2021: Where bold, courageous, and purpose-driven steps are needed

By Dave Hanney

2020 will stick long in the memory, having delivered a series of seismic shocks. The global pandemic shook and disrupted every organisation, government and individual. Black Lives Matter became a mainstream force and accelerated the fight for racial equality. There was a rise in awareness of growing inequality and the climate crisis, two of the biggest disasters we must face down.  There have, however been many positive developments, not least the international scientific community working to develop and approve vaccines at record breaking speed, the strengthening of localism and community spirit, as demonstrated by millions of new projects and initiatives, and individual acts of kindness.

There has been a significant shift in the way organisations are thinking, talking and acting. Across all sectors there has been headline grabbing, positive events, such as new strategies and policies to address diversity and inclusion imbalances, the adoption of fairer policies for pay scales and transparent decision making, and the divestment from fossil fuels and commitments to reduce emissions.  

The context has changed, and with this comes a new set of expectations and pressures. Following the enormous scale of government bailouts, generations of tax payers will place a much higher bar on the role businesses play within society, and the impact and contribution they make towards social justice, a more balanced economy and a healthy planet.  

For many workers, there’s a whole new playbook for how and when they work, how projects are managed, and the ways in which interaction, meetings and workshops are facilitated. Read Zoom fatigue! The outdated and mis-held belief that productivity goes down if you give people more flexibility to work at home has been quashed. This will help to pave the way for an evolution for the way work and teams are organised and managed, and progress towards more human-centred, empathetic, and adaptable work cultures.   

If this has been a year for survival, adapting to become more resilient, and rebalancing priorities to create better businesses for all stakeholders, then 2021 will be the year that determines the level of commitment to apply what’s been learnt and make changes. The trends are clear – the organisations and businesses that are growing the fastest, attracting the best people, and the most resilient to change, are applying insights from their data and from listening to their people. They are focussing on being purpose-led throughout their ecosystem, prioritising societal and environmental needs, and placing high value on developing fair, respectful, and long-term relationships with all stakeholders.  

Here are some questions organisations should consider, to support their efforts to build up momentum towards being more resilient, impactful, and future proofed: 

Where are we on our purpose journey, and where do we want to be in a year’s time? Many organisations have made the first steps of finding and articulating their purpose and values. However, changing the way things happen and how decisions are made, takes time, and the buy-in of the full workforce. This takes focus, creativity, and well-crafted engagement and communications to develop the understanding, belief and commitment that enables people to find and play their part. 

Where can we improve our stakeholder relationships to create more shared value? Typically, there is a focus on customers and employees, as these are at the epicentre of any business. Spending time and allocating resource to explore and develop robust and measurable strategies to develop each stakeholder strategy, in particular society; on a local and wider spectrum, and the environment; to rapidly move towards making a net neutral or positive contribution, will drive reputation, brand and growth over the long term. 

How can we accelerate our impact in addressing the most pressing challenges that the world faces today? There have been many recent examples of businesses, and alliances, focusing on an issue that they are expertly placed to tackle.  To solve complex, often systemic problems, requires collaboration and inventive, divergent thinking. Businesses are a hotbed of innovation, creative problem solving and generating growth, and can derive huge benefits for their people, investors and for society, by applying their skills and networks to build a better world. 

Aristotle said ‘Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees the others’. We look forward to working with courageous leaders, partners and colleagues, as we embark on the new year ahead to accelerate the impact of our collective potential.