How many of you when you are flipping through the channels will re-watch a movie you have seen 5 or 10 times? All of us. The Godfather. Shawshank Redemption. Rocky. The Departed. Jurassic Park. Titanic. My weakness is Gladiator. I’ve watched that probably 10 times. You know what is going to happen. You know the lines. You enjoy it from its familiarity, not the surprise or shock of something new.
Well, that is exactly the situation our industry finds ourselves in again. One of two movies is going to play for you, beginning later in 2020 and probably goes though 2021. And it won’t be on Netflix.These movies represent the economics of our construction marketplace.
And if you have been at this for any length of time, you have seen them both at least 2-3 times and maybe four if you have some gray hairs.
The first movie, most recently re-released in 2008 is rated five stars. Lets call it “Desperately Shoveling Cash”. The plot is massive infusions of federal infrastructure dollars to put America to work. Infrastructure is the dependable, proven and fastest way to put people to work. From the Great Depression to the Financial Crisis, government turns to us to generate economic firepower. If we watch this movie, there is some cheering, fist bumping, the good guys win and in the end it bridges the gap to the other side of the recessionary period. If this is happening for us, this will be decided in 2020, and more likely in the next 60-90 days.
The other movie is a one star low budget horror flick. Let’s call it “Slashers at the Jobsite”. In this one the feds cannot or will not agree on solutions prior to the election and the states are on their own. So that starts with a slashing of sources of funding for the entire market.
Except for the bi-polar stock market the economic indicators says the sky is kinda falling. And if not now, pretty damn soon. Public entities are already getting nervous with tax revenues in steep decline and their capital budgets looking ripe for reassignment. Private construction owners looking ahead probably need Xanax. Industrial expenditures more or less on hold. Building offices in the Zoom world? Maybe later. And finally, uncertainty on the V recovery, U recovery, or the Nike Swoosh recovery. Ok. So, what to do? Watch that crappy movie. Again. Let’s check out your viewing history:
- U.S. Recessions Impacting our Industry
Unless you are among the many new apprentices** or college graduate PMs who have never seen a hard down market cycle before (welcome to the real world, sons and daughters), the downturn movie is mostly the same. And that familiarity should be an asset-you know the plot.
So, before we grind through it again, 2020 is a time to time to sit down with your management team and ask the key questions that everyone needs to prior to a market cycle change:
- What did we learn from watching and living the last versions of the movie? Let us remind ourselves this is not new and market cycles are normal in our business.
- What is our operational edge that we need to focus on right now?
- What market pivots would be smart to make now that will pay off later?
- What are the discretionary vs essential investments we need to make in people, programs, technology, training or equipment to get to the other side?
- What sacred cows, processes, legacy BS, B-C Players or other barriers need to be eliminated because a good shock to the system is a fine time to enact change?
- What sacrifices, economies or leaning out can and should we do to roll through market instability? Where is the maximum ROI?
I have seen both of these market trends and as an organizational leader it doesn’t freak me out or leave me wondering what to do. I always have tried to think and act in “what is most important NOW” mode as much as possible so when the situation hits the fan, my organization is not facing conflicting resource priorities. Disciplined ROI is the name of the game: to improve operational or economic outcomes for your companies.
So, the show is about to start. The coming attractions look mixed. Settle back with your popcorn and take a breath. 2020 will likely be a decent year based on back logs and current market momentum. But the path ahead is quite clearly one requiring additional forethought and vision. I can tell you that the theatre is packed (social distance doesn’t apply here) as we ride it out together. And for the questions of ROI, though we cannot guarantee a happy-ever-after ending to the movie ahead, you are going to want your team aligned in the seats behind you watching your back.
** Note: every apprentice, PM or other employee who started work for you in the last 10 years has never seen a downturn. In fact they have been employed in a period of unprecedented opportunity. The ability to manage expectations, emotions and compensation will be another management challenge in 2020 and beyond)
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