Building Trust Has Never Been So Important

In the wake of COVID-19, the construction industry has been hampered by supply chain issues, staggering inflation and fast-rising costs. This disruption is felt across the board - by our teams, our subcontractors, our industry peers and our clients. Given this disruption, building trust has never been so important.

A good fit in values and culture between client and construction partner lays a solid foundation for an ongoing relationship of trust – one which is more likely to weather the storms that market volatility can bring. 

Although our clients are feeling the same strain as we are, they’re still rightly seeking to achieve their goals and create the projects they’ve been envisioning – with higher sustainability, good-quality materials, reasonable costs, quick-moving teams and certainty in project timelines. 

Embarking on a new project can be challenging in this environment as costs escalate, budgets are revised and project plans adapt. How can clients start with new construction partners? How can they build trust in someone they don’t know? 

Part of the answer lies in Early Contractor Involvement agreements, otherwise known as ECIs. ECIs aren’t new, but they are a highly effective and often under-utilised tool – particularly in the current environment. They should be top of mind for team leaders seeking to build trust with new clients. 

ECIs enable construction partners to come aboard and provide valuable advice at the outset of a project, get subcontractors involved for realistic perspectives on how the project will unfold, and demonstrate strong value management and value engineering right at the start. This is in comparison to waiting 4-6 months, a period when prices – under current market pressures – are likely to have skyrocketed, and gaining a client’s trust is consequently more challenging. 

This early-stage involvement plays another important role: enabling clients to see how their partners work, and to start to build trust before contracts have been signed. Trustworthy construction partners with strong teamwork, an ethical approach and a dedication to excellent service delivery are likely to shine through an ECI – whereas these qualities can be difficult to demonstrate in highly-competitive tender processes. 

I have found that an increasing number of clients pursue ECIs to determine if their construction partner is the right fit. This industry has come a long way in recent years, and clients are now far more interested in a partner’s values and culture than they were in the past. 

Taylor provided detailed design and value management advice during the ECI phase for 66 King Street, Sydney. Contracted by CBD One Pty Ltd, Taylor completed upgrades to Charles Plaza, an individually listed, art-deco heritage building in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. Works involved the refurbishment and restoration of the existing heritage features along with upgrades to all 14 storeys. Taylor also created additional floor space within the plot boundary, replaced existing lift cars and interiors and extended lift access to basement and the level 14 rooftop.  

The ECI process enabled an increase in the commercial grade of the building for the client. This was achieved via an overall upgrade to the building’s services, vertical transportation, heritage and non-heritage finishes, as well as the maximisation of available lettable floorspace. 

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Taylor’s ability to engage in a collaborative ECI process, in conjunction with the consultant team and client, was well-demonstrated at the iconic Sydney Opera House Concert Hall development. The site team gained an intimate understanding of the project to maximise delivery outcomes through value add and value management exercises. Other benefits of the agreement included: 

– Implementation of a de-risking strategy to minimise project contingencies 

– Implementation of a trade market tender to ensure the most competitive construction cost was attained  

– Implementation of a cost control process in alignment with the agreed project budget to inform the design development  

– Provision of detailed planning outlining the preconstruction and construction activities. 

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A good fit in values and culture between client and partner lays a solid foundation for an ongoing relationship of trust – one which is more likely to weather the storms that supply chain issues, cost pressures and market volatility can bring.  

Trust will be the defining factor in the success of many projects and relationships as we navigate a world post COVID-19. I am immensely proud to be part of a team with so much experience delivering exceptional ECIs, and firmly believe it’s best to start as you mean to go on – with honesty, open communication, and mutual respect. 

Philip Bermingham is General Manager of Taylor’s Major Projects division, recognised for the successful construction delivery of large, complex major works, including the recent $330M UTS Central development for the University of Technology. His previous projects also include significant residential, medical, and mixed-use developments.  

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