Trust Matters: The High Cost of Low Trust

“Trust is the new currency.”

That billboard was displayed at the 2019 World Economic Forum, where the importance – and challenge – of retaining trust dominated the agenda.

Trust has become a buzzword in the business world. But the concept of trust has always been central to the construction industry.

Clients in the private and public sectors make huge investments in building projects, having to trust that they’ll get the outcome they’re promised.

Every construction project involves a huge number of collaborators, from architects to quality surveyors. Each member of the ecosystem has to trust that work will be completed on time and to the standard required and that they will be rewarded fairly upon completion.

And finally, there are the end users of the building. Whether they’re working a shift, taking the train, or going to bed at night, members of the public need to trust that the infrastructure around them is safe.

Despite this, trust in construction has often been regarded as a very intangible quality, a secondary outcome of good projects – a “nice to have,” rather than an attribute that directly impacts performance.

This report examines the relationship between construction firms and trust, identifying the behaviors that create trust and measuring how levels of trust directly impact project outcomes and financial performance.

It will also explore how technology can create trust, by improving transparency, enhancing communication, and providing evidence of success.

In 2019, Autodesk partnered with FMI to survey over 2,500 construction professionals worldwide. Participants were asked to rank the level of trust within their own organization and between collaborators on projects. The study suggests that businesses and project teams can not only measure trust, but actively improve it. Construction firms can take proactive steps to build stronger relationships, deliver more certain outcomes and, ultimately, improve their profitability.

It’s no secret. The construction industry experiences waste and inefficiencies. In the US alone, missed schedules cost the industry an estimated $165 billion, or about 17% of the total multifamily, nonresidential building, and nonbuilding construction spending for 2019. Less often measured is the extent to which trust, or lack thereof, contributes to the waste and inefficiencies.

Nearly all construction professionals (93%) report a basic level (average or above) of trust within their organization. Yet, the percentage of organizations with very high levels of trust is notably less. 

Only 37% of construction professionals rate their organization as having high levels of trust. There are significant performance gaps between the highest trust and “above average” firms.

High trust firms are half as likely to encounter the problems that commonly arise if data isn’t shared fast enough – 18% say this rarely or never happens. Furthermore, high trust firms are twice as confident about meeting project schedules and budgets. Finally, we found that professionals at high trust firms are the most enthusiastic about taking on repeat work with collaborators across the construction ecosystem.