I recently had the opportunity to participate as part of a panel during ENR’s Future Tech Conference. My group, consisting of five panelists from various businesses, kicked off the two-day conference by discussing an initiative each of our respective companies has been working on, followed by a question and answer segment. The overall theme was high performing teams (from a trade partner’s perspective), how they operate in the industry, and more specifically what they look like in Southland Industries’ Northern California Division. The initiative I discussed was: How Southland Fosters Innovation Amongst its Teams.

Prior to the event, I went to work by preparing the slides and words to match—or is it the words to match the slides? Either way, something became inherently easy during the process of preparation. The more I thought about it, the simpler it got.  And, suddenly it came to me: This is easy because I work for a company that truly practices this concept and so do I. Therefore, the ideas and examples are constantly floating around me because I work around some very smart people that operate with this type of approach, daily. Regarding fostering innovation, there a few key points that stand out to me:

First, why is it important to create a company culture that allows innovation to occur consistently? In my discussion, I highlighted about six different projects that Southland’s Northern California Division completed. Each one had a level of difficulty and complexity that required our teams to stay open-minded to new ideas or unorthodox approaches.  Because our teams are confident they can try new things and are equally willing to execute these ideas with great planning and collaboration. Normally, this leads to great results and we all learn something we can repeat and share. Without this type of culture, we are doomed to practice antiquated methods that typically lead to higher costs and unsafe practices.

Secondly, how does Southland effectively achieve this culture? The days of dictating work from a lone individual with all the answers are long gone. What’s important in order to achieve real success with any initiative, process, or change is buy-in. This doesn’t mean that everyone will agree, but it does allow for necessary collaboration and vetting amongst the immediate group. My direct manager says, “One of us is not smarter than all of us,” and he’s right. Our teams understand every effort does not always result in success, but the process certainly cultivates and fosters a willingness to think differently and not be afraid—even if it hasn’t been done before. So, the key is our culture. From our CEO and Northern California Division Leader on down, setting high expectations for employees to challenge the status quo of traditional work methods, always seek opportunities to develop smarter designs, fabrication, installations and pave new roads to building better products for our customers is our number one goal.

Lastly, what does fostering innovation do for our customers? There are so many buzzwords that I could use to answer this question, but I’ll simply say that tremendous value for our customers is added when we choose to perform our work innovatively. At the end of the day, nothing else matters, does it?

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  • Henry Nutt

    Sheet Metal General Superintendent

    As Sheet Metal General Superintendent for Southland’s Northern California Division, Henry Nutt is responsible for managing shop and field staff, assisting with project scheduling, personnel assignments and training, managing tools and equipment and project safety, as well as interfacing with the unions. He is directly involved with Southland’s lean construction delivery method, also is an instructor and frequent participant at the Lean Construction Institute’s quarterly trainings and an instructor at the annual LCI Congress seminar.  Mr. Nutt sits on the Lean Task Force for both SMACNA and the Association of General Contractors (AGC).   He has several published articles written on the topic of construction innovation.  As a mentor for students, Mr. Nutt is also very involved with CityBuild, a non-profit organization that prepares underprivileged San Francisco residents for employment in the trades.

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