10 lessons learned in 2020

2020 has been a year of major changes in organizations. Some of them have simply helped us survive but others, more significant, will remain. I would like to pass on to you 10 lessons I learned, and which I believe should mark the way for the next cycle.

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Learning is not mandatory … nor is survival.

W. Edwards Deming

1. Creating a sense of urgency is one of the keys to change processes

This year has shown that when a sense of urgency is present, the speed at what companies respond is surprising. COVID-19 left no options. It was a question of survival, and all organizations, regardless of industry or size, had to react very quickly to an unprecedented scenario.

  • They incorporated or made digital tools massive
  • Teleworking was introduced or new forms of remote work were defined
  • Some companies even reinvented their products or services due to obstacles in their operations or changes in customer requirements

From now on, the key is to adjust strategy, set new challenging goals, and maintain this sense of urgency.

2. Lack of innovation has a cost

2020 has been a year of major losses for some players and great gains for others. There are plenty of examples of organizations that have abruptly lost market share against others that have grown exponentially by creating new business models, products and services, or new ways of operating. Feeling comfortable because “the business works today” is as risky as suspending preventive maintenance because no breakages are currently found.

3. Anticipate the customer if you want to be a leader

Relying on customer satisfaction or the client´s voice is risky. There are industries in which more than 50% of consumers have switched brands after expressing high levels of satisfaction with it. If this occurs in a “normal” context, it is even clearer in times of uncertainty.

The truth is that we customers do not know what we are going to need most of the time. To anticipate customer requirements you need to:

  • investigate, create hypotheses and possible solutions,
  • prioritize improvements and experiment,
  • “show” the product or service being developed to the client and see his/her reaction,
  • validate the hypotheses with the client.

We customers are not fortune tellers and do not know what we will be needing until it is shown to us and we try it.

4. Shareholders and board need to be closer

The board of directors is much more than a legal figure. In 2020, the executive team has played a fundamental role in redefining directions in the face of a changing context. In 2021, the board of directors, together with the shareholders, need to assume the critical role of ensuring sustainability.

Processes, audits, and other instruments already exist for legal and formal matters. Now we need to define practices to help develop the organization, not just grow but also acquire new skills. Practices to help create a new future in the midst of uncertainty.

5. Digitizing is not just incorporating technology

Incorporating programs and applications is not the same as connecting things and people in real-time in such a way that they add value to stakeholders. Many companies have invested or are investing in digitization, but few organizations allocate budget and effort to understand the best way to achieve synergy between technology and people. And these few ones are the ones that stand out.

6. If keeping the operation going was hard, the challenge now is making it sustainable

The continuity of operations during this year was possible mainly because there was a prior understanding between people. Beyond the differences and the usual “silos”, the organization’s staff already had habits and behaviors incorporated that, despite the difficulties, allowed the operation to continue working. In order to build a solid culture that allows for virtuality, total or partial, there is still a lot to learn. We will need to learn and do things that we have not yet imagined.

7. We must understand what is that creates value

This year has had a strong impact on people at a human and professional level, and this affects organizations. As a result, several of the practices used by the Human Resources or Talent Management areas will need an important rethinking. I would like to share some thoughts about it:

  • Do the roles that will be key to adding value in the future coincide with the current job description? And will they require those competencies that are considered and praised today?
  • Are the evaluations of performance and its criteria in tune with the performance we will need in the future?
  • Do careful career planning take into account the future uncertainty that companies will face?
  • Do the factors that are measured in the staff satisfaction survey correlate with those elements that allow companies to create economic value? At what extent?

But more importantly, do Human Resources programs meet the needs of the future? By using them, aren’t we leaving out people who could be key in the future?

8. Innovation is not applying Design Thinking

Design Thinking and other techniques to boost creativity are very valuable but insufficient. If we want to grow for the future, we need to build a true culture of innovation.

We do not innovate when every mechanism creates what is created, and feeds back what already exists. Some alerts that will help us identify if there are problems to develop a culture of innovation:

  • Is saying “nonsense” frowned upon in my organization?
  • Is an experiment that does not validate the hypothesis regarded as a failure?
  • Are always the same people considered to be right?

We need uninhibited people and resignify what experience and seniority are.

9. Goals may not help

We need to be careful with our goals. Goals make us fearful, cautious, conservative. Today we need people who try, experiment, and are willing to take risks to learn.

  • Do our goals help us?
  • How do we define them?
  • How do employees relate to their goals?
  • Do we use goals because they are an accepted good practice or because they really help us prosper?

We must question how good the current practices are for us, here and now, and validate them according to the results they bring.

10. Change is the “new normal”

If there is something that this pandemic taught us, is that no assumption is valid indefinitely, that everything is questionable and that, although many changes will happen, what will not change is the existence of change.

  • Are we making the ability to change a part of our culture?
  • Did we establish processes to continuously experiment, test and innovate?
  • Do we develop flexibility and self-criticism in our people?
  • Are we working to incorporate these aspects into our culture?

Ultimately, we must learn to change.

I honestly wish that next year we can capitalize on the learnings that this challenging year has left us. To a 2021 full of new lessons to learn.

Download your 2020´s lessons learned template

Author: Raúl Molteni

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