What is Innovation at Balfour Beatty?

Mark Konchar

Mark Zuckerberg is well known for his approach to innovation, as the following quote demonstrates, “Move fast and break things. Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough. People think innovation is just having a good idea, but a lot of it is just moving quickly and trying a lot of things.” 

And, he’s not alone. Albert Einstein said, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” Bill Gates observed, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

I think most people inherently understand sentiments like these shared by some of the world’s most successful and universally recognized entrepreneurs. But, for many reasons, most people and companies remain risk averse – often afraid to take chances to find new and better ways of doing things. Many times, people are just more comfortable sticking with the status quo, because as they say, “this is how we’ve always done it” or “change is difficult.”

At Balfour Beatty, we believe continuously improving the value we deliver for our clients, partners and teammates is critical to our sustainable business. When we established our Zero Waste commitment several years ago, we recognized the huge opportunity that exists in the industry to innovate and become more efficient in the way projects are delivered. In fact, a massive reduction in process waste is our greatest opportunity for creating ever-increasing value for our clients, beating our competition and inspiring our great people.

Anyone who has ever worked with me knows how strongly I believe that the most successful path to innovation is one focused on action over ambition. Rather than thinking of individual inventions (ideas) as the pretty flower or shiny object, we think about innovation as a weed that grows prolifically throughout the company. To be successful, innovation must grow, expand and become the lifeblood of an organization – steeped in culture. 

So, how do we continue to nurture innovation at Balfour Beatty? For starters, we align as a leadership team absolutely invested in the commitment to continuous innovation. As a result of this commitment and Zero Waste vision, the continuous pursuit of improvement is fostered and thrives throughout the organization through behaviors, investments, encouragement and accountability at the project level. 

Next, a “let’s do it” collaborative environment is essential to identifying challenges and sharing ideas that lead to solutions. This is why we have communities of practice established across the company focused on areas such as lean construction, new technologies, business acquisition, safety and process improvement that regularly convene and collaborate on improving the way we operate in all areas of the business. By participating in these communities of practice, our teammates are engaged with one another and leverage their colleagues’ lessons learned to find solutions to shared challenges.   

Finally, we drive success by taking advantage of a culture that lives and breathes innovation. What’s more, we succeed by bringing the outside “in” by leveraging and collaborating with our supply chain, which is full of creative trade partners, suppliers and designers who all bring their own fresh perspectives to our daily work.  

There’s nothing more fulfilling than experiencing the tangible impact innovation can have on our business. For example, our operations teams have been using virtual reality technology for several years to solve design and constructability challenges. But, with safety being our highest priority, our technology team recently began exploring virtual reality applications that could potentially help workers perform their jobs more safely. By incorporating a gaming engine, or gamification, into virtual reality, they developed an interactive simulation that trains workers to make the right choices when performing one of the most hazardous tasks in our industry—working at height.

Over the years, our teams have created solutions which have dramatically improved the way we deliver for our clients. However, we can never become complacent on this journey, but rather ensure we are continuously strengthening our ability to innovate. Successful innovation is not random, rather a learned discipline that requires ongoing work, commitment and above all - action. Similar to physical training, there are exercises that we must do over and over again to build strength, speed, and agility. For us, these include conducting events such as Hack-a-Thons and Process Storms across the company that bring teams together to take challenges head on. 

To close with another Zuckerberg quote, "The Hacker Way is an approach to building that involves continuous improvement and iteration. Hackers believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete." 

I couldn’t agree more.