Most of us use the occasion of a new year to resolve personal changes and improvements. Business school deans and others in graduate business education leadership tend to be more ambitious.
Every December for the last few years, Poets&Quants has asked deans and others at the top B-schools around the world to share their plans for the coming year - see previous versions of this story here and here. This year, after the trauma of a worldwide pandemic and its economic reverberations, as well as the resounding cultural repercussions of racial reckoning in the United States, more were eager to share their visions for the coming year than ever before - not predictions, which we collected for another story, but resolutions, specifically what they intend to use their considerable platforms to help bring about.
In Michigan, echoing several of his peers, Ross School of Business Dean Scott DeRue "is filled with hope and optimism" for the new year. In Georgetown, in the U.S. capital of Washington, D.C., McDonough School of Business Dean Paul Almeida says "the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion has become ever more apparent in 2020" and "the time for change is now." Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business Dean Matt Slaughter calls for self-care as we continue fighting the twin viruses of Covid-19 and systemic racism in the United States. And Karen Sedatole, interim dean at Goizueta Business School at Emory University, says the new year is time to "do the hard work": "If 2020 has taught me nothing else," she writes, "doing business as usual is not an option if you want to succeed. Instead of hunkering down to weather the storm, sometimes you need to take action - to take intelligent risks."
As the momentous and unforgettable 2020 wanes and the pristine possibilities of 2021 loom, P&Q received more resolutions from global schools than ever before. At IESE Business School, in Barcelona, Spain, Dean Franz Heukamp says his top priority is leveraging the school's resources to help the world recover "as swiftly as possible" from the pandemic. At London Business School, Dean François Ortalo-Magné wants to see greater diversity in student ranks, particularly when it comes to women. And at HEC Paris, Eloïc Peyrache, dean of programs, hopes his school and others will "unleash the magic," making sure that they are "part of the solution." "We will do so," he says, "by investing even more in research" to help "change the world, be it around AI, climate change, or new modes of leadership."
Though it will arguably be remembered as a good year for B-schools overall, few will be sad to see 2020 expire in a few days. Here are some resolutions for 2021 from some of the biggest names in graduate business education around the world.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED - AND STOCK UP ON TOILET PAPER
Sri Zaheer, Dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota
Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, says her resolution last year was "to expect the unexpected and react accordingly while stocking up on toilet paper. Pretty smart, huh?
"Kidding aside, that mentality of handling unexpected challenges and developing the skills that 2020 forced all of us to practice - being adaptable, resilient, and most importantly, consciously inclusive - are ones that I resolve to expand on as we enter 2021.
"It is amazing what happens when your back is against the wall and there is no other option but to 'do.' At the Carlson School, our faculty and staff rose to every challenge while our students never stopped thinking about others before themselves. Together, we achieved so much. Our academic technology is leaps and bounds better than a year ago. Courses are completely redesigned, providing more time for live interaction and the learning that happens during it. Study abroad programs, internships, academic and career advising and alumni are all more accessible in the virtual environment.
"But 2020 also made us confront head-on the fact that we as a society have many challenges still to overcome. Deep disparities in our society remain. As a school and as a country, we are called to, finally, address them. 2021 will bring the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, which happened in our hometown. In the time since, our Carlson School community has grieved and resolved to act, listening to diverse voices and developing a set of recommendations for new and enhanced initiatives as we re-double our efforts to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive school. My resolution for the next year is simply this: to do all I can to advance this urgently important work.
"This work won't be complete this time next year. In fact, it will never end. But I believe we will make significant progress these next 12 months to secure a brighter future for all in our community. Just one example - our 'Emerging Leaders of Color' program is already doing more than we expected. Two students from the inaugural cohort are freshmen at the Carlson School and the program has doubled in size in the past year, with 72 diverse high school students participating in the monthly Saturday programming. They get to experience college, are exposed to the benefits of a business education, interact with our students, faculty, and with each other, and network with business professionals as they prepare for higher education.
"Here's hoping 2021 is a bit more predictable, full of better news for the economy, for businesses of all kinds, and for our society at large."
