2020 Hindsight: Learning for Tomorrow

So many terms come to mind to describe 2020: Unexpected. Uncertain. Uncomfortable. Distressing. And through the gyrations of the year, many leaders saw levels of agility, adaptiveness, and creativity in their organizations beyond anything they’d previously imagined. In the words of William James, “Great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed”.

As businesses plan for 2021, it’s a perfect time to practice 2020 Hindsight – reviewing observations from this year for insights and learnings to leverage in the coming 12 months. In the spirit of learning from the past to create the future, here are five ideas to help you frame your 2021 business plan:
  • Define changes about your target customer. How has the current environment changed demand from your core customer base? Has the economic environment created new customers or needs you can address? Are there customer segments you should temporarily step away from or focus upon? How do these observations inform your 2021 business plan? 
  • Identify what has become clear about your business and the way you operate this year. Take a close look at learnings from each chapter in your 2020 business story. What did you learn that helps you define expectations for you and your team in 2021? What parts of your operating model worked well during the heights of disruption and which showed the biggest gaps or development opportunities? One of the most powerful takeaways from the Covid-19 experience is seeing previously unrecognized development needs – in yourself, your team members, and the business overall. Capture these learnings for what they are – growth opportunities. 
  • Acknowledge that your business model has a shelf life, and it probably needs a refresh, if not a complete re-design. The operating model you’ve had in place for the past 10 years may have been perfect for 2011 but doesn’t work as well as it needs to for 2021. Examine which activities, products, services, or processes may be suboptimal or ineffective. This is the right time to discontinue legacy activities that are not efficient allocations of resources in the Covid era and explore reallocation elsewhere for a greater return on investment. 
  • See your business as others do. Customer research can be invaluable, or a waste of time. Research becomes valuable when it informs actions leading to a better customer experience, greater value-add, or identification of blind spots in the way your company shows-up. If you haven’t visited with customers to hear their perspective, now is the time to schedule Zoom conversations to ask “how are we doing in terms of delivering what you expect?”, “what do you see in the way we show up that we may be missing?” and “ if you were in my shoes as a leader in this company, what would you most want to know to serve our customers better?”. 
  • Next vs. Now. What are the most important two or three strategic priorities you can engage in now to get a head-start on 2021? What must be on your shortlist of initiatives today to assure you can deliver beyond the expected financial results in 2021? 
As an overriding guide to exploring these ideas with your team include a separation of the wheat from the chaff: In 2020, which aspects of our results are exclusively Covid-related, and what is based on something else? This is the cause and effect lens. Covid was unequivocally a dynamic unlike anything in recent history, however, it would be a missed opportunity to overlook other areas requiring attention in your 2021 business plan.

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