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Excellent contractor performance in the UK construction industry

Dave C.A. Butcher (Mott MacDonald, Cambridge, UK)
Michael J. Sheehan (Business School, University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, UK)

Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management

ISSN: 0969-9988

Article publication date: 12 January 2010




Within the UK construction industry, achieving compliance with output key performance indicators (KPIs) no longer represents excellent performance. Rather, such compliance tends to be viewed as the minimum performance requirement on construction programmes. Within that paradigm shift, what needs to be understand is the customer's perspective of excellent performance. The purpose of this paper is to address these issues.


Drawing from semi‐structured interviews with some of the largest construction customers in the UK, this paper develops an understanding of the customer's perspective of excellent first‐tier contractor performance on a programme of construction projects.


From the customer's perspective, a number of key behaviours determine excellent contractor performance. These include: being open about their business strengths and weaknesses against their peer group; challenging and improving themselves without the need for prompting; demonstrably adding value; really listening and acting upon the messages being transmitted by the customer; demonstrating desire to learn and share learning as part of a community; delighting the customer's stakeholders and customers; consistency of message from employees at all levels; keeping business promises; aligning with the customer's culture; transferring individual knowledge to the collective; and demonstrating a keen understanding of the customer's business. This behavioural understanding has led to a shift in the way customers are interacting with their first‐tier contractors. Many of the performance facets mentioned are input or “lead” factors; or are about attitude and behaviour rather than pure construction competence. By managing at this level as opposed to the output KPI level, customers are to a varying extent influencing the way in which their contractors develop as businesses.

Practical implications

The findings have implications for contractors and customers undertaking, or procuring, a large programme of construction projects so that expectations are met.


Following the advice of this paper will lead to innovative relationships between customers and contractors.



Butcher, D.C.A. and Sheehan, M.J. (2010), "Excellent contractor performance in the UK construction industry", Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, Vol. 17 No. 1, pp. 35-45.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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