A CONTINUING FOCUS ON RESEARCH
Franz Heukamp, dean of IESE Business School in Spain. File photo
Franz Heukamp, dean of IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, says his top goal in 2021 is "to use our activities to help the world recover as swiftly as possible from the pandemic, and in a way that better protects the most vulnerable members of our society.
"When reflecting on the goals for the year, I always come back to IESE's mission: to develop leaders that have a positive impact on the world. The events of the past year show just how important this work is! While we are now coming to terms with the health-related consequences of the virus, the broader economic and social consequences are just beginning to be felt. The crisis has exacerbated already worrying levels of rising inequality across the globe. Against this backdrop, our mission at IESE of working for the common good and focusing on research, teaching and initiatives that help businesses have a more positive impact on the world (both now and for the future) has never been more relevant.
"During the last year, we reacted quickly to the Covid-19 crisis and put in place a number of new initiatives to do our part during this unprecedented crisis (e.g. by offering more flexible study options to our participants, making our campus safe through our Ready.Safe.Go initiative, offering dedicated scholarships, or providing open access resources to help executives better navigate this, among others.) But there is still so much to do.
"That's why during 2021 we will continue to focus on research, programs and activities that contribute to building more resilient, inclusive societies that can better support all its members. Among others, we will be expanding and deepening our Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Management Initiative. Here we will be launching further research and programs focused on one of the key issues of our time: the management and ethical challenges of AI. We will also continue to produce leading research and initiatives on pressing issues such as the climate crisis, education, boosting job creation and business ethics. And last but not least, there will be a renewed emphasis on better explaining our core values: why businesses - and business schools! - must be serving society in a positive way that goes beyond generating profits. We have to be able to give executives not only the practical tools - but also the will power and reasons - to do that."
'WEARY & WORRIED,' BUT DETERMINED TO MAKE 2021 BETTER
Dartmouth Tuck Dean Matthew Slaughter urges self-care in the new year. "Among the lessons of 2020 and the resolutions I've been pondering for the year ahead is the encouragement of rest and care," he writes, "and being intentional in those practices. The intensity of efforts to combat the viruses that flared in 2020 - both Covid-19 and systemic racism in the United States - have been unprecedented. So too is the need for rest and self-care amid these battles. So much of the progress that we at the Tuck School made during 2020 and similarly the Covid continuity successes of our alumni and leaders across industries can be attributed to dogged efforts, tenacious creativity, and remarkable resilience.
"To keep pace with continuity efforts and to sustain lasting meaningful change in the fight against racism and inequalities, leaders need to be intentional about resting, recharging, and carving out time for self-care and wellness. As the axiom goes, one cannot pour from an empty cup. In the year ahead, I will continue to encourage Tuck students, faculty, staff, alumni and strategic partners to rest when needed and to do so without guilt or shame. Reflection and replenishment strengthen, not hinder, capacities for leadership."
And Doug Shackelford, dean at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, expresses optimism tempered by realism.
"I am ready to see 2020 in my rearview mirror and eager to welcome in 2021," Shackelford writes. "While I'm optimistic the new year will be an improvement, I'm realistic that many challenges await us. My focus is to continue to collaborate with faculty, staff, students and alumni to ensure that we keep teaching, researching and serving at world-class levels.
"With that said, our priority is to keep our community safe while we fulfilling that mission. We've never had to operate amid such uncertainty and change, but the silver linings are the collaboration and caring I see every day. Even though we are weary and worried, I see greater compassion and empathy along with a deep dedication to build a more inclusive community. We are resolved to use this time to think about the future - to innovate so we both meet and anticipate the changing needs for business education.
"In terms of hopes and dreams for 2021, I wish for a fully vaccinated campus. And before the year ends, we hope to break ground for a new, 140,000 square-foot building."
The Best of 2020 at Poets&Quants
DEAN OF THE YEAR: UVA DARDEN'S SCOTT BEARDSLEY
P&Q PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR: HARVARD'S DEEPAK MALHOTRA
P&Q'S MOST POPULAR (AND IMPORTANT) STORIS OF 2020
2020 BUSINESS SCHOOL RANKINGS: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
MBA PAY & PROFILES 2020 SCHOOL EMPLOYMENT & CLASS REPORTS
P&Q'S TOP BUSINESS SCHOOL SCANDALS OF 2020
B-SCHOOLS (TRY TO) PREDICT WHAT 2021 WILL LOOK LIKE
BUSINESS SCHOOL DEANS SHARE 2021 RESOLUTIONS
Eloïc Peyrache of HEC Paris: "a strong need to unleash the magic" in 2021. Courtesy photo
Scott DeRue, dean at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, says despite the unprecedented tests of the past year, he is optimistic about 2021, for which he has three main resolutions.
