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Justice Philip Jeyaretnam: Keynote Address delivered at the LEAD Milestone Programme - SMU-BCA AMP Programme

I. Introduction

1     While technology gives us new capabilities and makes our lives easier and more convenient as consumers, it has also helped drive the increasing specialisation of skills and compartmentalisation of knowledge. To be an expert today means to know more and more about less and less. This increased specialisation is true of construction as well. The number of trades, sub-trades, disciplines and sub-disciplines required to successfully complete a large project has mushroomed over the past few decades.

2     Increased complexity arising from, among other things, technological advances is one of the challenges for responsible leadership in current times. Two other contemporary challenges are important for leaders to appreciate and respond to. One is the challenge of sustainability in the Anthropecene, our current geological age when human activity has become the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Manmade climate change is one aspect of this challenge, but there are other aspects, such as adverse effects on biodiversity. The second is the challenge posed by atavism in human nature, harking back to past identities and glories. At its extreme, this drives aggression on the part of some groups against others, as with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The resurgence over the past decade of such atavistic urges has upended the assumption of an end of history and the dreamed of utopia when it was hoped that relations between societies and among humans generally would be conducted on the basis of rational collective and self-interest. To take one example, this assumption underpinned just-in-time deliveries across global supply chains. Its upending has led to frantic attempts to restore resilience and redundancy to supply chains.

3     Collaboration is an answer to these challenges and should be the watchword of all

responsible leaders. Irresponsible leaders prey on fears, resentments and grievances, manipulating and magnifying them to their own advantage. But responsible leaders take a different path.

4     In this short address, I will first outline the increased complexity inherent in project management, before describing the way in which collaborative contracting can improve project delivery. Finally, I turn to the theme of responsible leadership in the context of the building and construction industry. I will discuss this theme by reference to three qualities: collaboration, inclusion and purpose.

II. Complexity in project management

5     Large building projects have always depended on planning and organisation. Cleardelineation of roles and responsibilities promotes efficiency and accountability. I will take as my example the construction of the tallest functional buildings in existence prior to the use of structural steel in the nineteenth century. I am referring to the monumental cathedrals built in northern Europe from the late twelfth century onwards. Their design was inspired by the religion of their builders, in particular in the way their soaring height and windowed light seemed to render the divine visible. Strong grasp of mathematics, including advances made by Arab mathematicians, was essential. But at a practical level it was good planning, clear instructions and division of labour into specialties that enabled master masons to build these transcendental cathedrals. Unlike other impressive stone structures such as Angkor Wat whose relief and tracery was carved in-situ, stone for these cathedrals was shaped and carved by masons first on the ground and then fitted into place. Doing it this way was more efficient but required a greater degree of planning and organisation. Shop drawings were etched on plasterlaid tracing floors for the instruction and direction of the masons working under the master. A new layer of plaster would be laid when there were fresh details to be traced, worked out and explained.

6    Today, the tasks of design, planning, coordination and instruction are all aided by
computer programs. These programs effectively extend the capacity and improve the efficiency of the human mind. Without them, the construction of complex buildings would be nigh on impossible, and would certainly take far longer than they do today. The number of trades and disciplines that have to be coordinated is also far greater than it was in the twelfth century, with numerous internal networks required for any building to meet the electrical, ventilation, sanitation and communication needs of its occupants and users.

7     Each of the steps involved in a modern building project, such as design, planning,
seeking approvals, procurement, construction, commissioning, handover and maintenance, subdivides into a myriad tasks that have to be carried out by different people in coordination with each other. Health and safety obligations must be met. Sustainability requirements must be fulfilled. It is a wonder and a marvel that we build so much and so quickly.

8     Traditional methods of contracting seek to define and demarcate in advance the
responsibilities of each participant, with a concomitant allocation of risk. There is little or no incentive to do additional or different things within one’s own sphere of responsibility that serve only to aid or assist the work of another in their separate sphere of responsibility. In addition to lateral divisions of responsibility, there are temporal ones too, with the design phase separated from the construction phase, and little or no opportunity for the contractor to influence the buildability of the project during the design phase. If a concern about the design arises during the construction phase, the contractor is typically not rewarded if he finds a practical solution for the owner.

