A Time to Debrief: 5 Business Learnings from 2020

There is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel for many individuals and businesses, and it takes the form of vaccines with high marks for effectiveness. And while science is giving us much to be excited about, we’re far off from business as usual. Savvy organizations would be wise to debrief on lessons learned and plan for the future with mindfulness of the only true certainty: nothing, in fact, is certain.

While the rapid-fire disruption of 2020 has slowed, businesses of all stripes received a crash course in crisis management during the last year. Whether navigating broken supply chains, quickly pivoting to allow employees to work from home, dealing with a sudden loss of customers or markets, or managing the physical or psychological impacts of an infectious disease outbreak, the list of challenges was plentiful – and they won’t be the last tough roads we face. So, what did we learn? Most importantly, how can we use those learnings to up the ante on preparedness? We’re guiding many of our partners in revising their crisis handbooks, planning strategically for a brighter future and leveraging the lessons learned and battle scars earned throughout the pandemic. Among the lessons:

  1. The fragility of supply chains requires contingency planning and swift adaptation – For many industries, supply chains came to a screeching halt in 2020 for a myriad of reasons from COVID-19 outbreaks in operations to trade disputes. For decades, supply chains have focused on specialization and efficiency, so much so that a shock in any one part of the chain wreaks havoc. With weaknesses exposed, the forging of new relationships and strengthening of existing ones became critical to survival, and contingency planning is paramount to keeping business moving.
  2. Families, employees and people are what matter most — The pandemic was a collective reminder of what’s most important: friends, family, people and, of course, good health. On the business front, employee wellbeing took center stage along with an increased importance of employee engagement. 2020 was the year to put people over profits and walk the talk many organizations have long espoused.
  3. Equity issues can’t be ignored – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic arose what some have identified as the pandemic of inequality and racial injustice. Sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the collective consciousness was raised across the country and world resulting in calls for anti-racist commitments that are more than denouncements. From family dinner tables to company board rooms, racism and social equity were the topics of conversation. Businesses were called upon not merely for statements of support, but for real, substantive and continuous commitment to anti-racist actions and to ensure better representation in the boardroom, on staff and throughout companies. The adage “actions speak louder than words,” has never been more true.
  4. Agility and an innovator’s mindset foster resiliency – No individual, organization or company went untouched by the pandemic and for many the key to survival was due in part to strategic pivots. Successful organizations moved swiftly, yet thoughtfully, re-focusing their strengths for added relevancy amid the pandemic. Companies and institutions that had previously adapted agile planning were better off than competitors, and those that embraced a culture of innovation pre-pandemic were able to better withstand the challenges of the year.
  5. Purpose and values are the backbone of building trust — The pandemic reminds us consumers are looking for brands that stand for something with values that align with their own. Brands that make a difference, and brands that make the world a better place go a long way toward earning trust.

With 2021 just around the corner, excitement over a new year is palpable, meaning now is a great time to not only strategically debrief about lessons learned from the last year, but also plan for the future. From updating crisis plans to building on recent learnings and shoring up vulnerabilities to defining your vision post-pandemic, there is no time like the present to think big.

– Teresa Siles, President & Partner, Nuffer, Smith, Tucker