Driving Change

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By Chad Clinehens

We live in a world of change, especially now. COVID-19 forced all of us into a dramatic state of change, almost overnight, and may have pushed a fragile economy over the cliff. Three months and counting and much of our staff are still working from home. Just when we thought things were going to open back up, some areas are re-instating restrictions because of surges in cases. Airports and hotels are empty, car sales are dead, and restaurants are closing up for good. We all seem to be living day-by-day, not know what the next month looks like. Fortunately, the overall picture for the AEC space looks far better than it does for hospitality, entertainment, and dining. This does not mean, however, we can relax. On the contrary, it’s apparent that if there was ever a time to reevaluate what you’re doing, it’s right now. Everything is different. It’s getting ugly, and it will probably get uglier as COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. Here are some of the things you can do to stay strong in a time of crisis:

Tune up financial reporting and forecasting systems— In a time of crisis, you need to be able to get up-to-the-minute information that shows where the bleeding is so you can act quickly. Acting quickly on old information can waste a lot of money. Meet with your leadership team more often, so you can make real-time decisions. Leadership and management in a time of crisis is put to the ultimate test. I think we can all agree that this is the greatest test of our careers.

Take a hard look at the markets you serve—I suspect airports will still be a good market, but there will be much less air-side work (runways, taxiways, etc.) in the short-term and much more on the land side (terminals, baggage handling, security) because of COVID-19’s changes to how we move people to and from the planes. There will have to be more roadway work, especially if air travel is greatly reduced, and this could be greatly enhanced with a stimulus bill. Currently, there are historic demands for RVs which is indicative of a shift in travel and vacation habits. Could it be we return back to an era of nostalgia that where road trips, outdoor motor lodges, and roadside dairyettes return as the norm? Now is the time to get out of this day-to-day survival mode and look ahead as to how a longer-term COVID-19 world affects design and construction in the markets you serve.

Evolve your marketing messaging—This is not time for the standard boilerplate language you’ve been using for years, or even decades. Now is the time for new and current language that reflects this extraordinary world that everyone is living in. Unlike previous recessions that hit certain sectors far worse than others, COVID-19 is something that is affecting everyone in some form or another. Consider your altering your messaging to serve a greater purpose and to bring empathy to the conversation. There is a lot going on for your clients and now is the time you can develop the best relationships your firm has ever known.

Clients change, markets change, economies change, service offerings change—change is certain, especially in this time of COVID. Driving this change effectively is something that every firm leader must learn to do to enable their firms to sustain their success in the ever-uncertain future. Now is not the time to be along for the ride! Consider both the temporary and permanent change your business needs to embrace – from the marketing message, to the market demand, to the project design, to the metrics – your firm must identify the issues that threaten it and how best to evolve to conquer them. We’ve likely got a rough road ahead, but with aggressive management, willingness to change, and a resilient spirit, we will weather this major storm and come out stronger than ever.


Chad Clinehens, P.E., is Zweig Group’s president and CEO. Contact him at cclinehens@zweiggroup.com.

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