9     The challenge increased complexity has posed to traditional methods of contracting for project delivery has led to the rise of collaborative contracting. I now turn to that.

III. Collaborative contracting

10     As the name suggests, collaborative contracting is about putting in place a contractual framework that fosters teamwork, open communication and mutual trust among owner, designer, contractor and other stakeholders to achieve project goals. The aim is a working environment that prioritises problem solving over fault finding.

11     Optional Module E to the Public Sector Standard Conditions of Contract was
introduced by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) in 2020. This module aims to reduce cost, minimise variations and expedite completion by encouraging teamwork and cooperation among stakeholders. Early sharing of information and open communication are intended to facilitate the early identification of risks as well as prompt solving of problems that occur during construction. Moreover, with the Singapore Infrastructure Dispute-Management Protocol (SIDP) processes are put in place to help avoid full-blown disputes and encourage early dispute resolution. The SIDP provides for the empanelling of a dispute board that deals with disputes on an interim basis during the course of construction.

12     Clause E2.0 of Module E obliges parties “to use their best endeavours to work together in a collaborative environment and act in a spirit of mutual trust and cooperation”. To this end, key officers, including key officers of subcontractors, must participate in “Partnering Workshops”.

13     An example of collaborative contracting in the Singapore context is the Punggol Digital District. My understanding is that the early involvement of the dispute board has been considered effective by project participants.

14     There is a further step that can be taken in relation to what might be called collaborative dispute resolution. This is the appointment at the time of contracting of a person who does not themselves act as mediator, member of a dispute resolution board, evaluator or arbitrator, but instead assesses disputes as they arise and channels parties to what in his or her assessment is the most appropriate mode of dispute resolution for that dispute, be it mediation, neutral evaluation, interim adjudication, arbitration or litigation. In the context of construction projects, such a person could channel bilateral disputes to an arbitrator, while funnelling multiparty disputes to a court that readily accommodates such multiparty disputes such as the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC). It can be difficult to establish and manage multiparty
disputes in arbitration.

15     Where international construction projects are concerned, the SICC maintains the
Technology, Infrastructure and Construction List (TIC List) for the trial of technically complex issues and questions, including construction and engineering disputes How cases are tried once placed on the TIC List as well as the opportunities for mediation or neutral evaluation, makes it a good fit for projects involving collaborative contracting.

IV. Responsible Leadership

16     Against the backdrop of a new focus on collaborative contracting, I now turn to the
theme of responsible leadership for organisations within the building and construction industry. I address this theme in terms of three qualities, namely collaboration, inclusion and purpose.

17     Collaboration goes beyond collaborative contracting on projects. It extends to how organisations operate internally and how they forge partnerships externally.

18     When leaders work together with their colleagues, partners, and stakeholders, they can achieve much more than they would by working alone. Collaboration helps leaders leverage the unique skills, perspectives, and resources of others to tackle complex challenges, find creative solutions, and achieve shared goals.

19     Responsible leaders understand the importance of collaboration and actively seek out opportunities to work with others. They listen to the opinions of others, respect diverse viewpoints, and encourage open and honest communication. By creating a collaborative environment, leaders build trust and foster positive relationships, which leads to increased collaboration and teamwork in the future.

20     Collaboration also helps responsible leaders make informed decisions. By drawing on everyone’s knowledge and expertise, leaders can make well-informed decisions that benefit the organisation. Additionally, collaboration helps to spread responsibility and accountability, so that everyone feels invested in the outcome and can contribute to the success of the project.

21     Moreover, collaboration fosters innovation and growth. When leaders work together, they are exposed to new ideas and approaches, which can inspire them to think creatively. This can lead to increased innovation and growth, as well as greater efficiency and effectiveness in the workplace.

22     Collaboration extends beyond the company. There are many opportunities for
collaboration that strengthen businesses, of which I give three examples:

(a) Participation in industry initiatives and dialogues, such as those organised and
facilitated by BCA in relation to the drawing up of Industry Transformation Maps.

