How Skanska Builds a Foundation of Trust and Transparency, Part 1

skanska builds trust

According to a recent study conducted by Autodesk and FMI, less than 40% of all construction professionals report a high level of trust in their organization. So, why does this matter? The study shows that trustworthy companies have more repeat business, lower employee turnover rates, and are more likely to make schedules, which can save millions on an annual basis and help improve client retention.

The benefits of trust in construction are clear, but it takes a long-term and organization-wide commitment to build it successfully. It's about creating transparency, consistency, an emphasis on safety, and a desire to develop workers. And the earlier trust is built on projects, the better.

Building trust throughout its business and from the earliest project stages is one of the reasons why Skanska has evolved into a world leader in the construction industry. Earlier this year, we asked Skanska to share more about building trust from the ground up. To learn more, Pamela Monastra, Senior Vice President and Head of Communications, Skanska USA Building, interviewed Steve Stouthamer, Executive Vice President, Project Planning Services, Skanska USA Building, about how the company lays a solid foundation. Together, they cover a wide range of trust-building topics, such as how to be present with customers, build trust with design teams, and create a culture of transparency that people want to be a part of. They're quick to remind listeners that trust is far from automatic – it's something that's ingrained in and nurtured throughout a company's culture.

Watch the video or read the transcript below.


Pamela Monastra: Welcome. I'm Pamela Manastra, Senior Vice President, Head of Communications for Skanska USA Building. Today, I'm here with Executive Vice President of Project Planning and Preconstruction, Steve Stouthamer, also with Skanska. Steve, welcome.

Steve Stouthamer: Thank you.

Pamela Monastra:We've been asked here today by Autodesk, who's doing a series on trust in construction. Really excited to have you, Steve. I've known Steve now for seven years since I've been here at Skanska. You've actually been at Skanska for 16 years and not to put your age out there, but I do know that I think you have more than 30 years in the construction industry?

Steve Stouthamer: Yes, I like to say 36 with all my high school homebuilding experience.

Probably the biggest thing I've learned related to trust is that as I've acquired more responsibility, there are many more eyes upon your every action. It's so important that your colleagues, your coworkers, the people that work for you trust you. That's a big deal for me.

Pamela Monastra: Well, then let's start with the customer. How do we start building trust with our customers? Because trust isn't automatic. Trust is something that you earn.

Steve Stouthamer: Being present with your customer is huge. You're never going to know what's going to be considered a success in their eyes if you don't spend time with them to understand their concerns. What do they need of you? What actions do they need you to take to have the project move forward in a way that is beneficial to them? The extent to which they see you committed to the things that are important to them is a trust-building activity. You're going to go away from your customer periodically with assignments, but the way you follow-up, report, and deliver on their needs is critical.

Let's take the other big stakeholder, for example, which would be our design teams. Often, the challenge in trust-building with your design team is the simple fact that your contract is with your client, and theirs is as well. Our client normally expects us to be a budget watchdog and try to make sure that design remains compliant with the budget. As you can imagine, that can be stressful between ourselves and our design teams.

I've always found there's been a couple of keys to success in that area, and it starts at the very beginning. By that, I mean when we're brought into the team, most often, the designer's already there, and they're part of the team. We like to have a kickoff with our customers and ask our customers to just set the expectations that they have for both of our firms on how we'll work together.

I think the best way to answer this is a story I like to tell about a colleague. There's a gentleman that works for us here in our North Carolina team, Mark Collins, he's a Project Executive. I was at a dedication ceremony for a project with Duke University. It was interesting to have stood next to the designer and have them say to us, "I've never known a contractor to care as much about the building as we do."

That was all related to the work of Mark and his team and how they behaved from the earliest phases of planning to the final turnover. Mark never lost sight of the fact that he had a customer, but he’s also trying to help a designer achieve a vision that they had for their customer. He and his team went the extra mile in helping with all of the details that go into making the design as successful as the construction.

I'd like to talk about two things that are Skanska core values. Those are what we call at Skanska our "culture of transparency," and the second is our core value of what we call "care for life."

On the culture of transparency, probably the best example is with the subcontractors is the bidding process. One of the things that the subcontractors have to do is to submit a price for the work that they're bidding. One of the ways that you can build trust with a subcontractor is spending time and energy to evaluate their bid with them to make sure they have a complete scope. If you have a complete scope and price, that subcontractor has a far better chance of success. That is a trust-building activity, in my view.

On the care for life side, to build trust, we orient every subcontractor that comes to our site. The orientation they get is related to safety rules, the do's and don'ts of the site, and the required protection that they have to have every day. I think that shows an investment we have in their care and welfare, but that's more of a process.

Pamela Monastra: Let's talk a little bit about the individual. How do they actually play a role in building trust and construction?

Steve Stouthamer: I'll come back to my Mark Collins story. I think you're the way you behave, right? I'm using that term pretty broadly, but I mean it to say, how committed are you to the work at hand and to achieving the objectives of your customer and your design team? I just think Mark is always shown to be a great example for his colleagues. He's not only focused on his customers’ and designers’ needs, he's into the details with his subcontractors. He wants his whole team to be successful.

Because of that, he has this following. The subs want to work for him, and team members at Skanska want to be on this team. He earns trust through just the way he carries himself. As we like to say, we want the Mark Collins family tree to spread because those people that work for him today are going to be running our projects tomorrow. There's many examples of that already. That is the impact an individual can make in building trust.

Read Next: How Skanska Builds a Foundation of Trust and Transparency, Part 2

To learn more about how construction professionals think about trust and what you can do to elevate trust across your organization, download our report, “Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust”.


Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.