Collaborative Thinking

 By Alexandra Pecci

Lendlease strives to bring innovative ideas to life.

When it comes to recycling, wallboard isn’t easy stuff to handle. It’s incredibly sensitive, losing its recyclability when it breaks into crumbs or powder, or even when it’s mixed with other waste. As a result, it often falls by the wayside in recycling efforts.

But Geoffrey Brock, LEED AP BD+C, ID+C, ND, sustainability director at the global construction and property firm Lendlease, was eager to change that. After all, he points out, wallboard makes up 20 percent of construction waste, and can actually make up the majority of waste for interior projects.

Lendlease created an innovation program in 2016 to gather ideas from all facets of the company.

“We’re talking the magnitude of hundreds of tons of waste,” he says. “It means something more than just recycling at the office.”

Despite the imperative, the desire, and the important idea, he had trouble getting a wallboard recycling initiative off the ground.

“I was not very successful because I was operating within a silo…only gaining minimal buy-in,” he says. “I was a young, naïve project manager who was trying to change the world.”

Getting off the ground

Where do great ideas go if they’re not nurtured? Do they fizzle out and die away? And conversely, what happens when they’re coaxed and cultivated into something truly innovative?

Lendlease is trying to answer that last question, and is putting its findings into practice with its Innovation program, a multi-pronged effort launched in March 2016 to bring innovative ideas to fruition from within all corners of the company. As a global company with projects across the world, the people at Lendlease innovate every day.

Kelly Benedict is the vice president of Innovation and Customer Focus at Lendlease.

“Innovation is part of our core values,” says Kelly Benedict, senior vice president of Innovation and Customer Focus. But at the same time, “There was a real honest reflection that some of those innovations probably stay within a project team.”

Not sharing ideas can also lead to duplicative efforts. For instance, through the Innovation program, the company discovered that it actually had three different drone experiments happening worldwide. Now, they’ve created a centralized drone steering committee to share best practices and technological advances, resulting in a Lendlease Americas project to use drones for safer, more efficient building and inspecting of telecom towers.

Centralizing the drone experiments accomplishes many things: reducing redundancies within the company, curating the best ideas from across business units, and ultimately, improving worker safety.

“We are connecting a lot of dots within the organization and fostering a lot of collaboration through this innovation channel,” Benedict says.

The science of innovation

The company realized it needed a disciplined approach and formal framework for ensuring that new ideas would not only see the light of day, but also ensure that they would solve real problems, add value, and align with strategic goals of company.

At the heart of the program is the Innovation Pathway, which Lendlease developed with an Australian innovation company. The pathway provides a scientifically based process for bringing new ideas from conception to implementation. Like the scientific method that provides the basis for all science research, the Innovation Pathway includes different stages through which new ideas must progress, including brainstorming, validation, experimentation, and implementation.

“It’s just like we learned in grade school,” Benedict says. “There is a science to everything.”

She adds that the pathway isn’t meant to be onerous—quite the opposite—but simply ensures that ideas are properly vetted before they’re implemented.

“Ideas now have a faster track and a more scientific way to be supported and heard,” she says.

Putting a formal pathway in place also allows people from across the company to participate in the innovation process, get the proper support for bringing their ideas to life, and make sure that the entire company can benefit from an idea.

Ideas from everywhere

There are many avenues for Lendlease’s employees to contribute new ideas, whether they’re generated organically or via events like group hackathons and ideation sessions that get people’s creative juices flowing with exercises that ask, “What would Oprah do?” or “How do you make Charlie Sheen president of the United States in 24 hours?” before breaking into small groups to tackle specific business problems. An online platform called the “Innovation Station” also allows employees to submit ideas and track their progress.

However the ideas are generated, though, employees work with innovation guides who are specially trained employees who help their coworkers hone in on customer needs and brainstorm, coach them along the Innovation Pathway, and eventually create larger awareness throughout the company by getting the ideas on meeting agendas and in front of executives. These innovation guides—33 people in all, who do this work in addition to their regular jobs—are stationed throughout different geographic and business units and are also tasked with leading innovation sessions.

Another phase to bringing a new idea to fruition is presenting it to Lendlease’s Advisory Forum, made up of executive leaders, which reviews ideas and awards seed funding from within the company to conduct experiments on the ideas that are most promising. Benedict, who chairs the forum, says the forum reviews about two projects per month and within the first year awarded $42,500 to seven ideas. More are in the works.

Drones are being used to drive efficiencies in building inspections while eliminating possible safety hazards. Photo: Prasit Rodphan

Drones are being used to drive efficiencies in building inspections while eliminating possible safety hazards. Photo: Prasit Rodphan

From seed to fruit

“This experimentation phase is very iterative and you need to continually check the process,” Benedict says, describing one app-based experiment that didn’t generate the right data and was scrapped in favor of a new solution. “It’s just like having guiderails…it just allows us to really ask the right questions, make assessments, and really manages this in a way that’s not just subjective.”

The experiments are consistently creating solutions that solve business challenges. One enlisted outside experts, like safety professionals and firefighters, to help develop a refined framing and installation process that allows windows to withstand up to 100 pounds of pressure and help prevent child falls. It’s being installed in one of their projects now.

The window project illustrates not only the benefit of the innovation program to Lendlease’s customers—helping to keep its residents safe in Lendlease-constructed buildings—but also shows the value of collaboration and bringing together people from disparate areas of the company. For instance, Brock notes that he was invited to sit in on one of the innovation sessions for developing the window solution.

“That is a business unit that I would normally have no interaction with at all,” he says. “We have different sectors, different product types, different challenges…but it’s bringing us together as a company.”

Other experiments result in the company seeking patents, one example being a “smart ladder” to prevent falls by sounding an alarm when used improperly and a “live alert” that helps prevent electrical shock for people working on live electrical panels. Both of these solutions are important for keeping workers safe on the job.

Brock’s wallboard recycling initiative has also gotten off the ground. He started before the formal Innovation program began, and since, has put his project through the pathway.

“It helped create an atmosphere within the company that this is something that is supported,” he says.

His breakthrough for success was teaming with a wider group of manufacturers, processors, and sorting facilities that commit—together—to keeping wallboard scrap separate on job sites and creating a larger infrastructure to support it. When these competitors and collaborators work on the same goal, a large volume of wallboard can be diverted to a sorting facility and ultimately, made into new wallboard.

“It convenes all those members together so we could tackle this challenge as an industry,” Brock says. Now, Lendlease is segregating wallboard for recycling at two large-scale commercial projects in Manhattan, including a “massive residential tower,” and they keep adding projects, looking specifically to expand to northern California.

He also adds that other sustainability projects are in the early stages of the innovation pathway, including developing ways to reduce water and electricity usage on construction sites, something that’s often overlooked. “It’s typically only looked at in existing buildings, not buildings under construction,” Brock says.

The effort has the potential to help not only with sustainability but with saving money, too. “We know it’s significant because we’re tracking it,” he says. “If we change the way we’re doing things we’re going to have a big impact.”

“Working for a big company sometimes it seems like it’s hard to do new things,” Brock adds. But the Innovation program is changing that for projects like his wallboard recycling initiative, and others as well. “It certainly allowed it to gain support within Lendlease, which in turn helps support the greater mission.”

“Everyone doesn’t have to be their own respective pioneers,” he says.