Change is in the air

What a difference a year makes!  Last year at this time, the economy was humming along and construction activity was brisk.

The biggest concern most of us were facing was how to deal with rapidly escalating steel prices.

A year later, the economy is in a funk, construction activity is in the doldrums, and steel prices have dropped faster than the stock market, which dropped pretty darn fast itself.

In times of rapid change, it’s important to keep up with the change going on around you, otherwise you can risk being swept up and affected in a manner that you hadn’t anticipated.

Most of us get comfortable operating our businesses in a certain way.  We like the certainty that comes with finding something that works and then sticking to it.  We like who we work with, we grow to like our suppliers, but we also run the risk of becoming complacent.

Then something happens and change is suddenly thrust upon us. Business isn’t as easy to come by as it once was.  We lose a key employee, a supplier falls down on their performance, or maybe you just have a really bad outcome on a project that caught you by surprise. The point is, change is being thrust on all of us every day of our lives.

Organizations and individuals that are highly adaptive to change, in fact relish change, position themselves to manage change going on around them, rather than being managed by the change.  Organizations and individuals that resist change, or try to ignore the change,  put themselves at great risk of being controlled by forces around them.

You don’t want to be in the latter group.  Although ignoring the change going on around you may allow you to operate for a period of time in a comfort zone that you like, over the longer haul you will eventually be forced to deal with the situation you’ve been ignoring.  Unfortunately, it’s often the case that the longer you wait, the tougher it is to respond in a manner that has as good an outcome as you could have had if you had reacted quicker.

The construction market we’re all facing is not likely to bounce back overnight.  Buyers are likely to continue to be slow to pull the trigger.

You’re going to continue to find new competitors popping up around you.  And who knows, some of your suppliers may fall by the wayside.

Are you managing the change going on around you today, or are you being managed by the change? Managing the change means you’re reacting to the new landscape and making decisions to operate in a manner different than you were operating just a few short months ago.  Being managed by the change means you’ve been slow to react, you’re shying away from some difficult decisions, or you’re just ignoring the situation and hope things get better soon.

Given the magnitude of the change going on in the construction market today, you’re putting yourself and your company at great risk if you’re reacting slower to the change than you know you should.

If you’re one of those folks that relish change, and react quickly to it, you’ve probably already taken most of the steps you need in order to operate successfully in this challenging environment.

If you’re in the latter group, give yourself a pat on the back, because nobody else probably will. After all, you’ve had to make some difficult decisions that probably haven’t been very popular.

If you’re in the former group, let’s hope it’s not too late to react. You’ll probably need to take more drastic action now than you would have had you reacted earlier to the downturn.  But there’s still time to react!

Devise a plan now to weather the storm, and then put that plan into action. n

John Hill, Lester Buildings, is chair of the NFBA board of directors.

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