The UK construction industry has been bombarded for decades with reports urging improvements in competitiveness. Business process re-engineering, lean construction and key performance indicators, to give a few examples, have been promoted as panaceas for the industry's supposed performance problems. But they have failed to live up to their promise with limited impact on company performance. Firms are invariably faced with unique challenges shaped by the path they have travelled. Generic 'best practice' recipes advocated by outsiders often detract attention from the issues that are really important.

A Fresh Perspective

The project was driven by a team which had differing views on the problem and how to address it; this revealed new insights into the way in which successful construction firms maintain and sustain their competitiveness. We have collectively explored the reality of the challenges on the ground facing those working in the industry, including those whose voices normally go unheard. The work has included numerous interviews with company directors, multiple in-depth case studies, futures workshops held with groups of companies, and hands on strategic planning exercises creating possible future scenarios.

Our message is that firms rarely maintain competitiveness by continuing to do what they have done in the past. And there is little point in striving to do the wrong thing more efficiently. In increasingly dynamic environments, competitiveness depends upon a firm's ability to continuously re-configure existing capabilities. Success therefore depends on responding successfully to constant change rather than copying 'best practice' from others. Firms often make the mistake that they need to make the business case for doing things differently on the basis of how they currently operate; but what they need to do is to focus on how they might operate in the future. Companies need to be alert to the danger that decisions made today can easily affect their abilities to make some future desirable changes.

The Approach

This requires a more nuanced understanding of a firm's 'situation', connecting its development path to possible futures of strategic interests. Sustainable competitiveness is explained as being reliant upon local knowledge, networks and relationships, find out more about our approach. Long-term relationships with clients and suppliers are key and provide valuable opportunities for learning and innovation. They provide the unique and valuable social capital which competitors cannot easily copy. We argue therefore that organisations must develop their abilities to recognise, create and exploit fruitful opportunities; part of this involves raising awareness and looking further ahead (find out more about our resources to support sustained competitiveness).