For many people, innovation and technology typically go hand in hand. When you think about innovation on a construction jobsite, technology is probably the first thing that comes to mind. But innovation—especially in the construction industry—is so much more than just new technology. It takes deliberate planning, processes, and strategies to successfully implement innovation on a project or across an organization.
Each week on Digital Builder, we explore these themes with leading experts in the construction technology field. On Episode 8 of the podcast, which coincides with Women in Construction Week, two influential female leaders, Jennifer Suerth, VP of Technical Services at Pepper Construction, and Cara Wilczynski, Construction Customer Outcome Executive at Autodesk, join us to discuss how to cultivate and achieve innovation in construction. Other topics we chat about include:
“There’s a misconception that innovation has to be this big, crazy thing. But really, you can innovate even the smallest task or process.” — Jennifer Suerth
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Here are 3 things we learned from Jennifer and Cara about implementing innovation on this week’s episode:
Innovation starts with people, and people thrive when there is an environment of trust. From day one on a project, leadership should make it a priority to get to know the people on their teams, and to build a relationship that fosters open communication and transparency. The goal is a collective understanding of the team’s needs and challenges.
“When you're introducing new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking, it's really important to build that relationship and trust with the people in the organization,” Jennifer says. “I really recommend, day one, not only getting to know the people, but really understanding the current processes at the company.”
Once the team is on the same page, there should be an open dialogue about what everyone needs to not only do their best, but to come up with innovative ideas for project success. Not cultivating a trusting dynamic between leadership and their teams can be a real hindrance to progress.
“It's really important for executives to have trust in their people and be able to rely on their people,” says Cara. “I've been in a situation where I tried to bring in technology and it took me six months to bring in a 360-degree camera to a company. I dealt with a lot of MVPs in the field, but the owner would have loved to have something [like] that, from a record keeping standpoint. It was just a very simple thing. But again, your executives need to trust you.”
Indeed, the strongest leaders at any company trust their teams to know what’s best for a job, especially since the team members are the ones doing most of the day-to-day work to finish a project.
“From my perspective as a fellow leader in the company, if my team has an idea of a better way to do it, I give them that open space to really try out their idea,” Jennifer says. “I mean, if they're the ones doing the work and they really think it adds value, I need to trust them there.”
Innovation doesn’t come all at once. It’s a process. Allow teams on a construction project the time and space they need to ideate and iterate for new solutions to take shape. Don’t expect innovation to emerge and solve all of your challenges instantly—it takes time and incremental progress.
“Don't worry about trying to tackle the biggest thing first,” says Jennifer.
“Sometimes it's all about the small wins."
"I always tell my team, we're having small wins every day, and then by the end of the year, you see one large win and you're really excited. I think those first 30 days are [about] really mapping out, okay, where are the priorities? Setting your roadmap. Then within 90 days, you should be able to execute something and feel like you've made an impact in some form or fashion, and that you've really aligned with the priorities of the company.”
Building a culture of innovation piece by piece starts with something as simple as listening to understand a team’s process and approach.
“I think, first thing, you listen, you learn, you understand the process, how people are currently doing something, executing something,” Cara says. “Then from there, it gives you an opportunity to evaluate the process, map everything out, and put some kind of measurable success on that.”
Cara applies this same principle to her own work, and encourages her customers to consider the incremental successes that come with using innovative technology.
“On this side of the technology business in customer success, I've often thought, okay, how can I help my customer evaluate whether this has been successful for them?” says Cara. “It's a workflow. It's a very simple, small thing, a small win. I think it does need to be evaluated in some fashion, and I think that probably happens around day 30, 90, depending on how big that workflow or challenge or opportunity might be.”
As technology and innovation has proliferated throughout the construction industry, it’s drawn a younger group of professionals to the field. That’s created generational gaps on many teams that leadership must tackle. This starts with communication and encouraging diverse thought among construction teams.
“I think one of the biggest things that leadership has the responsibility to do, especially now with Millennials, Gen Zs, different generational gaps in the workforce today, I think it's their responsibility to make sure that they're communicating in the same language,” says Cara. “One of the biggest things is being able to build a space that allows people to work differently to achieve the same goals. I think, ‘This is the way we've always done it,’ is not an acceptable answer anymore. It doesn't really encourage diverse thought. It doesn't encourage diverse environments where people can argue, people can disagree, people can openly bring up things that are not working for them.”
Achieving an environment where diverse voices can present innovative ideas is all about creating a strong company culture to uphold these values.
“Culture is everything,” Jennifer says. “It took Pepper a year and a half to get me to join the company, and a big reason for that is, I really wanted to make sure I understood what the culture was like, and that there was this safe and supportive environment for technology and innovation. When you introduce diversity—and it could be gender, race, different education backgrounds—it brings new ideas. It brings different ways of thinking.”
Tune in to the episode to learn even more valuable insights about building an innovation culture and much more from these two incredible industry professionals.