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Rialto reflection of 2020 and five trends to look for in 2021

Rialto reflection of 2020 and five trends to look for in 2021

Reflecting on the events of 2020 feels more like gazing back at a decade rather than a single year. At the start of the year, our biggest concerns surrounded Brexit. But then COVID-19 happened, and completely disrupted all areas of our day-to-day life. The pandemic we originally hoped would be a distant memory by now continues to be the top issue affecting our personal, professional, social, mental, and physical circumstances. Furthermore, Brexit implications are back on the table as we face the ‘moment of truth’ on trade talks, which could make or break a deal being finally agreed.

Unfortunately, these challenges will not suddenly evaporate once the clock strikes midnight and we enter 2021. It is therefore important that we reflect back critically on the events of this past year to identify what worked and what did not in order to better prepare for what comes next.

Where We Started

At the start of this year, we published a blog outlining some of our predictions for what CEOs may need to prioritise in 2020. COVID then happened, and suddenly those priorities shifted. Consequently, some of what we predicted was put on the back burner. For example, we predicted that organisations would focus on seeking out the right talent, but instead the focus was on supporting existing staff and helping them adapt to changing working conditions.

Digital transformation was on the list of priorities for many organisations at the start of 2020 but may not have been a top item. Many businesses were still in the exploratory phases, while a few were still completely resistant to change. The pandemic left these businesses with no choice but accelerate and adopt new technology. We witnessed a steep rise in remote work models, which required a heavier reliance on Cloud technology and software such as Zoom, Teams, and Slack, to name just a few. Many organisations were not ready to make this jump at the start of the year and had to quickly undergo the transformation process with little lead time for strategic planning.

Where We Stand

But not every trend or prediction was put aside. Some simply took a different shape than anticipated. In our 2020 predictions, we discussed the importance of an organisation’s “innovation effectiveness,” or its ability to identify new opportunities, determine which of these to pursue, and adjust business processes to act on them. This was a key element for success this year, as some businesses needed to get creative in order to stay afloat during lockdown restrictions. For example, some pubs and restaurants pivoted to meal kits and takeaway pints to prevent inventory waste and generate revenue under lockdown restrictions.

As predicted, there was a focus on businesses being ‘a force for good’ this year, but not in the way we expected. Millennials and Generation Z are some of the most socially conscious consumers and employees we have seen in decades, and these young people want to work for and support organisations that champion social causes and possess strong values. 2020 was a pivotal moment for many organisations in this respect. Some came under fire for their lack of compassion and poor treatment of staff amid the emotional and financial hardships of the pandemic. Global social unrest required many businesses to take a public stance on issues such as inequality and race relations. Some organisations faced backlash and were called out for hypocrisy if their actions did not match up with their words. 2020 was a true test of how authentically leaders and businesses live out their CSR and proved how essential it is for organisations to be honest, transparent, and consistent when striving to truly be a force for good.

The applies also to trust, which proved more important this year than initially predicted. We identified building trust as one of the biggest challenges many CEOs would face in 2020, and stated that they must work hard to achieve trustworthiness with honest and transparent behaviours and actions that make people want to follow them. This prediction was correct, as leaders had to guide their organisations through uncertainty and disruption as well as new working conditions. Managers and C-suite executives were looked to as a stabilising force, and how they handled this duty had major impacts on their staff loyalty and confidence levels regarding both the organisation and its leadership.

What Lies Ahead

 As stated, the 2020 challenges will not magically disappear when the new year begins. It is likely that we are going to feel the impacts of 2020 well into 2021. But hopefully, leaders will accelerate learning in order to move forward stronger and smarter. So, looking ahead, here are our predictions for five key trends we might see in 2021:

  • Tech to thrive rather than survive: This year, digital transformation was primarily driven by a need to keep business afloat amid lockdown restrictions. As a result, tech has become so integral to our day-to-day operations that it is unfathomable we will revert once things return to normal. Expect to see many businesses taking the next step in their transformation journey to adopt more tools aimed at creating efficiency, better experiences, and competitive advantage.

 

  • Welcome to the experience age: This next phase of digital transformation will be driven by the changes in customer behaviour that arose from the pandemic. Just as businesses became more reliant on technology, so did consumers. Customers have come to expect high-quality virtual experiences throughout the customer journey. This will require a higher focus on convenience, speed, and customer service. Expect to see businesses invest in their CX in 2021. It is likely that we will see investments in automation and AI to help boost efficiency and personalisation in the sales pipeline.
  • Upskilling for competitive advantage: Those businesses that want to stay ahead have realised that they will need to continue to accelerate the adoption of AI and automation, whilst also investing in the upskilling of their talent. There is a slight risk that some organisations may become over eager when it comes to new technology, and either over automate or over digitise too quickly. By that we mean adoption without involving or communicating to all relevant stakeholders. This struggle may also largely be due to a lack of deep understanding of new tools and their functions or benefits. It will be essential for business leaders and the workforce to further develop their digital skills in order to better understand the available converging technologies so that they can make more informed decisions about which vendors, tools, or strategies will work best for their specific challenges.
  • Remote work is here to stay: Even with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, it is unclear when UK businesses will receive the all-clear to return to the office. However, recent data suggests that remote work will continue in some form even after the pandemic ends. Employees like the flexibility of remote work models, and business leaders are enticed by the reduced overhead costs. Expect fully remote and hybrid working models to become common practice for many organisations moving forward, which requires new models and communication styles to maintain engagement and innovation from all levels.
  • Emphasis on empathy: 2020 has left leaders, staff, and customers mentally and emotionally exhausted. There was widespread stress, anxiety about the future, and hardship. Some became ill or lost loved ones. Remote work was efficient but required adjustment, and lockdown restrictions felt very isolating at times. Managers and C-suite execs had to lead with compassion while also navigating these issues themselves and having to take responsibility for difficult business decisions. However, the hardships of this year brought out the human side of business and emphasised the importance of strong human connection, shared experience, and empathy. This cannot and should not be left behind in the new year. The leaders and organisations who take a people-first approach will benefit from increased customer loyalty and stronger staff morale, making these organisations more resilient when faced with further obstacles.

Though 2020 was difficult, it provided many valuable lessons for leaders looking to come back stronger in 2021. It is important not to dwell on the difficulties of the past 12 months, but to instead derive an understanding of what worked and did not. That way, we can drive business forward instead of remaining stuck in the past.

We at Rialto wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year break and look forward to sharing more of our insights with you in 2021.

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