Reflecting on Trends from 2020

If you’re like me, you were sick of the word “unp*******” (I can’t even bring myself to type it all out) by about April.  My neighbor, who studied politics and history in college, told me “in the future, there will be people doing their entire PhD dissertation on just one quarter of 2020.”  I don’t doubt it – although living through it once was plenty for me, thank you very much, and I for one will not be reading those dissertations.

I know that 2020 has been tragic for millions of people, between lockdowns and social unrest and distance learning and Covid, and I don’t want to make light of that. However, I want to reflect on what I’ve been seeing and hearing as I work with businesses in different industries.

Here are the three big things that stand out to me as I look back on these last 12 months.

First, there’s still no one to hire. That’s an exaggeration, but it’s a frustration that multiple clients have expressed to me. It was a tough market for hiring pre-Covid, and you’d think that massive unemployment would make it easier for small businesses to find quality people. It seems the pool of candidates has grown, but the difficulty in sifting through it has also increased.

Second, the Covid-related economic downturn has forced business leaders to make tough decisions that they probably should have made a long time ago. I remember seeing this same pattern in ’08 and ’09 – leaders were forced to make difficult changes and then realizing that their business would have been stronger had they made those changes before the economic crisis hit. Strong cash flow is a blessing, but it also allows us the luxury of ignoring problems in our companies. When the cash flow suffers, all of a sudden, those problems can’t hide anymore, and leaders need to address them to stay in business.  

Third, most business owners are very optimistic about 2021. Some are optimistic because they anticipate a lot of pent-up demand from consumers as the economy opens up. Others are optimistic because they have had an incredible 2020 despite the pandemic and see no indication that this will change as they do their strategic planning for 2021. Either way, the post-vaccine world can’t come fast enough!

Now, trends that I see from my perspective are certainly not universal – just as I’ve had clients set sales and profit records this year, I’ve also had clients lose employees to COVID or see demand for their products and services plummet. I certainly don’t want to minimize those challenges. I believe that the fastest road to recovery lies in, as much as possible, focusing on celebration rather than mourning. So let’s celebrate!

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