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2020 Lessons Learned That Prepare Us for 2021

LEADERSHIP

This year has been nothing but extraordinary. Professionally, employees and employers have been tested for their ability to manage anxiety and fear about job security and respond quickly to the ever-changing requirements coming from leadership. Personally, all had to adapt quickly to working remotely, multi-tasking between personal and professional demands whilst juggling many equally important balls in the air.

As 2020 is finally coming to an end, many hope for a different 2021, but the reality is that for the time being, nothing will be significantly different from this year.

Or will it?

Recognizing that much will be the same for the foreseeable future, there will be opportunities to apply the learnings from 2020 in the new year, thus creating a new environment at the ‘virtual’ workplace.

Remote working and distributed workforce are here to stay and keeping employees engaged and productive remains a top priority.

Companies that had adapted to a flexible work schedule before the pandemic were better prepared to lead a distributed workforce, and employees quickly embraced working remotely.

In the past, leaders were able to have their eyes on employees, which gave them the false belief that employees were productive. Managing a remote workforce has forced leaders to shift to an ‘output’ driven model based on trust, clear expectations, and frequent and transparent communications with the employee.

Employees ‘in exchange’ expect to be inspired by leadership, which drives engagement and strengthens employees’ commitment. Skip level meetings and ad hoc catch-ups should replace the water cooler conversations to keep management’s finger on the pulse. Technology is a key enabler, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom, MS Team and Webex are amongst the many options that help make these meetings more personal

Upskilling is no longer optional, it is a must for all

The pace of change has accelerated in 2020 and technology has become more accessible to all.  Employees were forced to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and learn to live and manage in chaos. Technology as an enabler has impacted every industry and every job forcing employers and employees to recognize the fast widening skills gap.

Leaders must create a culture of continuous learning and upskilling. The responsibility is shared. Employees and employers must continuously look for ways to acquire new skills to keep up and get ahead.

The boundaries between roles are getting blurry as super jobs evolve, jobs that combine responsibilities from multiple traditional jobs. For example, the Finance function has been developing over the past several decades from being the reporter of the results (rearview mirror) to applying advanced analytics and data science driving data-driven insights. Today’s requirements expect Finance professionals to understand and interpret data, use technology as an enabler, and be great storytellers. Skill requirements continue to evolve, but to keep up, one has to develop and continuously upskill.    

Applying the leadership lessons from 2020 is essential

The crisis of 2020 presented leaders with the opportunity to change and adapt their organization. Those who have upskilled, realigned, restructured, and acquired new skills are well prepared to emerge ahead of their peers.

2021 should be the year of rewards for those who have led the way in adapting to the fast-changing world. Leaders must remain visible and frequently heard as employees settle in new roles as recently pivoted organizations settle. Being authentic, human, and leading with empathy are skills that leaders must continue to demonstrate.

Skills – like being nimble, agile, faster decision making – learned during the pandemic must not be forgotten. Applying the leadership lessons learned during 2020 will help leaders flourish in 2021 regardless of the circumstances!

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