A people-centric focus has been critical to the success of Boral’s innovation strategy, which has played a key role in improving safety outcomes and driving customer and employee engagement while boosting efficiency and operational excellence.
Head of people transformation & innovation for Boral Australia, Wayne Reade, explained that innovation is one of the keys to unlocking the internal capability required to adapt, respond and succeed in a changing world.
“The way we work is changing driven by automation and data-driven industrial advances,” he said.
“The future will see even bigger disruptions such as machine learning, big data and the Internet of Things advance the progress of Industry 4.0.”
Boral was founded 72 years ago and today it is an international building products and construction materials group, with more than 17,000 full-time equivalent employees including in joint ventures, and approximately 8700 contractors working in 17 countries.
To help develop innovation capability, Boral created a new facility in Sydney called B/HUB, where employees are invited from across the business as well as external partners, to learn how to innovate effectively, solve complex problems and identify solutions across new products, processes, services and business models.
Reade explained that B/HUB supports the development of employees, by allowing them to step out of their typical day-to-day activities for periods of up to six weeks, and into a dedicated ‘start-up’ style environment.
“To-date we have explored innovations for artificial intelligence supported safety practices, digital solutions for product placement and truck utilisation, through to developing sustainable solutions for the environment with our waste products to name a few,” he said.
Leadership and strategic drivers for innovation
The B/HUB facility has been designed to challenge biases and develop capabilities through a structured process from idea to commercialisation, Reade explained.
“This better enables our people to explore the right problems and then identify solutions that are valued by our customers,” he said.
“The way we work is changing driven by automation and data-driven industrial advances”
“The work is structured to encourage fast learning with time measured in days as opposed to weeks or months.”
The solutions and opportunities that are selected for development at B/HUB are viewed through the lens of Boral’s “zero|one|ten” strategy.
“This helps us to focus on delivering zero harm to our people and the environment every day, positions us to be the number one choice for our customers and employees, while delivering a ten percent efficiency improvement underpinned by operational excellence each year,” he explained.
Boral’s safety performance has improved significantly in recent years and remains strong relative to peers, with Boral’s recordable injury frequency rate (RIFR) of 8.7 in FY2018 reducing by 6 per cent.
Furthermore, in FY2017, Boral delivered underlying profit after tax of $343 million, a significant 28 per cent increase on the prior year.
“Developing our innovation capability with our people will help liberate commercial value for our business and help us to better adapt to the future of work and changing customer needs.”
Practically, he said this means teams have an improved capability to more rapidly assess the feasibility, viability or desirability of a new idea from both Boral’s own and customers’ perspectives.
“Having our people understand these skills enables us to avoid waste on solutions that may not be fit for the market,” he said.
Overcoming challenges and keys to operational success
There have been a number of practical keys to developing innovation on a workforce-wide scale, according to Reade, who explained that “our people are our most valuable asset and it’s important that we remain focused on realising their potential.
“Developing our innovation capability with our people will help liberate commercial value for our business and help us to better adapt to the future of work and changing customer needs”
“Our people-centric focus has identified that our own people have some of the greatest ideas for new opportunities and solutions to complex problems,” he said.
The process for developing ideas from inception to commercialisation at B/HUB allows team members from across the organisation to submit ideas for development and learn new skills which support their innovation capability, and Reade said this allows them to accelerate some of their ideas locally.
“As a result of this, our process not only focuses on the development of ideas, it focuses on the development of our people,” he said.
“A direct result of this is that we are creating highly capable innovation ‘champions’ who are able to go back into the business and share their learnings with their teams.”
There have been a number of challenges and lessons learned in the process, according to Reade, who said one of the biggest challenges is making the leap from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset.
“The key to innovative problem-solving, is our ability to see past traditional constraints, and consider new solutions,” he said.
“Having a ‘safe to fail’ environment like B/HUB has helped us to be more comfortable to take calculated risks, where we can learn to truly assess new opportunities and solutions across our products, processes, services and business models.
“Another challenge is the price of work which requires dedicated focus of resources for short sprints.”
“Our HR team will play a big part in how we involve, engage and energise our teams as we prepare for the future of work and the changes to organisations”
Business benefits and the role of HR
Boral has developed a structured stage-gate process which is designed to take conceptual ideas through to commercial execution.
“To us, this rigid process has enabled us to innovate in ways we’ve never been able to before,” said Reade.
“We currently have a number of exciting projects underway, some of which may allow us to solve complex problems for our industry, and create entirely new value propositions in markets we’ve not yet entered.
“Of course, it’s our people that have been the driving factor for these outcomes.
“By investing in the capability of our teams, I’m confident that we will drive strong business outcomes that are well aligned with our strategic goals.
“The level of energy that the employees take away from their work at B/HUB is infectious,” he said.
HR has played a key part in the whole process, actively encouraging people across the organisation to submit their ideas and projects for consideration at B/HUB.
HR has also been involved in Boral’s innovation capability development program, delivered to teams through B/HUB and then cascaded into everyday business practices. This methodology has been introduced in all levels of leadership training to help raise our employees awareness.
“Importantly, as we look to the future, our HR team will play a big part in how we involve, engage and energise our teams as we prepare for the future of work and the changes to organisations,” said Reade.
Another outcome has been the activation of succession plans while team members have been dedicated to working at B/HUB.
Reade said this has enabled a broader development of people across the business as they step up into new roles, allowing team members to pursue innovative ideas and create value for Boral and its customers.