I’ve been ringing the “fire bell” constantly since this COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March, and I’m getting tired of hearing my own cautionary tale. This week, I’m making the assumption that construction professionals, now alerted, have taken necessary precautions to survive until this is over.
Industries evolve slowly except during market cycles when they often transform more noticeably. When this serious market interruption is over our industry will be subtly different. The competitive “balance” will be revised, some competitors will be financially weakened and other may disappear. The viewpoints of our customers are often amended by their experiences during a cycle, and the attitudes of the labor force and unions shifts during a difficult downturn and strenuous recovery. Some buyers of construction services will experience a sever reduction in their construction needs, others will encounter cutbacks in their funding sources, and still other will see an acceleration in their construction requirements. The list goes on.
Now is the time to look down the road beyond the pandemic and ask yourself what you want your company to look like as you prepare to service a new construction marketplace? It is time for thoughtful construction professionals to plan beyond COVID-19 and not wait till after the crisis has abated to design your company’s post-pandemic response. The changes may be subtle but it is best to adjust to them because failure to react will cost you time, effort and money later.
The Core Strategic Question
The post-pandemic strategic planning process begins with the primary question, “What would you like your company to look like as you prepare to service a new post-pandemic construction marketplace?” There is more than one way to frame the core strategic question, but each good strategy starts with a clear core question. Each of you will have a slightly, or perhaps dramatically, different core question but your vision of the future will flow from the answer. In business academic language, the vision that emerges is your strategic objective. Time spent with your team framing this core question will bring the future of your company into focus.
The Top 10 Strategic Elements
When creating a business plan for a world beyond COVID-19, you can start with the following strategic questions, then add your own.
- What will your competitive environment look like and how will that new landscape effect your company going forward?
- What will the skilled labor pool look like?
- Will you need an in-house training program?
- What will your role look like during the next economic recovery phase?
- Are your key personnel trained to guide a new post-pandemic organization?
- Will you need additional financing to fund the growth of the recovery?
- Are you prepared to acquire and utilize the most up-to-date construction technologies?
- Is your bank aware of your plans and prepared to work with you going forward?
- What is your surety’s appetite for risk? Will they back your plans in this new market?
- Who will take over if you are not there?
“Before the battle is joined, plans are everything; after the battle is joined, plans are worthless.” (General Eisenhower just before launching the Normandy invasion).
Keep these questions and more in mind as you look down the road beyond the pandemic. Managing the day-to-day business around daily obstacles is tactical thinking that is best handled by competent middle managers, the captains and majors in your organization. Thinking beyond the current environment by setting goals and plotting a course to attain those goals is the strategic thinking reserved for the colonels and generals in consultation with the key members of the team. All successful military campaigns were won by the efficient tactical execution of a great strategic plan.
Thinking long-range while everyone around you is stamping out daily fires during the current market contraction will be a difficult thing to do, but it’s the hallmark of a successful construction professional to look beyond the day-to-day and guide their company into the future. It is, in fact, the essence of great leadership.
Because the construction business, like a military campaign, is conducted in a fluid environment, if you attend to tactics alone while conducting business without a well thought out strategic plan, you will be trapped responding to daily variables, and your business will look like the random bounce of the steel ball in a pinball machine. It can be dizzying to watch.
For the past five months we have confined ourselves to stamping out the daily fires of a major market contraction. Now it is time to plan beyond the crisis. For the next four weeks, we will go through a refresher course on the structural thinking required to create a winning long-term strategy.