"The past year has tested every leader, whether you are in business, education, public service and government, or within your local community," DeRue writes. "It has been a challenging year for everyone, and yet as I look forward to 2021, I am filled with hope and optimism. And it is within that spirit that I have three resolutions for the new year.
"The first resolution is to work tirelessly to create a more accessible and inclusive business school experience for all students: not just at Michigan Ross, but across business education. For example, this fall we hosted a wonderful panel of deans from across the country in a discussion of race in business education, and how we as deans can lead the way towards a more diverse and inclusive business community. It was inspiring, and I resolve to continue this work with an unwavering commitment to progress in 2021.
"The second resolution is to be even bolder and more courageous. For those who know me, you know I like risk. I like being out of my comfort zone. It is here where we grow, learn, and stretch our potential. I think all of us in business education can be bolder, more courageous, and get outside of our comfort zones even more than we are today. We have an opportunity to emerge from this pandemic with new insights, new ideas, and new innovations that could propel business education forward in profound ways. The question is - will we have the courage? My resolution is to make sure I approach each and every day with courage and a commitment to supporting my team as we together reimagine business education for the future.
"My third and final resolution is to find joy in every day. Looking back on 2020, it's been a year of challenges, stress, long days, and simply not enough joy, not enough fun. We all need more joy, laughter, and fun in our lives. So, my final resolution is to find joy in every day for myself, but even more importantly, to bring joy to others. If you're like me, you miss the social connection and the joy that is at the heart of our most meaningful relationships. If I can find ways - big or small - to bring joy and happiness to others in 2021, that for me will be living a life of purpose."
BUILDING ON WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED
Cornell Johnson Dean Mark Nelson
Dean Mark Nelson of the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University says the lessons of 2020 will inform - and improve - 2021 for the majority of graduate business institutions.
"My resolution," he writes, "is to build on what we have learned in the last year to continue supporting the needs of our students and community in innovative ways that leverage Cornell's unique strengths. Covid really highlighted how lucky we are to be part of one of the world's great universities and to be located in beautiful upstate New York, and 2020 showed how important it is to have a diverse community in which we are stronger together. The combination of Cornell's science-based, people-centered pandemic response and our supportive community enabled us to keep people safe while also delivering on the promise of our degree program, and we will build on that success going forward.
"We also learned new ways to utilize technology. Our Executive MBA Americas program has used synchronous distance teaching since 2005, and we utilized that platform and others by expanding interactions with new recruiters, distinguished alumni, corporate partners and industry leaders.
"As we all emerge from this challenging time, I am excited to see Johnson poised for even greater success going forward."
ON DIVERSITY FRONT, 'TIME FOR CHANGE IS NOW'
Georgetown McDonough's Paul Almeida. McDonough photo
Paul Almeida, dean of Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, says after a year of "unprecedented challenges," his school has embraced the importance of ensuring "we do more than simply oversee the running of our very complex daily operations during the pandemic. We have kept our focus on building for the future, with the mindset of not just surviving, but thriving in a post-Covid world. That will continue to be our priority in 2021.
"The conditions of the pandemic have forced all schools to approach business education in completely different ways, calling for us to adjust our norms and be creative in how we deliver on our educational mission. We have a tremendous opportunity to learn from these experiences in ways that will forever change - for the better - how our faculty teach and conduct research, how our students learn, and how our staff manage our programs and operations.
"Additionally, the need for diversity, equity, and inclusion has become ever more apparent in 2020. The time for change is now, yet we have seen for years that swift actions are often fleeting. At McDonough, we are working as a community to enact meaningful change from within so that we may form a ripple effect that extends to our city, our alumni network, and the broader business world. We have much to do toward an initiative that will continue to need our care and attention well into the future. Our rededication to DE&I began in 2020 and will continue in the new year and beyond.
