLC.
  • Dame Judith Hackitt: Chair of the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety and Chair of manufacturing trade body Make UK (formerly EEF). Author of ‘Building a Safer Future’.
  • Mark Reynolds: CEO for MACE Group and lead on Skills stream for the CLC.
  • Suzannah Nichol MBE: Chief Executive, Build UK

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“We talked about an industry that has just proven that WE CAN DO IT when it comes to massive and rapid change, and an industry that can collaborate and trust,” said Ulrik Branner.

And he added:

“Once again, it leaves an impression of hope, in the sense that we will not go back to normal, because normal is not a desirable state.”

But, of course, as MP Nadhim Zahawi pointed out change will take some time:

“Change won’t happen overnight. It will require a great deal of collaboration between us in the government and you in the industry.”

With the right mindset and strategy, the construction industry has a big opportunity to turn something very negative to a catalyst for change. That’s of paramount importance considering the significant contribution of construction to every country’s GDP and the crucial role that it holds in our societies.

Technology has shown to be an amazing enabler during this crisis. In that light, it’s not surprising that innovation is at the heart of the Roadmap to Recovery plan from the Construction Leadership Council (CLC). The CLC plan lays out three phases over the coming two years to get the construction industry back on its feet again after COVID-19 lockdown.

“I’m very encouraged by the CLC recovery plan that has done what we need as the starting point of this debate. It’s a great starting point,” underlined Dame Judith Hackitt.

“It’s about collaboration and leadership”

Collaboration and strong leadership were identified by the panelists as two of the main factors that can open the way to a successful future for the construction industry.

“It’s about collaboration and leadership. We must continue the collaboration at all levels of the industry. The industry works as an ecosystem so every different sector is a vital part and all work together. Unless we understand how we can work and collaborate better we can’t make change happen,” highlighted Mark Reynolds.

In the same tone, Suzannah Nichol pointed at the decisive role of collaboration in the transition of construction to a new era with increased productivity and better outputs:

“We all have a massive part to play and together we can get there in style. That’s the industry I want to see and I want to be a part of.”

Mrs. Nichol was also very proud of the fact that construction was one of the very few sectors that managed to reopen and adjust to the new reality so quickly.

And to a great extent, that was the result of a strong will across the industry to share the best practice and work closely together for overcoming the unprecedented impact of the Coronavirus outbreak.

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In her view, “collaboration in action and collaboration at scale and at speed” is what the construction industry needs now more than ever.

Leadership is a key point for Dame Judith Hackitt, as well:

“We need leadership and we need to get a lot better as an industry in celebrating our successes.”

At the same time, though, she underlines that importing leaders isn’t something construction needs. On the contrary, there is a real need for importing expertise:

“I don’t think we need to import leaders in the industry. But I think there is a real case for importing expertise in manufacturing. And it will accelerate the base in which you move. It’s about importing expertise rather than importing leadership.”

New normal, new culture, new opportunities

The pandemic has left a bruised and battered industry and economy but has also shown how change and opportunities can materialise from even the darkest places. Right now, it takes courage to decide on which future we should plan for and to resist the temptation to revert back to the know.

“Construction has a big role to play in the recovery of our economy. We need to build a new normal in the aftermath of the COVID-19. We need a stronger and greener economy as well as a stronger construction industry,” said MP Nadhim Zahawi.

It quickly becomes clear that this new reality presents some great opportunities for the industry to transform itself. Without a doubt, there is still a long way to go in terms of productivity but that should be seen from the sector as an opportunity instead of a threat. After all, construction holds a prominent place in the economy of every country in the world.


And this paradigm shift for construction requires a deep cultural shift. As Dame Judith Hackitt explains, “the new normal won’t be the same as the old, therefore now it’s time to explore what are the opportunities.”

As far as Mark Reynolds is concerned, he highlighted three main pillars of the CLC Recovery Plan as the catalysts for change: people and skills, productivity, and transformation.

“We need new business models. Industry and government are getting together to develop these models but they only work if we apply them. If we don’t apply them they are pointless documents,” said Mark Reynolds who described this transformation process as a leap of faith that the construction industry needs to take now.

Through this leap of faith, the sector can eventually initiate the so much needed change that we keep hearing about.

“Oh, my goodness did we talk about change. We wrote report after report but now it’s time for action. If you want a change you need to start with your company. You want a different outcome, you need a different income,” added Suzannah Nichol.

Offsite and carbon neutrality under the spotlight

Offsite construction and net-zero carbon footprint are two areas of both great importance and potential for the construction industry.

“We have such an opportunity in the UK but we can’t mandate it, you have to do it,” highlighted MP Nadhim Zahawi.

According to Mark Reynolds’s estimation, 50%-60% of the existing construction will be possible to be done off-site within the next 3 years.

But, as he mentioned, it is important for construction to start designing differently from the outset. And that requires a mindset shift.

“We need the mindset that I am going to start doing these things offsite. I look at the design of homes. If we want to build 100000 social homes a year,  we need to clearly agree what a great design looks like, allow variation but within some parameters,” explained Suzannah Nichol.

Legislation and peer pressure can be two of the factors that will gradually lead to a more integrated supply chain approach and push players in the industry toward that direction.

“It does everything that we should do, we just need to accept that it is the way in the future,” continued Mark Reynolds.

So in the long run it’s not about being big and bold. It’s about being smart and agile. Otherwise, there is a good chance you won’t be able to keep up with the competition.

And that’s something that applies to the effort for net-zero carbon footprint in construction, as well.

“It’s no longer enough to talk about fixing the environmental problem, we are now getting into the heart of how we reduce the carbon content of the build process. I don’t think you will see anything different from that in every project government is involved in,” pointed out Dame Judith Hackitt.

On the same topic, Mark Reynolds added:

“We need a big training programme to see how we can collectively address this goal. We need to look in scope 3 emissions as a collective. Legislation will help. We don’t really understand the amount of carbon we generate as an industry on our sites.”

That’s an area where the State can have a big impact by introducing stricter regulations and rigorous measures.

MP Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that there is a big focus on investment by the government in procurement but he also pointed out that at the end of the day companies need to think about their own business and what they can do to make best use of the state support and change the way they operate as a business.

All in all, we are talking about a collective change of focus and mindset which can only be successful if the construction industry and the government work together in harmony.

Construction can’t afford to waste this crisis!

As an industry, we cannot afford to waste this crisis. In the words of Dame Judith Hackitt: “Those who wait to get back to how it was, will not survive in this new world”.

Now more than ever is the time for business leaders to come together and show the path to a more hopeful future for construction.

So, this is a unique opportunity that the industry should invest in if we want to see a construction industry that doesn’t return back to “business as usual”.

With this message, we invite you to watch the entire discussion of our third Virtual Town Hall, just by clicking on the button below.


Want to watch our other town halls too? Check here for the first and here for the second town hall meeting.