A significant number of infrastructure projects are currently in delivery or in the pipeline to be procured and delivered from both government and other clients across Australasia. It is a busy and challenging time as the market looks to provide the capability and capacity to deliver on the programmes and projects of works across the various geographies.

Most in the supply chain from constructors, consultants and contractors would acknowledge that this should be a good time financially, from a backlog perspective in terms of future work. Lots of project opportunities should lead to sustainable profitability and the opportunity to deliver outstanding outcomes for clients. The problem is that we are often playing the short game as leaders when it comes to delivery. We are not ensuring that our organisations are set up not only for Horizon 1 (12 months, but also for Horizon 2 (1-3 years) and Horizon 3 (3+years).

How do we balance the short game (Horizon 1) with the responsibility we have as leaders of our organisations to ensure we are set up sustainably for Horizon 2 and 3? This has been a frequent conversation for me when working with our clients over the last 12 months and one I am determined to assist with by building the capability and capacity of infrastructure leaders.

To expand upon this point, a good place to start is to highlight the difference around short game and long game thinking for leaders. From a short game perspective, it includes:

  • Bidding projects with low margin chasing revenue;
  • Driving short term unsustainable billability levels of staff and running the risk of losing them to competitors or burning them out or others;
  • Not being clear on risk allocation with clients up front leading to cost blow outs and other challenges with project delivery;
  • Bidding to participate because we have many opportunities and having the mindset that losing a couple wont have a large impact on our business;
  • Not developing leaders at all levels of our projects and organisations which leads to capability and capacity issues when delivering projects;
  • Putting the A grade team on a bid knowing that they are unlikely to be provided to a client which means we give them the C grade team;
  • Not treating your partners and sub-contractors in a collaborative manner due to short game demands and damaging long term relationships;
  • Spreading our team and organisation too thin with many clients with, no focus on what we are good at or can realistically deliver;
  • Not having the tough commercial conversations up front with clients creating miss-aligned expectations around variations and potential cost challenges that will inevitability arise in the future; and
  • Not valuing culture over short term profitability demands.

As you can see from the list, these are all practices we can all fall in to. Competing demands and short term expectations from stakeholders all drive the ‘grow at all costs’ approach.

The long game is hard. Hard not because they are uncommon insights, but because they are hard to repeatedly deliver upon day in day out, week to week and year on year. They require an absolute focus on taking a long term view to building something great whether that be a high performing organisation, project, outstanding infrastructure leaders within your organisation or strong relationships with clients through delivering outstanding outcomes. Not sexy or popular but very hard to achieve because we get distracted easily to the short game. It requires us to choose less to do and focus on saying no more.

Long game strategies include:

  • Making the go/no process the No 1 priority in your organisation in selecting bids and pursuits that align to your strengths, that you can deliver upon realistically with clients leading to profitable work;
  • Challenging the notion that you work with all clients. Instead, you have a right fit client selection process aligned to the mindset and attitudes that drive collaboration and partnering to deliver outstanding outcomes;
  • Investing in H2 and H3 activities now because you know that your industry and organisation is being disrupted. You are planning for this and ensuring you are sustainable long term;
  • Challenging all your staff to work harder on developing themselves now more than ever before by freeing up time to do this. They are building new skills and capability to confidently navigate through the challenges that our industry will encounter;
  • Building the commercial acumen of staff so that they are open and transparent with clients around the implications of their short term procurement practices and what this means financially for them long term;
  • Challenging our clients to improve their planning and spread the programme of works being undertaken. Some can be done later or earlier to ensure the supply chain can effectively deliver value for money outcomes for clients;
  • Delivering what you say you are going to do including committing the initial people that you promised to clients. This is a simple but critical step towards building a high performing organisation or project that clients love working with;
  • Working hard on developing a high performance culture because it will pay off long term in delivering on your H2 and H3 objectives;
  • Nurturing long term relationships with partners that adopt a win/win approach and enhance client outcomes through the sum of the parts;
  • Investing time in building your leadership team to focus on H2 and H3 activities. This includes 90 day planning, strategic planning and growth strategies that require a focus on teamwork and a one team approach; and
  • Building the capability and capacity of your leaders so that they are set up for success rather than being chucked in the deep end to deliver major projects or organisation change initiatives without strong foundations and confidence.

This is a challenging conversation for leaders to have in infrastructure because it takes us away from the here and now of being busy. The next bid or urgent project crisis takes priority. We need to remove this notion that being busy for us and our organisation is a badge of honour we should be proud of. For me, these are excuses for not playing the long game which I believe is an important priority for any infrastructure leader.

I welcome discussion from our blog readers around this topic. It is an important topic we will be discussing in our Game Changers in Infrastructure program that commences in June 2018 to ensure we have a more sustainable infrastructure industry that benefits all involved.

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