"At McDonough, our faculty are discovering how to use technology in new and innovative ways to engage students in learning. Our students are building skills that many of us have had to flex for the first time in 2020 - adding new technology acumen, adaptability, and resiliency to their toolboxes, on top of the business knowledge they sought when enrolling in business school. And, as an organization, we are re-thinking our workforce, from telework policies to space utilization.
"We also know we need to listen to the market more carefully to position ourselves in times of change. If anything, Covid has shown us that adaptability is more important than ever and building a flexible organization has allowed us to adjust to new challenges as they arise. We have not slowed in our commitment to create interdisciplinary collaborations throughout Georgetown University around the intersection of business and key areas, including analytics and technology, sustainability, public policy, and healthcare. By developing new perspectives, lines of thought leadership, and academic programs, Georgetown McDonough will best prepare our students and alumni to address the world's most complex challenges."
A YEAR OF TRANSFORMATION & 'MAGIC'
François Ortalo-Magné, dean of London Business School, resolves that 2021 will be a year when more women enroll in the MBA - progress for which the foundations were laid in 2020.
"We will see a greater focus on broadening access to business education in 2021 and, in particular, on making world-class education available to individuals from non-traditional backgrounds," he writes. "In 2020, London Business School welcomed its first Laidlaw Scholars with the support of the Laidlaw Women's Leadership Fund. These women may not have seen business school as an option available to them; they are now on their way to join our alumni community.
"All of us in business education agree people of diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives belong in positions of leadership including boardrooms. For 2021, let us all commit to growing the availability of educational opportunities like our Laidlaw Women's Leadership Fund."
And at HEC Paris, Eloïc Peyrache, dean of programs, says it's time to change the world.
"After a very difficult year for everyone, there is a strong need to unleash the magic and making sure that a business school like HEC Paris is part of the solution," Peyrache writes. "We will do so by investing even more in research that will change the world, be it around AI, climate change or new modes of leadership.
"We will do so by making the sense of purpose - of the HEC community and of business at large - decisive.
"We will do so by transforming our students into entrepreneurs of change."
Karen Sedatole, interim dean of Emory University's Goizueta Business School, which "will evolve with business and evolve to shape business" in 2021. Courtesy photo
Tepper School of Business Dean Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou offered perhaps the most succinct resolution: "My resolution for 2021," she writes, "is to foster more diversity and wider access to business school education. We need to be intentional about it."
Karen Sedatole, interim dean at Emory Goizueta, calls for "taking intelligent risks" in the new year - something her school is poised to do.
"As an interim dean, there is a strong incentive to maintain the status quo," Sedatole writes. "Let the next dean pick things up and do the hard work. But if 2020 has taught me nothing else, doing business as usual is not an option if you want to succeed. Instead of hunkering down to weather the storm, sometimes you need to take action - to take intelligent risks.
"Our namesake, Roberto C. Goizueta, was one of the great business leaders of the 20th century and led The Coca-Cola Company to unprecedented prosperity during his 16-year tenure. He talked about the 'art of intelligent risk' and had a philosophy that the biggest risk is not to take risks. You can sit still and watch your competitors pass you by, or you can peek into the future, identify the needs of your stakeholders, and do the due diligence necessary to succeed.
"Business schools are great at analyzing the past and teaching the present. Mr. Goizueta challenged us to be different. He said, 'Business schools today cannot just reflect business the way it is. They must teach business the way it will be.' We've taken this to heart and woven it into our identity. And no global pandemic or interim deanship can change that.
"So what does 2021 hold for Goizueta? We've already peeked into the future and identified needs - innovation in teaching, a more equitable and sustainable world, to name a few. My resolution is to take intelligent risks to fill these needs.
"Goizueta will evolve with business and evolve to shape business, adding new degree and non-degree programs to address areas of need for skill and talent development. We'll launch global classrooms this year that will be at the forefront of the next-generation digital learning experience. And we'll continue to invest in the areas of augmented reality, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence to innovate how we deliver courses.
