Innovation and Culture Change Within a Medium-Sized Construction Company: Success Through the Process of Action Learning

C.L. Davey1, J.A. Powell2, I. Cooper3 & E. Hirota4

1Projects Manager, Academic Enterprise, University of Salford.
2Director of Academic Enterprise, Academic Enterprise, University of Salford, Salford, M5 4WT Tel. 0161-295 5000 , j.a.powell@salford.ac.uk (correspondence author).
3Architect and Consultant, Eclipse Research Consultants.
4Post-doctoral Researcher, Construction.

Abstract

This paper examines the role of Action Learning in promoting innovation and culture change within one medium-sized construction company. Its adoption by that company – George and Harding – was an exemplary part of a larger study involving a total of 28 construction professionals. This larger study, stimulated by the CIOB’s Innovation and Research Committee, was prompted by the desire to encourage the construction industry, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, to engage in life-long learning and implement good practice, without falling into the trap of an unthinking adoption of the latest management fashion. Action Learning has been shown to drive significant and sustainable cultural change in other engineering disciplines, along the lines proposed by both Latham (1994) and Egan (1998). It has also been used with the construction industry in Brazil (Hirota and Formoso, 2000). Our detailed case study focuses on middle managers from different divisions of the same company who wanted to become more innovative on the one hand and 'leaner' on the other. It shows that Action Learning is able to generate a motivated, committed and innovative workforce, as well as better site management and leadership. Continuous Staff Development (CSD), an in-house training course developed by the company’s Action Learning SET, produced over 100 ideas for improving company performance, which are being implemented by many different groups of staff. The Chairman of George and Harding estimates that CSD has given his company a 12-month lead over its competitors. Action Learning gave middle managers “time to think” about strategic issues and empowered them to collaborate with the Chairman in overcoming personal and political barriers to change. Furthermore, as a result of discussions during SET meetings and contact with a consultant from the University of Salford specialising in transparency on construction sites, the managers were prepared to actually implement some of the concepts of 'lean production'. Thus, Action Learning is shown to have helped middle managers overcome any resistance to change, as well as drive innovation and real cultural change within a construction SME.

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Reference

Davey, C. , Powell, J. , Cooper, I. & Hirota, E. 2000, 'Innovation and Culture Change Within a Medium-Sized Construction Company: Success Through the Process of Action Learning' In:, 8th Annual Conference of the International Group for Lean Construction. Brigthon, UK, 17-19 Jul 2000.

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