Four Actions Business Leaders Should Take as 2020 Ends


By Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute

2020 has been… INTERESTING. Our normal flows and work practices have been disrupted in ways none of us could have foreseen, and reacting to all these new mandates and challenges has put us on our heels. Not only have we had to deal with unrelenting change, but the torrid pace of all the changes has put us off our natural business rhythms. Given that 2020 has been unprecedentedly tumultuous, what should you as CEOs and construction leaders be focusing on right now?

First, your focus should return to your long-term vision. I visited a peer group meeting earlier this year and, even though I was only there for an afternoon, it was crystal clear that the leader didn't have a vision for where either he or his company was going. You could just feel the distress in that company as you read employee survey responses and listened to their stories. As a result of the lack of a common, compelling vision – the absence of a clear direction - people were floundering in their jobs, and morale was poor.

Your long-term vision sets that direction for your people. What does success look like for your company? Do you communicate those success mileposts? What are the benchmarks? How will employees know if they're being successful individually? What are the goals they need to be stretching to achieve? You've got to communicate your vision ad nauseam; you just can't talk about it too much!

Second, work on your culture. I probably shouldn't relate this story, but here goes. We have built what we think is a nice culture at The Family Business Institute, and we talk about it quite a bit in hiring and onboarding new people. However, until 2019, we had never actually defined it! We had never put a concrete description of our culture into words. Now that we have, it's more real and tangible than ever before. Here's a real-life example of how we used these two nebulous things, vision and culture, to make a business decision. In mid-2020, I had to stop an initiative because it wasn't consistent with our culture; it literally ran afoul of one of the lines in our values statement. It was a difficult decision, and it caused some upset on the team, but in hindsight it was the right thing to do, and it allowed us to take these intangible, amorphous things called vision and culture and bring them into the forefront where we used them to make a tangible decision.

Third, you should be managing your four varieties of critical relationships with these four actions:

  1. Manage employee relationships. You don't want to lose top employees right now, and you want to be able to recruit new, high-quality ones as well. Your employees are your number one stakeholders.

  2. Focus on your customers. Your best customers are being sought after from so many directions; make sure you keep those relationships strong.

  3. Stay tight with finance. This group includes people like banking and bonding. Make sure those relationships are sound especially as you look towards a somewhat softer economy in 2021.  
  4. Stay close to partners. If you're a trade contractor, stay close to your GC partners. If you're a GC, stay close to trade partners. Your upstream and downstream partners are important to you for obvious reasons.

It's harder to maintain relationships now because there are more restrictions resulting in less face-to-face communication. You might rely on that old weapon the telephone. People are so dependent now on texts and emails to do their communicating that they’ve forgotten the telephone can be quite a valuable tool in sharing care and warmth with other people.

Finally, CEOs need to manage their talent. In construction, it's ultimately about the people who sell work, execute work, and build relationships. Build up your future leaders; invest in some personal and professional training for them, and it will pay big dividends. Even if you don't have a job opening right now, if you have the chance to get a super performer on board, do it! If you were the owner of a football or baseball team, and you had a chance to get your hands on a budding superstar at quarterback or first base, you’d draft them immediately! Talent is just as valuable in construction; take any opportunity to add to your talent pool — all the while paying attention to your culture and vision, of course.

Next time, we’ll talk about for four things CEOs should NOT be doing as 2020 winds down.