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Relationships will get your through an uncertain future

Bank bailout or no bank bailout we're heading for tougher times. Only getting close to you partners will get you through, argues NCE editor Antony Oliver.
One simple word describes what the next few weeks, months and years will be all about for civil engineering. The word is relationships.
Bank rescue or no bank rescue, we are in for a sustained period of uncertainty. Gordon Brown's £37bn public cash injection has certainly caused a seismic shift in the city and will, as the BBC's Robert Peston constantly reminds us, "soon start impacting the real economy".
While thankfully the signs are that we are in for economic downturn rather than full blown recession, civil engineers must prepare for tougher times ahead.
Thus relationships will be the key. Not just to survival but also to our continued success going forward. Here I'm talking about relationships with our clients, relationships with our partners and relationships with our staff.
As this week's cover story makes clear, there are a huge number of very real reasons for the civil engineering profession to feel positive about the next few years. There are vast programmes of vital - and quite securely funded - work on the stocks across multiple sectors.
But clearly there will also be huge pressure on public spending. It will be our relationships that bridge the gap between aspiration and affordability.
Firstly, winning and delivering this work in the new world order will require you to really understand who your clients are and what they need. As the phone stops ringing it will be your client relationships - the trust and goodwill that you earn - that will win you this work in future.
Secondly, the future will be focused on delivering more for less. Nothing new there perhaps, except that the efficiency targets will be higher and the challenges increasing. Your ability to deliver this will rely largely on relationships across your supply chain - on your ability to work with partners for mutual gain.
Finally, the future will rely more than ever on talent, innovative ideas and creativity. Thus relationships with staff will never be so critical.
As clients increasingly seeking lower cost and lower risk solutions, it will be the talent in your organisation that differentiates you from the pack. The question you'll be asking is "how do we keep our talent?" and you'll need an answer.
So we have challenging but very exciting times ahead. As Minister for Culture Barbara Follett told the British Construction Industry Awards last week, now is the time to "keep calm and carry on". It's true but perhaps a touch Dad's Army for me.
Personally I'd say that now was more a time for clarity. Now is the time for civil engineering professionals to be clear about the value to the nation of investment in real public infrastructure. Now is the time to be clear about how professionally and efficiently we can deliver this investment.
At the heart of this demonstration will be your relationships. So pick up the phone, get out of the office, start networking and start talking to your clients, partners and colleagues today. It will keep you in business tomorrow.
Antony Oliver is the editor of NCE

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