Learning From the 2020 Roller Coaster: 5 Ways to “Buckle In” for 2021

The heart-pounding thrills of riding a roller coaster always provide an adrenaline rush for young and old alike. After decades of competition to invent the highest, the fastest, (the craziest?) roller coasters, the global amusement industry has created experiences to exhilarate virtually any thrill seeker.

The year 2020 brought another type of ride: the emotional roller coaster of optimism and despair. We have felt the dizzying effects of the pandemic resurgence and encouraging vaccination developments, along with the heartbreak of devastating weather events and heartwarming stories of unselfish service – all to say nothing of this year’s business challenges. The downtown area of virtually any city provides disheartening evidence of failed and shuttered small businesses – and the economic fallout has “trickled up” to other organizations of all shapes and sizes. 

However, business leaders can take those challenging experiences and incorporate the knowledge thus gained into strategic initiatives for 2021. Here are five considerations that may impact your organization’s ability to thrive in our new version of an interconnected world:

1. Ensure all the elements of your organization are optimally aligned to your enterprise strategy

 While this message is not new, the ways we will align our organizations might be. This comprehensive effort must lead all other strategic decisions and changes. It also requires a deep understanding of the architecture of your organization – its strategy, structure, processes, and skill bases. None of these can change without implications to all the others.

As you make choices about how to reposition, redesign, or retool any of your organization’s many facets, it is crucial that all will work together to deliver the desired strategy. The elements of your organization (the “organizational cube”) that must work together for optimum results, include:  work processes, structure and governance, information and metrics, people and rewards, continuous improvement, and leadership and culture.

2. Focus on your digital transformation

The year 2021 can be considered a blank canvas, an unfettered opportunity to improve. For example, if your organization’s digital transformation is already underway, now may be the time to ramp it up. Competitive forces are pushing organizations to incorporate technologies, such as cloud migrations, digital platforms, and artificial intelligence; and these digital technologies will impact the organization’s culture and the customer experience. 

Knowing where the organization is in the digital transformation journey is just the first step. All internal stakeholders should understand the business purposes and be ready to adapt to the impacts of the digital transformation.

3. Consider a talent transformation along with your digital transformation

A recent Harvard Business Review article, “Rethinking the On-Demand Workforce,” noted that “the very nature of work changes with more technology and automation, as does a company’s ability to find the skills needed to do that work.”

As organizations look to ramp up in 2021, it will be more important than ever to ensure the right talent is available to fill any gaps in the workforce. It is necessary to start with cataloging, understanding, and mapping the organization’s internal resources and capabilities. Then leaders should identify the specific gaps and determine the types of work to be performed externally.

The good news is that many new talent platforms have emerged, offering on-demand access to highly skilled workers. It is important to consider the challenges associated with dividing up work internally and externally, such as revamping policies and processes; performing due diligence; protecting intellectual property and technology; and tracking work performed, quality, and payments to outside contractors. A successful talent transformation will be possible if leaders understand the organization’s strategic position and also possess the ability to lead a cultural shift within the company. 

4. Research new opportunities for potential expansion and diversification

If you plan to develop and launch new products, then your 2021 business strategy and supporting capabilities should be clearly evident in your organizational choices and subsequent design.  

Many eagerly anticipated product launches were halted this year by all kinds of issues, from the lack of raw materials to illness-triggered factory shutdowns. While we don’t know what challenges 2021 will bring, your organization can still strengthen your core business with a solid growth strategy that may include product line expansion and diversification.

Stay relevant by assessing your offerings through the lens of your customers and then improving or expanding the products and services offered to better meet the needs of your customers. Thinking beyond the status quo will keep your organization vibrant.

5. Develop contingency capabilities

The year 2020 taught us a powerful lesson on the meaning of business uncertainty. Moving into 2021, every business leader should consider potential contingencies and have one or more strategic responses. See our blog, Preparing for Contingencies in Change Management, for more ideas. 

Take the time to address different scenarios, such as ongoing health concerns among your workforce and the possibilities for slower-paced re-openings and/or continuing openings and closings. Contingency planning should include digitization, such as the utilization of reporting systems (dashboards) or data and metrics, to provide instantaneous information about customer support issues. 

While we look forward to the coming year with the hope that it will have fewer loops and barrel rolls, consider a phrase we often share with our clients, “hope is not a strategy.”  Deliberately creating the right strategy, the right capabilities to support the strategy, and the appropriate contingency capabilities will ensure your organization is secure and ready for the next roller coaster ride.

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