"We will launch the Roberto C. Goizueta Business and Society Institute that seeks to transform business to build a more equitable and climate-smart world through cutting-edge research, innovative programming, and principled leadership. We will also launch the Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation that will - through student-centered programming, mentorship, and research - help leaders solve today's challenges and create tomorrow's reality. We will address justice, equity, and diversity needs by emphasizing actions that are strategic, structural, and sustainable, including new endowed scholarships focusing on building a student body that fully reflects the broader society. And our MBA students are doing their part with the launch of the John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition.
"In short, I resolve in 2021 to hold true to the ideals that make Goizueta special and take intelligent risks that further our mission to prepare principled leaders to have a positive influence on business and society."
2021: A YEAR OF 'DIGITAL MATURITY' & 'RECALIBRATION'?
Allègre Hadida of Cambridge Judge. Courtesy photo
At Cambridge University in the UK, several Judge Business School professors and others offered their hopes, resolutions, and predictions for the new year.
Michael Barrett, professor of information systems and innovation studies, hopes for big change in the realm of digital transformation. "The pandemic," he writes, "has accelerated the uptake of digital in virtually every sector, and this has brought to light the level of readiness and maturity of different organizations to adapt to the future. In 2021, we can expect to see more clear winners and losers as we have started to see in the retail industry. Those organizations with little investment or capability in evolving to becoming a digital enterprise will likely be banished as dinosaurs of the pre-Covid era. Those already well-positioned with digital maturity will sprint faster, making make even bigger competitive strides. While customer power can be expected to energize this digital trend, it is less clear how flexible organizations will be with their employees in the emerging era.
"On the one hand, the pandemic has provided a long-enough runway for new work routines to become legitimate out of necessity - but what recalibration might we expect in sectors where digital does not easily allow for measurement and control of worker productivity?"
Michael Pollitt, professor of business economics, says he would like to see action on green jobs in the new year. "Hopefully we'll get more detail in 2021 on the U.K. government's "Green Industrial Revolution" announced late last year by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. My view is that initiatives to boost wind power and shift from natural gas to hydrogen are primarily environmental in nature, which is great, but I'm sceptical that they will create lots of new jobs as the government hopes. The UN Climate Change Conference is scheduled for November in Glasgow, so hopefully we'll see some more granular detail from the UK government before then.
And Allègre Hadida, university senior lecturer on strategy, is eyeing the reopening of cinemas and other venues to help the cultural sector recover from a devastating year.
"The cultural sector is anxiously hoping for a safe and successful reopening of cinemas and performing arts venues in 2021 after the industry was decimated by the pandemic," Hadida writes. "While some venues have reopened with limited capacity, questions remain about many issues - as amplified by Warner Brothers' decision to stream its entire 2021 film slate, including blockbusters, at the same time they open in cinemas. The biggest question of all is whether audiences, which have become increasingly used to consuming content online during the pandemic, will return to these venues - although the movie industry has survived many challenges before including the advent of television and home video, and the performing arts sector has lived through other pandemics. Will collective, in-person entertainment experiences return?
"Government support has always been important to the arts, and never more so than in 2021 - so all eyes will be on how responsive governments can be given so many other spending demands caused by the pandemic. Museums and performing arts organizations find it difficult to break even at 50% capacity, so continuing social distancing measures will hurt. Another question for the creative industries: what will be the cost effect of extra sanitary measures and insurance premiums on the production of new content, as customers to online video-on-demand subscription services such as Netflix have grown accustomed to a steady weekly diet of brand new content?"
CHANGE IN U.S. LEADERSHIP SEEN AS VERY POSITIVE
Chris Coleridge, senior faculty in management practice at Cambridge Judge. University photo
Thomas Roulet, Cambridge University senior lecturer on organization theory, says changes in the workplace that came about in 2020 are unlikely to disappear quickly in 2021, regardless of pandemic conditions.
"Many believe that in 2021 we will return to pre-Covid work patterns," Roulet writes. "While the rise of remote work was slow until then, the Covid crisis forced us all to operate in new ways. As firms are, as a consequence, getting rid of their office space, we will most likely never return to office life as it was. Co-workers, managers and their employees will only meet face to face occasionally, but both organizations and their members will quickly realize the central importance of those physical interactions for their employees' coordination, bonding, and mental health. This 'hybrid' workplace will capitalize on an increasing range of digital tools."
