Head of sales for single ply membranes at Sika, Charles Pierce explains why uncertainty can equal opportunity, rather than anxiety, for construction businesses.

 

When searching for an analogy to illustrate the current political and economic climate and our place within it, I was struck by the idea of a party. Hear me out…

Charles Pierce, Head of Sales for Single Ply Membranes at Sika Limited

It’s a conundrum we’ve all had. You’re uncertain about whether to go to this party. Will you have a good time? Some will choose to go and see what happens, embracing opportunity to have a good time – and most likely will. Those who stay at home will perhaps feel like they’ve missed out, having a bad time even though they didn’t go.

 

In uncertain times, we react in different ways. We also tend to look at our businesses differently. This can depend on company performance, but more likely is a result of who we are, our past experiences, and our response to risk.

 

When we feel uncertain, it is human nature to protect ourselves. Such a response is likely informed by a biological instinct. Interestingly, studies have shown that people would rather definitely receive an electric shock now than maybe receive an electric shock later, and show a larger nervous system reaction when waiting for an unexpected shock than an expected one. Here’s the basic psychological conclusion – and one most of us already know – humans prefer certainty to uncertainty.  

Our fear of uncertainty often urges us towards irrational behaviour. Such activity does little to ease our anxiety and may even serve to increase it. Pair this instinct with another well recognised response – fight or flight – and you have a potential recipe for disaster when it comes to reacting to uncertainty in business. It’s likely to cause actions like reducing marketing spend, cutting investment in new technologies or products and pausing recruitment drives.

 

We see uncertainty in areas affecting the construction industry currently, such as Brexit negotiations and the looming snap General Election. Inevitably these conditions may lead to private investment in new schemes and projects being reduced, and businesses hunkering down in response. Brexit is a process, rather than an event, and when we reach its subsequent chapters, uncertainty is likely to continue and affect the economy.

 

However it is at times like this, I would argue, that we must keep our focus on what we can control and affect without being too concerned on areas which we cannot influence. By acting in the now and strategizing confidently for the future, we can all positively impact on the resilience of our businesses and the industry as a whole, thus negating the negative effects of this uncertainty.

In our market there is always opportunity. As one area reduces its potential – for example a downturn in commercial offices, another area may see an uplift in investment – such as academies. By keeping one ear to the ground and actively looking for these openings we can create growth out of uncertainty.

 

If we were looking at this from a government perspective, the construction industry as a whole actually presents huge prospects, in that it is a large contributor to GDP (£110 billion per annum). That’s a solid seven percent of the UK total, which can be quite quickly improved by creating or increasing initiatives such as the PBSB (Priority Schools Building Programme), major infrastructure projects and new house build initiatives, such as Help to Buy. Construction industry businesses then benefit from new demand and help to keep the economy ticking over.

 

Uncertainty does have other positive effects. In times such as this, people will always seek the reassurance of strong, proven brands. The work we’ve done across our single ply roofing brands, Sarnafil and Trocal, to develop the strength and identity of our brand means that people have the confidence to work with us into the future. I believe our longevity is down to our unwavering commitment to innovation and sustainability.

 

These two pillars give businesses the strength to grow and succeed – resilient, determined action in these areas will be the key to harnessing the opportunities that uncertainty will bring, rather than hiding from the threat of potential monsters. The irony is, hiding from these phantoms may be enough to bring them to reality.

 

Engage with uncertainty, acknowledge your instinctual response, and transition from preparation into action – we’ll all be much more likely to have a good time. Like that party – it’s much better to positively participate than sit at home wondering what might have been!