Leadership conversation - Time for a culture change?

3 min read

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  • News
  • ITA
  • Transformation
  • Leadership

Sean Tompkins, Global Chief Executive of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) shared his thoughts on fostering positive change in the construction industry at a recent ITA Leadership conversation.

Sean Tompkins heads up RICS, the world’s largest professional body covering land, real estate, construction and infrastructure. Since joining RICS, he has focused on its transformation from a traditional, trusted UK mark of professionalism built on high standards and ethics to one of international recognition, influence and thought leadership. He was recently visiting New Zealand and we took the opportunity to partner with the New Zealand office of RICS to host a ITA Leadership conversation.

Forty-five industry leaders attended the presentation where Sean led the conversation on the opportunities and challenges emerging which centred on lifting standards, ethics and professionalism in the building and construction industry in New Zealand.

Some key points from Sean’s presentation were:

Kindness and resilience – critical for the construction industry

New Zealanders have shown remarkable kindness and resilience over the years, particularly in relation to the Christchurch earthquakes and recent terror attack. The construction industry plays an important part in the physical manifestation of human values. Every touchpoint in the construction industry affects us – whether it’s the roads we use to get to work, the homes we live in, the offices we work in – it’s essential that we have high standards of ethics and professionalism at the heart of the transformation of the industry.

Urbanisation and significant growth rate

How do we deal with the 10 billion people living predominately in cities in 2050?  How do we manage the commensurate pressure on natural resources and energy consumption along with significantly impacting greenhouse emissions? We need to build cities for the future that reflect the needs of the planet and the human race.

Culture and alignment create success

Creating a culture where everyone understands why they are doing their job and why it matters is the key to aligning disparate people and teams; enabling them to deliver great outcomes and feeling rewarded for their part in the success. We need to work hard to create good ethics and great cultures in our industry to help us to transform the lives of people on our planet. This comes from understanding the common stake in what we are doing and feeling a personal sense of responsibility to drive success.

Professional standards benefit transformation

Standards are the foundation of professionalism. They provide consistency, transparency and certainty for all parties involved in a project – from builders to clients to councils to governments. RICS set standards covering conduct, technical details for how disciplines should work, and education. Despite the technological capabilities in the world, and the digital revolution upending industries, there is still a need for detail, experience and practical expertise.

Mitigating conflicts

A key area for improvement is better managing conflicts that will inevitably arise. Disputes on contracts can make up 15% of the cost of a project and result in significant delays. RICS has developed the Dispute Resolution Service – a panel of impartial subjects and experts focused on delivering quicker, cheaper and private solutions – which in turn save time, money and reputation.

Transformative change… the future and the importance of data

It won’t be long before a person can walk into a building with their phone and it will give them knowledge about that space – the air quality, the carbon dioxide levels, emissions. This will change the way we value our built environment. 

Data is an important way to support our knowledge and decision-making in construction.  There are some approaches that could be adopted in this area, including the International Construction Measurement Standards. Collecting and using data efficiently will positively impact decision making, innovation and cost reduction.

Securing industry talent – the significance of diversity

One of the biggest challenges to our sector is winning the talent war. To deal with the challenges the industry has, we need to get more diversity to increase innovation and challenging new thinking. We need to get diverse talent and create cultures that are inclusive in order to deliver exceptional projects in the future. Everyone is looking for talent that has good cognitive skills, can use data and analytics, and embrace technology. It’s up to industry leaders to champion society’s genders, orientations and races – including people at every level in the organisation.


It’s an exciting time for the construction industry with huge economic growth predicted, but we need to embrace transformative thinking to prepare us for the future. Our thought-provoking leadership conversations are here to spark new ways of thinking and we thank Sean for his valuable insights.

We received great feedback from the attendees at the breakfast, and will leave you with the question we left them…


What’s the one thing you can do differently starting from now?