Several other Cambridge professors and instructors provided outlooks on the coming year. Chris Coleridge, senior faculty in management practice, on environmental entrepreneurship and investment:
"In 2020, more than 500 significant companies around the globe set science-based targets for reducing their emissions, bringing the total to 1,100. But it's widely understood that the concrete plans to meet these ambitious targets are a work in progress. So the current rush by the venture capital world to invest in climate tech needs to be seen not only in the light of rolling out renewables and cleaning up the grid. Fundamentally, corporates will need to shift their business models and value propositions to low-carbon-intensity activities, and it's entrepreneurs who will lead the way in helping them do that. Corporates aren't typically great at innovation that contradicts their existing dominant logic - so entrepreneurs have major opportunities to help them towards the kind of radical innovations that will be needed."
Sunita Sah, KPMG professor of management studies, on the criminal justice system and forensic science:
"The change of leadership in Washington is likely to restart initiatives on tackling bias in the U.S. criminal justice system. The Trump administration in 2017 ended the National Commission of Forensic Science, on which I served as a commissioner, due to the administration's aversion to science and to valid criticism of traditional law enforcement practices. The commission - which was jointly administered by the Justice Department and the National Institute of Standards and Technology - had been established following a report by the National Research Council, which had shockingly concluded that many techniques (such as bite-mark evidence) commonly used in U.S. courts had no scientific basis."
Jennifer Howard-Grenville, Diageo professor in organization studies, on climate-change promises:
"The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November - known as COP26 - which will focus on actions to meet goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Governments and business are now making pledges to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by a certain date, but we all need to adopt a 'buyer beware' attitude to what such promises actually translate into. A willingness to set a net-zero ambition is not the same as having the capacity to achieve it, so we should all focus on environmental actions and not just words in 2021."
Eden Yin, university senior lecturer in marketing, on digital innovation in marketing:
"The Covid pandemic has served as a great catalyst for digital transformation and especially on the marketing front. Customers are more accustomed to online shopping, and this habit will become further entrenched in 2021. To execute marketing strategies more effectively, firms will need to provide a superior online customer experience - including not only provision of goods and service, but also the content and dialogue a customer would expect from an online platform. While brick-and-mortar outlets remain relevant, they need to become a customer experience or entertainment destination instead of just a channel for distribution. Such a fundamental transformation in consumer habit and preference will pose tremendous challenges to traditional firms in 2021, but those that develop deep relationships with their customers in the virtual world can still thrive."
Kamal Munir, reader in strategy and policy, on philanthropy:
"At the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at Cambridge Judge, where I am academic director, we see 2021 as a key year for change in global philanthropy. Philanthropy has come under a lot of criticism in the past couple of years, and sometimes for good reason. At the Centre we are concerned with the relationship of dependency that exists between the developing nations of the Global South and the developed economies of the Global North. So we seek to change this imbalance to a more equitable relationship where countries of the Global South can fill the many institutional voids that exist in their societies, leading to more South-South collaboration and the sharing of data and resources. This will engender new capabilities that will, hopefully, over time contribute to a declining need for philanthropic capital from outside."
And Robert Wardrop, faculty (professor level) in management practice, offers this view on digital currencies:
"The big issue we will be watching at the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance is whether 2021 is the year that digital currencies go mainstream. Among the key questions: will central banks launch digital versions of their sovereign currencies? And will Diem, the recently rebadged Libra 'stablecoin' sponsored by Facebook, finally get regulatory approval to launch as a blockchain-based payment system? These are huge issues, because once the digital currency genie is out of the bottle it will be really hard to put it back in."
INSEAD's Chengyi Lin
Chengyi Lin, INSEAD professor of strategy, had perhaps the most detailed set of resolutions for 2021 - and not just for himself, but for business schools and business leaders, as well.
"There were moments during 2020," Lin writes, "when I thought this year might never end. Then there were days where I worried it might end too soon. Yet here we are, and it is time for farewell and a look forward.
