How Mace rallies staff around innovation
Having invested £325m in R&D over the last five years, the construction giant is launching an initiative to fund ideas that come straight from its employees.
The Ambition Fund, part of Mace’s revamped innovation strategy, will put £1m or more per year towards trialling, testing and accelerating the adoption of new products.
“The fund is really about… [allowing] people to ideate and to be a bit more creative – to catalyse ideas,” says Matt Gough, innovation director at Mace.
At first, only internal teams will be able to bid for funding, but the company expects to open it up to supply chain partners next year.
Having recently delivered Expo 2020 Dubai, a pandemic-delayed six month extravaganza that made sustainability and innovation a major theme, Mace is placing itself at the forefront of
The problem the company – along with the rest of the industry – faces is that tools to fight problems like climate change are, in a way, stuck in limbo.
Gough says: “While many of the solutions might be either in-hand already or in the lab and ready to come out into the private sector domain, their deployment is nowhere near where it needs to be.
“If it was, then the built environment wouldn’t be responsible for 40% of all carbon emissions.”
A key part of the Ambition Fund, which kicks off in the third quarter of the year, is to bridge that gap: to fund proper testing of new ideas and take them from a concept to something that the business can use in its everyday activities.
What is Mace looking for?
Having invested about 2.5% of its revenue in R&D in recent years, Mace aims to reach 3.5% by 2026. Annual R&D spend topped £60m in 2021 and is expected to grow to more than £100m by the middle of the decade.
However, total investment will depend on whether the company stays on track with its revenue projections. In 2020, it reported £1.7bn in turnover – £300m below its target “in the face of exceptional challenge” during the pandemic, according to CEO Mark Reynolds. By 2026, Mace expects to nearly double its annual revenue to £3bn.
Recent innovation investments include putting £9m towards a ‘jump factory’, a self-contained factory on a building site that helps speed up the construction process. At one site in London’s Olympic Park, for example, Mace delivered 36 storeys in 18 weeks.
Broadly, Mace’s innovation strategy supports ideas that fall into three categories:
- Net zero carbon: this includes backing more sustainable materials, battery storage and on-site energy sources such as hydrogen
- Construction to production: automating construction through prefabrication, standardised processes and digital tools to track every moving part
- Digital and data: better use of live data and analytics to improve operations
But beyond identifying those broad themes, Gough says he wouldn’t want to prejudge what the Ambition Fund could produce.
Doing so would defeat the point of an in-house accelerator. What Mace wants to do is tap into ideas that come from its employees’ day-to-day experience. “They’ve got insight that I would never get sitting in Mace HQ or someone else is never going to get sitting in Peru,” says Gough.
“I’m not close enough to the problem statements that the 7,000 people at Mace are.”
‘A certain type of person’
Gough trusts that the process will work because “we employ a certain type of person at Mace”. Those people, he says, are aligned to the company’s ambition. “So, we hope that they would have ideas and be able to problem solve and think around a problem, to challenge the norm.”
With that kind of belief in its people, Gough says Mace should provide a place for innovation to thrive. “If they could improve their job on a day-to-day basis, then there shouldn’t be anything stopping them,” he says. “If they can make themselves happier, or their clients happier, then we support them to do that.”
He also recognises the wider context. Regardless of its size, Mace is just one business in an industry that has a huge role to play in combatting emissions.
That’s part of the reason the company released and publicised its innovation strategy in a way it didn’t back in 2017 with its previous strategy.
Gough says: “I think we’re much more mature and essentially saying, ‘Give it away’. We’d love people to copy it.
“If it helps us to address the climate emergency and to move the sector forward a bit faster, then brilliant!”