By Keith Abraham

I said this recently at an in-person event, if 2020 was unprecedented, then 2021 is the year of unpredictability. The trend I am seeing and the feeling I get is that this year feels like you have one foot on the accelerator and then one foot on the brake. Everything is moving forward and building up some momentum and then you have to put your foot on the brake. If you have been in a car when the person driving has their foot on accelerator, then on the brake, it’s very annoying!

That is what this year has felt like for my Top 50 Clients as I have spoken to them over the past three months. 2021 started out with everyone in high spirits, we made it through 2020, vaccines are rolling out, people are living with COVID and getting on with life. As one of my Client’s in the US said, “We are getting back to better!

In this article I share four trends impacting business this year and simple solutions.

1. COVID is killing culture.

When was the last time your team was altogether in the same room? Operating in a virtual environment where your people are working remotely has had it benefits and it has been surprising the efficiencies that have been the by-product of COVID. But the two things that my clients globally have struggled with is maintaining their business culture and working collaboratively together. Have you found this? Culture is diminishing as connections between colleagues are eroded by a lack of personal face to face meaningful conversations that go beyond the agenda items on a Zoom call. Collaboration is stifled as everyone else waits for the other person to finish talking because we all speak in turn on virtual calls now.

Simple Shared Solutions … Once a month have a TRUE NORTH session where you and your team members talk about how they are living your cultural values in their role while they are not in the office. The other option is before you conduct your weekly team meeting or work in progress meeting, take 3-5 minutes and discuss how to be the living example of your cultural values daily.

2. Momentum is difficult to create when there is unpredictability around.

If people feel they are starting and then stopping continuously in their role or even mentally, it’s difficult to create, accelerate or maintain business momentum. Where does this sense come from? When areas of your State are put into lockdown with a couple of hour’s notice or as I experienced State borders close while you are in mid-flight and you get put in hotel quarantine for four days because your flight was delayed. [Side note, that flight was from Perth to Brisbane on the Friday before ANZAC Day, it was my first flight in 13 months. Not a great way to start off flying again!] People are living with COVID, everyone knows the protocols now, where to stand, what to wear and how to greet people. The majority of people are not scared of getting COVID … they are scared of what happens to your life if you get stuck in hotel quarantine for 14 days because you did a sales trip interstate to see your best client or you attended a catch up with your team members for a strategy day. That is the unpredictability and there is no set standard around what a State Government may or may not do. It is difficult to plan for the unplannable!

Simple Shared Solutions … It is impossible to control what is outside your control, so you need to educate your team to Control the Controllables and let go of everything else. They can only control how they react (emotion) and how they respond (action). Second ensure you discuss what Plan A looks like, what is your Plan B and what would be your Plan C. Pre-planned options and alternatives will give your people a sense of control.

3. Zoom fatigue has had a bigger impact than expected on people. 

You would think with less travel, less scurrying off to meetings, less driving into work and overall less hustle and bustle around, that people would be more energised. However, that is not the case, everyone has done more. Meetings are now shorter but to the point, what took 60 minutes now only takes 30 minutes, a 30 minute meeting is now only 15 minutes, so people cram more in their day. Now, add on to that instead of making phone calls, everyone is doing Zoom or Teams meetings. Then that brings in the personal impact, we guess a lot more when we do virtual meetings, presentations or pitches. You know that when you are in a room you could see if people got the message, understood the plan or a client is engaging with your concept. Now we guess a lot mentally and that has an emotional draining effect on each of us.

Simple Shared Solutions … HSBC Bank just announced ‘Zoom-Free Fridays’. So why not give your people permission to have a long weekend off away from Zoom meetings? You know this, if you are always in meetings when do you get a chance to implement any plans, actions or ideas from the meetings you have had? The other option is to suggest that your team members have a blended approach of 70 / 20 / 10: 70% virtual; 20% tele-appointments; 10% face to face.

4. Leadership void has been created through unprecedented growth. 

Not all companies have benefitted from a COVID marketplace, but a lot of my clients have had significant growth, way beyond expectations and not uncommon for some of them to have exceeded their budget in 2020 by 50-100%! As you know with growth comes some challenges whether it is logistics, staffing, supply, space or systems. However, the one that underpins your success and sustainability of growth moving forward is leadership. If your Leaders are not equipped, engaged, empowered and energised then the wheels fall off the wagon, you get staff churn, culture suffers and you know the end of this story! The businesses that have done the best out of COVID, and will continue to be the best after COVID wanes, will be the ones that dug the well before they were thirsty! They develop and are developing their Leaders for not just now, not what is up the hill but is what on the other side when we get to the top!

Simple Shared Solutions … You need some thinking time as a Leader to determine how to equip your Leaders for what’s new and what’s next in your marketplace or industry. You are going to have to channel your Nostradamus skills and think about the three likely scenarios that are going to have the biggest impact on your business in the next 6 months, 12 months and 24 months, so that creating nine different visions or marketplace trends that could affect your business. Then you will need to look intensely at your Leaders and decide what overall and individual skills need to be strengthened, what talent needs to be developed and what mindset needs to be cultivated.