Insight  Innovation culture

Murphy Innovation Foundation: nurturing progress in the construction industry

Murphy Innovation Foundation: nurturing innovation in the construction industry

Jack Selman, innovation coordinator at infrastructure engineering specialist Murphy, tells us about the company’s innovation strategy and what it has achieved so far.

“I remember what it was like before the internet”.

This statement is becoming rarer, is already unbelievable to the younger generations, and yet one that I just qualify to make. I am part of the last generation that will remember dial-up, CRT monitor TV sets, and mobile phones with buttons.

Fortunately, I was raised in an environment comfortable with change and the looming technology revolution. From a young age, technology in all its forms provided me with a lens that emphasised the contrast in adaptability and aversion to change of those around me. This lens allowed me to witness the “what if..?” vs. “what?!”, and the “why not?” vs the “why?!” as technology became more prevalent in society, and some chose to either adopt or refute this radical transformation.

Driven by a passion for legacy and a keen desire to contribute to society, I studied and worked as a civil engineer in variety of scenarios. It is no secret that in such a high value, high pressure, hazardous industry that an aversion to risk is a fundamental part of engineering.

Whilst this approach has been embedded into engineers for years, it does restrict positive change. Exploring new or existing products, services or processes is reliant on the stars of construction aligning. A willing and collaborative client, adaptable project manager, suitable project, sufficient budget, ample time, capable project team, and a lack of social/political/environmental blockers must neatly fall into place to provide a culture that allows innovation to flourish. As such, I found that any proposals for change were supressed and sporadic. In a delivery-focused industry, there is no time for “dreamers”.

Encouraging change: Murphy’s Innovation Foundation

The launch of Murphy’s Innovation Foundation (IF) in response to its strategic ‘10 Year Plan’ marked the dawn of a new era: one that actively seeks disruption, change and challenge in the face of adversity.

Uncommon in construction, the IF encourages all across the business to challenge the norm and to always ask “what if?” For me, the launch of this new team represented an opportunity to affect change at a great scale, causing me to apply for and secure a place on the team. It is truly exciting to be part of such a transformational effort at both business and industry level.

I am familiar with working in a deliverable-driven role, and my change to this profession has not been without its difficulties. I have adapted my own work ethos and now operate in a perpetual state of moderate dissatisfaction. There is always more change and more disruption to embrace, more cultural transformation needed, and new concepts to grasp – all whilst operating with much greater exposure to prominent and senior business leaders.

I have had to learn to appreciate the value in the ‘softer’ wins - developing key relationships, nurturing potential innovation emissaries, and setting an example for positive and healthy disruption.

This cultural shift is key in ensuring the continued success of both the business and the industry."

Whilst the innovation team lives and breathes the core principles of innovation, a key focus for the IF is to drive this behaviour across the business, pushing it to become ‘business as usual’. It’s no small task, but this cultural shift is key in ensuring the continued success of both the business and the industry.

This change in behaviour stands to bring with it a multitude of benefits: the industry can deliver work that is more creative, inspiring, safe and cost effective. It’s not an easy path, and in such a risk-averse industry this change is a significant challenge. However, we are seeing adoption and adaptation improving internally and externally at an increasing rate.

It is most certainly an uphill struggle, and maintaining the bright disposition that is synonymous with an innovation leader can be trying at times. Antiquated attitudes, a turbulent marketplace and fear of failure, reinforced with a fundamental confirmation bias that supports a reluctance to change, presents a formidable foe that stands in the way of growth.

Innovation grown from the bottom up and nurtured from the top down

Murphy’s innovation forum (the Engineering Tomorrow Forum (ETF)) convenes every quarter and provides us with the opportunity to report on progress, field expert advice and steer the development of key ideas. Most notably, it signs off on ideas that require additional support, be it funding or otherwise – typically proof-of-concept trials.

Consisting of the CEO, COO, engineering director, people team director, and two non-executive directors, the ETF is a highly skilled expert panel that clearly shows the business putting its money where its mouth is. They are welcoming of change and passionate about progress. Their support and assistance is an undeniable commitment from the highest echelons of the whole business that strategic innovation is here to stay. It is no flash in the pan, it is not a buzzword, nor is it an idealistic state to pay lip-service to; it is real, it is valuable, and it will be fervently pushed for the betterment of all in the Murphy family.

We are responding with a transformative, strategic effort that is laying the foundations for innovation for years to come. Through engagement with clients, suppliers, SMEs, universities, research facilities and other contractors, we are bringing value to the business by diversifying our opportunities and tapping into the wealth of knowledge that exists across the marketplace. We will elevate our own position and contribute to the progress of the industry once we are able to fully and truly collaborate with external parties. The industry is slowly changing, and we are beginning to see more clients concentrating on innovation in tenders, denoting it as a scored category.

By setting an example, demonstrating that well-managed innovation will deliver value safely and efficiently, the IF empowers everyone to get involved."

Our champion network is an excellent force multiplier for change. Represented by volunteers from the entire business, the champions are beacons of innovation, extolling the virtues of the work we are delivering and setting a fine example for all to follow. All ages, sectors, business units, functions and grades are represented.

The network, in conjunction with the innovation team and the ETF, ensures innovation is grown from the bottom up and nurtured from the top down, reinforcing our entrenched approach to behavioural change. The IF, with the help of the champion network, is the cultural change we want to see.

By setting an example, demonstrating that well-managed innovation will deliver value safely and efficiently, the IF empowers everyone to get involved and shows that it is not something to fear, but something to face and actually enjoy.

Since the launch of the Innovation Portal, the IF has captured, developed, and managed over 150 submissions, with five innovation projects delivered. We have brought over 80 champions into the fold, and are supporting work winning bids, live projects, depots, yards, joint ventures, alliances and clients. We are promoting innovation and enacting change through STEM events, industry advisory panels, university lectures, international conferences and seminars. Change is most certainly underway.

About the author

Jack Selman (BEng Hons MIKE GMICE) is an innovation coordinator with a strong engineering background. Jack joined J. Murphy & Sons in 2010 as an engineer’s assistant and has worked his way up from site level, through to engineer into the group role of innovation coordinator.

Having spent time working in the cross country pipelines and rail industries in both the UK and Australia, from design and feasibility stages through to construction and delivery, he has comprehensive experience working in the construction sector in a plethora of environments.

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