(b) Participation in industry associations, especially with a view to sharing
knowledge and finding common solutions to recurring problems.
(c) Participation in thought leadership, including research into current concerns. Of
course, your attendance on this course is testimony to your own organisations’
commitment to such thought leadership.

23     It follows from what I have said that responsible leaders should seriously consider
collaborative contracting for large-scale complex construction projects.

24     I turn to the second quality. Inclusion is an essential aspect of responsible leadership. As leaders, it is crucial to create an environment where everyone feels valued, respected, and heard, regardless of their background, identity, or beliefs. Inclusion fosters a sense of belonging and enhances the diversity of perspectives and ideas, leading to improved decision-making and better outcomes.

25     When leaders create an inclusive workplace, they tap into the full potential of their team by leveraging the unique skills, experiences, and perspectives of each individual. This leads to increased creativity, productivity, and innovation.

26     Inclusion also helps to build stronger, more resilient organisations. By creating a culture of respect and acceptance, responsible leaders reduce conflict, promote collaboration, and encourage open communication. This leads to increased trust and teamwork.

27     Moreover, inclusion is a key factor in employee engagement and retention. When
employees feel included and valued, they are more likely to be motivated, committed, and satisfied with their work. This, in turn, leads to increased productivity and a positive
organisational culture.

28     There is no “one size fits all” for inclusion. How people feel accepted and valued
depends in part on culture, and differs over time and place. Multinationals which operate in multiple countries face this issue all the time. For example, some cultures are more outspoken and others are more reticent. In some cultures, one might only feel accepted if one can speak openly, even loudly, about oneself, including racial or gendered experiences, and sexual orientation. In other cultures, one might feel accepted where personal and private differences are metaphorically left at the door, and the focus at work is just work. Thus, the practice of inclusion necessarily requires cultural sensitivity and tact.

29     The final quality that I wish to speak about is purpose. Purpose is a critical component of responsible leadership. When leaders have a clear sense of purpose, they are more effective in their roles and better equipped to make decisions that align with their values and priorities. This, in turn, helps leaders to lead with authenticity, integrity, and a strong sense of direction.

30     Purpose also helps responsible leaders to motivate and inspire their teams. When
leaders communicate their vision and values, they create a shared understanding of what the organisation is working towards, which can help to build unity and cohesion among employees. This, in turn, leads to increased engagement, motivation, and performance.

31     Moreover, having a clear sense of purpose helps responsible leaders navigate
uncertainty and make tough decisions. When leaders have a clear understanding of what they stand for and what they are striving to achieve, they are better equipped to make decisions that are in line with their values and priorities, even in challenging circumstances.

32     Responsible leaders also understand that having purpose extends beyond the boundaries of their organisation. They recognise the impact their actions have on the wider world and strive to make a positive impact in their communities and the environment. The building and construction industry has a special responsibility to minimise environmental impact and achieve sustainability, with full consideration of the complete life cycle of buildings. Being clear about this responsibility and how the organisation meets it not only inspires employees but resonates with clients, customers and broader society.

33     This brings me back to one of the key building blocks for success. We live in a capitalist society and indeed a capitalist world. It is often said that the profit motive or desire for material gain is the driver for economic growth. But when we consider individual careers, especially in the professions, it is people who focus on doing their jobs well, serving clients better or deepening their social impact who succeed. In order to do their jobs well or serve clients better, they must have a strong sense of the purpose and meaning of their work – how their work has a positive impact on the world. Money and other material rewards are a by-product rather than the aim. The same thing applies to organisations. This is why developing and articulating a corporate mission and an organisational purpose is so central to the success of businesses.

V. Conclusion

34     Current times are challenging indeed for the construction industry. It is not enough to build quickly and profitably. It is necessary to do so safely and sustainably. Technology
continues to advance at a quickening pace. We are on the cusp of significant deployment of artificial intelligence, both embedded within construction machinery and within buildings being constructed. Technological advances bring many benefits but add to complexity, increasing the overload on individual human capacity. For these reasons and more, the importance of responsible leadership is heightened and accentuated.

Topic: Speech 


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