April 1, 2020

One contractor’s leadership plan to survive the virus war

Get battle ready


Everyone today has one main concern: How will this epidemic affect our business in 2020? You are not alone. Every person, from the highest levels of government to the local grocer, is thinking the same exact thing. The only thing we can do as owners and leaders is have hope and remain as calm and confident as we can. We need to tell ourselves the hard decisions we make today will bring us out the other side stronger.

Will there be work when things are normal again? Yes, there will be work. Will there be as much work? Absolutely not in the immediate four to six months, as history has proven. After any slowdown, like the World Wars or 9/11, it has taken anywhere from six to 36 months for things to get running near normal. Quantify things with numbers, so decision-making becomes more focused. Prepare, Plan, and Expect to Win — with a revenue (not profit) reduction of anywhere from 15-25 percent from your predetermined operation budget, which should have been forecast in January. These times will be difficult. Adjust budgets, 2020 may not be a year for growth as it sucks cash. Focus on “maintaining” and adding to the bottom line, as we must be more productive with fewer people.

THE WINS IN THIS SITUATION will be personal hygiene and elevated safety concerns, as well as an opportunity to work with the very best people this year. There will be no room for floaters or spares. Everyone needs clear rules, and clear expectations with clear consequences. Consider this spring of 2020 an opportunity to reboot for focus and speed. Speed wins; measure it. You will be surprised how we all perform when things outside our control change. Productivity measures will improve; most operations involved in outdoor environments have a 45 to 55 per cent productivity rating. That’s an entire discussion for another day, and it’s not weather!



MOST LEADERS, managers and owners put others’ needs ahead of their own. This is called Servant Leadership. There was a day that others always came first, almost to the demise of employment for many. As leaders and owners, we are expected to separate from the pack, and be ahead of it. Learn from the term Physical Distancing and use it for personal improvement and for others in your team. To maintain composure, consistent behaviour and above-average results, the leader must be an arm’s length away, so decision making is faster and well-thought out. Be there when those you lead fall off the track and need a hand to get back on. Never feel guilty at separating yourself; maybe it’s a day or two a week, or one week a month. Wherever you are on your leadership journey, start being alone to think back to where you were, to where you are now, and where you want to be.

And, for your mental health: WRITE IT DOWN. Remember, if nothing happens without you, all you have is a job. Learning to delegate and offer follow-up and feedback is critical for both short- and long-term success. Follow the 10-80-10 Rule. Spend 10 percent of the time showing how tasks are done, let performance happen 80 per cent of the time, and spend the final 10 per cent providing feedback, both corrective and positive. It works. You will be better prepared to take on new challenges once Covid-19 is somewhat a memory.

This is a great opportunity to do some reflection and self-help. Yes, self-help. Been there. Done that. Rode the wave. Almost drowned.

Learn to take a break when you have no control. Elevate the mind, spend time with family and reviewing your personal vision plan. When the mind is rested and clear, performance improves! There is a race to run. Speed wins. Be SAFE. THE MARKETS WILL OPEN. Those that make it through this will be stronger and wiser. Just as David was after he fought Goliath. Get battle ready!

Brent Ayles is president of Ayles Natural Landscaping, based in Riverview, N.B.