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.
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.
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.
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:
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.