Sparking an innovation work culture in electrical contracting

September 20, 2021 | 4 minute read
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In Part 1 of our latest Trailblazers discussion, we speak with Josh Bone, executive director at ELECTRI International.

Bone discusses his career background, his take on the state of innovation in construction, and how leaders can help spark a healthy and innovative work culture that embraces failure as learning opportunities.

In Part II, Bone will explore why he feels machine learning offers the most potential among other emerging technologies in construction. “If we can get the most up-to-date information, and find it quickly, that’ll save us a lot of time and energy and keep us from making mistakes,” Bone says.

Dr. Burcin Kaplanoglu, vice president, Oracle Industries Innovation Lab, led the discussion.

What is your current role and how has your career evolved since you started in the industry?

I'm the executive director of ELECTRI International. ELECTRI is the research foundation for the electrical contracting profession. I started out in 3D modeling back in 1998. I was working with ArchiCAD teaching people how to do 3D modeling before the term evolved into BIM. I also worked with architects and engineers on jobsites. We helped Holder Construction and numerous other companies move into 3D modeling.

The 3D model helped me learn how to better improve my communication skills. That's what I use the technology for—to be in the room and learn. I moved from running things at NECA Industry Innovation Department to managing the research foundation. We are our own standalone 501(c)(3) born out of grants from mainly NECA contractors. We’re trying to give back to the industry and make every electrical contractor better at what they do.

What is your view of the state of innovation in the industry generally?

It’s very tough to innovate in our siloed industry. The project stakeholders are often pitted against each other out of the gate. Everyone is trying to manage risk, so they are selling and pushing risk down the line.

It makes it tough to have an innovative mindset where you are thinking “thrive,” when you are just trying to survive. We're pitted against each other and must be protectionists from day one. It does make it tougher to innovate because we're not aligned.

I've worked with the design teams, with GCs, and with the field. It’s challenging to be innovative when you must look out for yourself first. Every company is just one bad project away from being out of business.

When I look back, however, I recognize that we are making a lot of progress in the AEC industry.

I'm lucky if I can keep up with 10 percent of what's going on—and I'm working harder than ever to keep up with it. There's just a groundswell around this. We all understand that just a few years ago, the mindset was, “If we do this.” Now, the question is: “When?”

In the past, tough conversations about tracking workers would have been: "No way—that’s never going to happen." Now, we know we're going to track workers for safety purposes. How can we track workers the right way?

In my world, the electrical contractors and the labor forced the need to come together and discuss: How do we work together to make each other better? While it's tough to innovate in our industry, we've come a long way and made significant strides. A lot of us have been pushing innovation and construction technology, and we're seeing it come to fruition now.

We’re also seeing innovation on jobsites where we're doing more prefab and multi-trade prefab. If we're going to be successful, it's easier to be successful together.

How can an organization foster a culture of innovation?

We can be leaders and mentors. We can do the right things and support our contractors and the other teams around us that are being innovative. Our leaders are building a culture of innovation. Leaders give their teams the autonomy to be successful, or to fail and to fail fast, and to learn from those failures.

A few years ago, I didn’t see many CEOs of electrical contractors or GCs giving their teams the autonomy, support, and the runway they need to let them take off in their careers.

"Leaders give their teams the autonomy to be successful, or to fail and to fail fast, and to learn from those failures."

-Josh Bone, Executive Director, ELECTRI International

Today, that's one of the things that really sets apart a company that has a healthy culture. The leadership gives their employees runway to do amazing things, and understands that when employees do fail, they’re still supported. That failure is something that today, we take it, we learn from it, we get better at it, see those as opportunities to learn.

You see the impactful leaders saying, "I want to encourage you to make some of your own decisions and communicate with me. I want to see you be more successful." Every division, whether it's virtual design construction (VDC), or any department within the company, is letting employees grow and explore new opportunities to become better.

Read Part II of our Trailblazers interview with Josh Bone of ELECTRI International.

See innovation in action at the Oracle Industries Innovation Lab.

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.

Read more Trailblazers articles here.



Corie Cheeseman

Corie Cheeseman is a senior content marketing manager for Oracle Construction and Engineering.

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