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Top COVID-19 recovery questions construction business leaders should be asking

Jun 02, 2020

Construction companies have long been known for their true grit and determination to get things done. In the wake of the current pandemic, this true grit takes on a whole new meaning.

Right now the top priorities for most construction companies are to:

  • Assess backlog and determine the appropriate actions
  • Address project delays due to labor, material and other issues
  • Protect the health and well-being of employees
  • Closely monitor contract gross profits

These are the times when being laser-focused on strategy is vital for your business, not just to survive the crisis but also to thrive into the future.

Some of your existing strategies will boost your ability to assess and respond to new circumstances. And some won’t.

When things speed up as they do during times of sudden change, simply identifying where you are and what your team needs can be a challenge in itself. Successfully moving from “What in the world is happening right now?” to “Here’s how to shift our thinking and plans” can happen by asking the right questions — those that help you and your team discern the information, resources and strategies you need to stay nimble for sustainable and robust success.

These five questions can help you map your way through uncertain times.

1. How can your strategy evolve to new demands?

During a crisis, your strategic goals and timeline shift, possibly dramatically so. You might need to prioritize the needs of today, next week and next month rather than working toward goals for the next three months, 12 months or five years.

Things to consider:

  • What is the current state of your company and its response to the pandemic?
  • What opportunities may be available now due to the circumstances (e.g., workforce availability for laid off workers from other companies, merger opportunities, etc.)?
  • Who are your primary stakeholders (e.g., employees, sub-contractors, customers, financial institutions, surety’s etc.)?
  • What is the best-case scenario, worst-case scenario and most-likely scenario you anticipate for your company?
  • What are the critical few priorities to focus on right now? (How will your work processes, marketing, internal systems need to change?)
  • What actions should we take to address these priorities?

Without knowing how circumstances will change from day to day, week to week or even hour to hour, your strategic goals for the short term require more agility and bandwidth. These changes can also influence your long-term goals after the crisis passes. Therefore, you need to consider which roles and responsibilities create a foundation for addressing immediate and long-term goals.

2. Which teams will help you meet evolving priorities?

When you form a focus team during a crisis, you create a nucleus for analyzing the new landscape and considering how to respond efficiently and powerfully to rapidly evolving circumstances.

Start with a strong focus team leader. This person should have credibility both within and outside of your organization, as well as the authority to delegate tasks to other team members. Identify critical functions and be certain there is a backup plan should something occur to the people in those roles.

Next, assign a solid change manager, focused on sustaining the people side of operations, and a project manager to concentrate on the logistics of completing tasks. They’ll track and record both progress and obstacles. As with any major disruption, a feedback loop is vital. Recording how your company grows from the crisis and what you learned can help you evolve your strategy in real time. It should also inform your post-crisis business plans. And, when you’re no longer in crisis mode, documenting what worked — and what didn’t — gives you an updated crisis management strategy with real-world testing, to better serve your customers and employees during future crises.

Finish staffing your team with members who can focus on the following areas:

  • Finance: Are projects delayed or shut down? Are payments trickling in at a slower pace? How should your team address these changes?
  • IT: Does your tech team have the bandwidth and security for people to work remotely? How about for customers to reach you and access your products?
  • Communications: Who will coordinate your communications team to meet an increased need for messaging, both inward- and outward-facing?
  • Operations: How does this affect your project work flow? How will you keep your employees safe on the job? Where should resources be reassigned or reallocated?
  • Risk management: Will you be more vulnerable in certain areas? What can be done to shore up those spots?
  • Overhead: If you’re at a normal volume today, but your backlog has dropped significantly, what is your plan to decrease overhead to match your new volume to remain profitable?

3. Where do you need to allocate resources?

Freeing up your change- and project-management personnel, in addition to other critical roles, to swiftly respond to unfolding circumstances means shifting some — possibly all — of their day-to-day responsibilities. Consider who and what will help keep them nimble and focused. As leadership makes decisions on re-allocating resources, keep in mind that some roles can be focused on immediate need; others should concentrate on the long term.

4. How will you keep communications flowing?

Successfully navigating a crisis requires strategic goals and communications to evolve together. Communication is where your plans thrive — or wilt.

Communications that start with “why” offer the greatest impact. Centering the question “Why is this change is necessary?” helps each person understand how they contribute to getting through difficult times, what their role is in the overall strategy, and how changes in roles and responsibilities add up to success.

During times of drastic change, overcommunicating is crucial to uphold morale and motivation. The “Rule of 7” tells us people need to come across something seven times before it sticks. So plan for communication through multiple mediums, multiple times. This repetition can support deeper understanding.

You’ll also boost the power of your communications with a unified message. So be consistent. Ideally, messaging comes from the top down to middle management, which is likely employees’ first source of information. In addition to giving the communication credibility, this flow helps establish clear channels for feedback and questions.

5. What role can you play through corporate citizenry?

Any major disruption that affects your business likely also affects your community. This is the time to step up. Finding ways to create solutions for your community can look a lot like the solutions you’re building for your business.

  • How can you respond to changes in your environment?
  • Is there food insecurity for kids not going to school?
  • Housing shortages?
  • What kinds of support can you offer members of your community?

Stay in the game

In his book “The Infinite Game,” Simon Sinek proposes that leaders with an infinite mindset — one that sees no winners or losers, no clear endpoint — create more innovative, resilient organizations, ones where people trust each other and their leaders. These businesses tend to thrive in the midst of change and uncertainty.

Asking yourself some of these five questions can keep you focused on curiosity to help you continue to get better and better, to stay in the game.

It’s hard to stay calm and focused in a crisis.

In some states the construction industry is classified as an essential industry, this coupled with existing backlog, will hopefully help the industry hold up during these tough times. As we see the continuing industry job loss — 975,000 jobs on net in April according to Associated Builders and Contractors analysis of data released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics May 8 — we must be vigilant to do all we can to adjust our strategic focus and priorities quickly and accurately.

Need more help with COVID-19 issues?

We’re here to help you navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on your people, finances and business. We have developed a library of resources in our COVID-19 resource center to help you stabilize today and prepare for tomorrow. We also have solutions that can help you manage your people strategy, operations, business finances and technology. We’re here to help. Contact us today.

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Tina Nazier, MBA, CPC
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