• Barbara Treat

Leading the Way: A Primer for CEOs, Key Management and Boards

Updated: Aug 23, 2020

Changing times are here, and there are fundamental shifts occurring in the way we live, in the way we work, and in what will be required of all of us in this altered new world. These dynamic changes are inevitably flowing through all aspects of our physical infrastructure requirements as well.

Change was coming to the infrastructure world anyway – but its course will be modified and greatly accelerated by current events, including the pandemic, that are now reshaping the world. We in the infrastructure business must try to understand the implications of these changes on our respective businesses and adjust course, sometimes dramatically, to understand and adapt to the “new world reality” as some call it. What types of infrastructure will be needed in this new world, and how will those new requirements impact on our businesses? That is a paramount question that we must position to answer, as best we can, realizing that no matter what plans we develop, the future will almost certainly still surprise and will likely differ from anything we can imagine. So, we must be prepared to adjust course constantly. Planning, strategizing, adapting, improving, and understanding data collected from all sources will be an important part of our task.

Rapid changes will occur in many areas of infrastructure with major ones in energy, transportation, cities, how and where we work, environment and technology -- and these will create opportunity as well as financial and other uncertainties for projects. We can expect major changes in what infrastructure requirements will be, how they are developed, financed, owned, designed, material-and-supply sourced, constructed, operated, and maintained. And from the owners’ standpoint, uncertainty around any project’s “useful life” will add unpredictability with more frequent changes in requirements for usage compounded by the enhanced threat of technological obsolescence and associated financial return uncertainty around both.

There will be new technologies and entrants into the infrastructure sectors. All of the individual participants in the infrastructure business chain -- including developers, owners, regulators, lawyers, financiers, architects, engineers, constructors, material and equipment suppliers, and supporting entities of all types -- will be undergoing their own unique changes in this new world. There will be new entrants and numerous mergers and business failures as all of this unfolds in the not-too-distant future. This is happening already, right before our eyes, so we must get with it. It is likely that many of these entrants will be from the high-tech space as the techniques and technologies developed in other industries are transferred to the less efficient infrastructure segments of business such as construction. Expect that more Fin-Tech, Construction-Tech, Supply-Chain-Tech, Cloud-Tech, and Manufacturing-Tech will completely transform the infrastructure business as we know it now.

Expect a shift in the types of personnel and skills that will be needed. In this changing environment, personnel changes and needs will be enormous for talent-sourcing, both educationally and professionally. Responsive and sensitized management needs to provide support for all this personnel-sourcing change -- by adapting both the organization and themselves to meet this new world reality. Tech companies have recognized the importance of their human capital for a long time. Infrastructure and construction are just confronting this cultural change now.

The political and regulatory environment must adapt to support this world of change. Hopefully, the political system and its inherent drag on progress will not derail things too much as many regulatory and legal changes will be needed as change is implemented in the infrastructure sectors. If we harbor expectations that this revolution can take place efficiently, facilitating changes must also come to the political systems: local, state, and federal.

Changing customer requirements represent another challenge. There is a pressing strategic need now to understand the evolving markets. This includes understanding evolving customer requirements and interrelations with the customer base, leading to a mutual understanding of future requirements. Companies will need to reassess the personnel requirements and techniques for understanding and relating to customer concerns and worries, and this may require a completely new set of personnel skills. Companies will need to revisit the opportunities for useful associations or combinations with others both in and out of the existing industry base. Companies will need to examine the financial requirements to ride through this and future periods of economic, technical and business uncertainty as well as to implement new market requirements. Companies will need to understand the technology requirements to address continual technology evolution and inadequacies throughout the company and economy including the acquisition, modification, or adaptation of new technologies. And, of course, companies must consider the critical element of security requirements, particularly in the digital space, both internally and for critical infrastructure projects.

The impact of “externalities” in this rapidly changing world needs to become part of every company’s primary focus. The “in your face” changes we confront regarding energy, climate change and the pandemic are no longer externalities distant from our core businesses. Responses from our industry to fundamental paradigm shifts in the energy and environmental aspects of this new reality must be addressed now. It is imperative that management and company Boards take the lead in addressing the vast array of existential issues and matters connected with all these accelerating changes both internally and externally. So much must be closely watched, monitored, studied, and adopted as all the other elements of change unfold.

Much creative and directed leadership and management will be necessary in this new world. This cannot be delegated – it must be foremost in the skill set and entrepreneurial thinking, and fundamental abilities of the top people in the organization. They must own it, understand and anticipate it, and implement the changes in the directions and the forms all this will require. And if all this has not already started, it must commence now and be part of an ongoing processes. Time is slipping away while change is accelerating exponentially. It will seep through all aspects of infrastructure management.

Leadership and management in many aspects of infrastructure such as planning, design, project development and funding, anticipating client’s needs, applying appropriate construction techniques, equipment and supply sourcing, has been superb. Improvements and changes in work processes, methodologies, implementation of new and evolving technologies bearing on efficiency, productivity, data collection and management have needed improvement for some time now. This must now change.

Leadership and managerial requirements for the new world should be examined now. The trend toward more participatory and less authoritative approaches has been in play for some time now. But this does not mitigate the need for sound, creative and determined leadership at the very top. As fellow workers we relate to this as we understand that the times call for analyzing and implementing changes now. Leadership must participate in the discovery and decision process at a meaningful level. Corporate mechanisms should be set up to assure this is done. Also, in this environment younger leaders in management are often more alert to and even more experienced in their own lives to changing requirements and new ways of doing things. They must be brought into the picture soonest in a responsible way and with the appropriate degree of authority and office to create, plan and implement in this exceedingly complex environment. Consideration should be given to seeding the various infrastructure elements of the industry with thinking and participation from other sectors of experience. All this needs to be seasoned with constant training and re-education opportunities. Caring for people in these times of deep distress and worry for many, becomes more important than ever.

What can organizations do? Organizations need to set up systems that can anticipate and deal with issues as they evolve, on a timely basis, in this rapidly changing new world. They need to have teams established and clear lines of responsibility delineated for understanding, planning, and alerting top management and Boards regarding problems and opportunities which need addressing as technology and our environment needs shifts. Boards should set up mechanisms to understand and relate to all of this and review and respond to these types of matters as an agenda item for each Board meeting as well as provide means of addressing them between meetings. This is going to be a key Board responsibility for success and even survival in this new and exciting world into which we are now moving.

But what a time to be in the infrastructure business. There is a new world to build right out there with new tools and techniques. Huge opportunities indeed!

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