All the Drama Movies Aren’t on Netflix

Written by Mark Breslin

How many of you, when you are flipping through the channels, will re-watch a movie that you have seen five or ten times?  All of Us.  The Godfather.  Shawshank Redemption.  Rocky.  The Departed.  Jurassic Park.  Titanic.  My personal weakness is Gladiator, which I’ve probably watched at least ten times.  You know what is going to happen.  You know the lines.  You enjoy it from its familiarity; not the surprise or shock of something new.

Well, this is exactly the situation our industry finds ourselves in again.  One of two movies is going to play for you, beginning at the end of 2020 and probably going through 2021.  And it won’t be on Netflix.  These movies represent the economics of our construction marketplace.

And if you have been at this for any length of time, you have seen them both at least two to three times, and maybe four if you have some gray hairs.

The first movie, most recently re-released in 2008 is rated five stars.  Let us call it “Desperately Shovelling Cash”.  The plot is massive infusions of federal infrastructure dollars to put America to work.  Infrastructure is the dependable, proven, and fastest way to put people to work.  From the Great Depression to the Financial Crisis, government turns to us to generate economic firepower.  If we watch this movie, there is some cheering and fist bumping, the good guys win, and – in the end – it bridges the gap to the other side of the recessionary period.  If this is happening for us, this will have been decided by the end of 2020.

The other movie is a one star low budget horror flick.  Let us call it “Slashers at the Jobsite”.  In this one the feds cannot – or will not – agree on solutions prior to the election, and the states are on their own.  This movie will start with a slashing of sources of funding for the entire market.

Except for the bi-polar stock market, the economic indicators are saying that the sky is kind of falling.  And if not now; pretty damn soon.  Public entities are already getting nervous with tax revenues in steep decline and their capital budgets looking ripe for reassignment.  Private construction owners looking ahead will probably need a dose of Xanax.  Industrial expenditures are more or less on hold.  Thinking of building offices in the Zoom world?  Maybe later.  And finally, there is uncertainty on the V recovery, U recovery, or the Nike Swoosh recovery.  

Ok.  So, what to do?  Watch the same crappy movie again?  Let’s check out your viewing history:

U.S. Recessions Impacting our Industry

  • 1980-82
  • 1990-91
  • 2001
  • 2008-09

Unless you are among the many new apprentices (see note below) or college graduate PMs who have never seen a hard down market cycle before (welcome to the real world, sons and daughters), the downturn movie is mostly the same.  And that familiarity should be an asset since you already know the plot.

So, before we grind through it again, it is time to time to sit down with your management team and ask the key questions that everyone needs to prior to a market cycle change:

  • What did we learn from watching and living the last versions of the movie? Let us remind ourselves this is not new and market cycles are normal in our business.
  • What is our operational edge that we need to focus on right now?
  • What market pivots would be smart to make now that will pay off later?
  • What are the discretionary vs. essential investments we need to make in people, programs, technology, training or equipment to get to the other side?
  • What sacred cows, processes, legacy BS, B-C Players or other barriers need to be eliminated because a good shock to the system is a fine time to enact change?
  • What sacrifices, economies or leaning out can and should we do to roll through market instability? Where is the maximum ROI?

I have seen both of these market trends and, as an organizational leader, it doesn’t freak me out or leave me wondering what to do.  I always have tried to think and act in a mode of “what is most important NOW” as much as possible so, when the situation hits the fan, my organization is not facing conflicting resource priorities.  Disciplined ROI is the name of the game: to improve operational or economic outcomes for your companies.

So, the show is about to start.  The coming attractions look mixed.  Settle back with your popcorn and take a breath.  2020 will likely have been a decent year based on back logs and current market momentum.  But the path ahead is quite clearly one requiring additional forethought and vision.  I can tell you that the theatre is packed (social distance doesn’t apply here) as we ride it out together.  And for the questions of ROI, though we cannot guarantee a happy-ever-after ending to the movie ahead, you are going to want your team aligned in the seats behind you watching your back.



Note: Every apprentice, PM or other employee who started working for you over the last ten years has never seen a downturn.  In fact, they have been employed in a period of unprecedented opportunity.  The ability to manage expectations, emotions, and compensation will be another management challenge in 2020 and beyond.

All the Drama Movies Aren’t on Netflix

About the Author

Mark Breslin is an author, speaker, CEO, and influencer inspiring change for workplace success across all levels of business.  Mark has improved leadership, accountability, innovation, and engagement for organizations and individuals. He has spoken to more than 400,000 people and published hundreds of thousands of books on leadership and workplace culture.  See his work at

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