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Ready For The Year Ahead?

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External shifts in the business context over this past year—and the decisions and actions taken to address them—have implications for all companies, and how leaders lead. Practical advice to be prepared.

The executives I advise have been reflecting on the year to date, encouraging their teams to finish strong. As they prepare budgets and refresh strategy, they’re also thinking about the year ahead. Most are identifying specific steps they will take to ensure 2022 gets off to a good start.

Review the business context

Executive conversations to review the business context have been rich and thoughtful. Several themes emerged, along with critical questions to stimulate thinking about their specific implications. For example:

• Volatility and uncertainty are normal in business. Yet not everyone is equally comfortable with ambiguity. And (as the last 20 months have made clear) not every business has sufficient flexibility and agility to survive. What supports will you establish to fortify your team and mitigate risks for the business?

• Sustainability is top of mind, in new ways. Ignore it at your peril. Customers are more sophisticated in their thinking of what constitutes sustainable. They recognize the tradeoffs inherent in their options, yet may need help in assessing the impact of their choices. What educational tools or data will you provide to engage stakeholders or customers?

• “Just in time,” once largely a manufacturing term, has reached a whole new level. Increasingly, consumers make shopping decisions based on when they need the items or services. What are the implications of a just-in-time mindset for your business? What value might you add?

• Contactless payment, home/office delivery and curbside pickup across a broader array of products and services has reached new levels of popularity among consumers seeking convenience and safety. How might you capitalize on this trend?

• Dispersed workforces, digital collaboration and technology-enabled tools for creative thinking are here to stay. For many, they offer flexibility and efficiency without a commensurate loss in effectiveness. Others are less excited. In what ways might you enhance the experience for customers and staff or stakeholders?

You cannot execute strategy without people.

Any one of the above topics can provoke meaningful conversation about your business. These external shifts in the business context—and the decisions and actions taken to address them—also have implications for organizations and how leaders lead. Perhaps consider these:

• Navigating multiple, simultaneous crises since 2020, leaders have acted and reacted in ways they had not previously considered. Intentionally or not, this has altered the organization’s sense of urgency. Expect to make further adjustments to the rhythm and pace of your leadership. Should you speed up or slow down to achieve your objectives? How will you help your team to adapt?

• The culture you have now (or have had in the past) may not be the culture you need going forward. In what ways does your culture support or hinder your progress in meeting objectives?

• Leaders continue to grapple with how and in what way work is done—even while conversation continues about where the work is done. What outcomes do you expect? How will you nurture the relationships you need to deliver the value customers expect?

Inclusion is a behavior—and one that may finally be getting the attention it’s due. Leaders play a key role in creating an authentic, inclusive environment. However, they cannot do it alone. The organizational structure and framework must also encourage diversity and allow equity of access and participation. What steps will you take to move beyond diversity metrics and toward inclusion?

People want connection. Whether all remote, all in the office, or some hybrid of the two, teams benefit from periodic, in-person interactions. The key is finding the right balance of being together and working apart, and for the right aspects of the work. What outcomes benefit most from being together? What work can best leverage technology and in what combination of synchronous and asynchronous interaction to achieve the preferred outcomes?

Of course, the quality of leadership has a direct impact on the ability to attract and retain talent. Further: you cannot execute strategy without people. “The Great Resignation” is just one potential consequence of a failure to engage staff effectively or nurture the organizational context people need to deliver the intended value.

As you prepare for a new year, consider where you’re headed—your destination—and how long you have to achieve your vision. Are you ready?


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