"While waiting for Covid-19 jabs to poke a hole in social distancing, many of us pledge to uphold a list of new-year resolutions. Even in regular times, solemnly vowing to swim 50 laps each morning or picking up multiple new languages by next December feels a bit ambitious. At the turn of this year, demanding momentous self-edification from ourselves feels almost unfair. Suffice that we act in a friendly and fair way towards our fellow humans. Yet what about businesses? Could companies try their hand at this age-old best practice?
"They should. 2021 should be a rebound year not only for profits but also for commitments."
Lin offers four items to get business leaders - and everyone else - started.
"The high costs of human-to-human interactions during Covid has put businesses' digital fitness to an extreme test," Lin writes. "CEOs got pulled out of conference rooms and into their living rooms (or kitchens), where they were forced to conduct consecutive international meetings via Zoom or MS Teams. In particular, the retail sector underwent a rude awakening. Senior executives were forced to hang on to the last business line that generated revenues as they watched supplies pulled away from underneath their feet.
"Don't you wish you had done things differently?
"Before 2019, like almost all other company leaders, you had developed digital roadmaps. You vowed to invest time and energy in developing strength and agility. Buzzwords aside, perhaps you innovated at a leisurely pace due to an entrenched attachment to legacy infrastructures, processes, and ways of working. When Covid imposed an immediate 'everything virtual' transformation, and old practices were thrown on the junk heap along with sharp business suits, the naked truth was revealed. Your organization has no digital muscles.
"It is time to shape up.
"In 2021, let us get serious about 'digital transformation,' whichever way you define it. Paying your favorite personal coach handsomely for a well-planned strategy is one thing. Going to the digital gym, doing the heavy lifting of overhauling legacy systems, and toning loose muscles within your organization is another. This year you must live up to your expectations. Take an Instagram selfie of your company on January 1st and start sweating it out. In 365 days, you should be ready to present your board a before and after story."
SET A GOAL FOR A BALANCED MEAL INSTEAD OF EXTREME DIETING
"Various and often enormous external pressures compel you to monitor your business' weight at all times. Are we lean and flexible enough, you wonder? Then you seek out the latest diet prescribed by influencers and gurus. And you cut - resources, human and others. Sustaining your company on the business world's equivalent of Spirulina shake may help you gain efficiency, it runs the risk of causing a loss of focus, short breath, or malnutrition.
"Like many businesses, it is likely that your organization was subjected to relentless investor pressure over the last years. As a result, you prioritized efficiency gains and cost-cutting over disruptive technologies and business model innovations. You used to laugh at 'dreamers' who invested in building creative capabilities for the future. Your board members told you these are 'unrealistic and impractical.' But Covid made you realize that the dreamers might have the slack resources to withstand the storm. They stored creative energy to generate novel responses. You did not.
"In 2021, re-calibrate your meals. You do not want to fall back on high carbon, high-fat routine while counting on an occasional extreme diet to lose excess weight. Instead, make a conscious choice to introduce exotic business vegies into your management practices. What about a monthly check-in on how you are following through with your innovative ideas?"
EMERGE FROM YOUR PANIC ROOM, INVEST IN PEOPLE
"In light of the crisis, we all want to build resilience. Many choose to order a panic room or turn their basements into bunkers, their shelves stuffed with emergency supplies of cash reserves, hard-nosed executives who 'deliver the numbers,' and furloughed employees. These may be efficient, perhaps life-saving stopgaps. But they are temporary. When your company steps out of its isolation, it might find itself laid bare, feeble, and exposed to infection risks.
"Let go of short-term stocking and regain your ability to invest in people for the long run. In times of crisis, we look for resilience within and among us. Those who stay calm and collected, gather ideas and develop a sound plan, unite and motivate the crowd, have the courage to take risks, and the willingness to take responsibilities emerge not just as survivors but winners.
"In 2021, cancel your 'panic room' approach, and do not overstock your basement with safe bets that fuel your short-term. Instead, invest in your high-potential talent. This is your best bet for the future, especially for these sneaky unknown unknowns."
STOP RETWEETING POSTS BY INFLUENCERS; MAKE TIME FOR FACE TIME WITH FRIENDS & COLLEAGUES
"Business leaders are people. And most people are not immune to contagious social media' interactions' that narrow our social experience to a few super-spreaders. Are those classmates of yours who gathered a million followers sharing a profound truth when they post yet another 'humbled and grateful' update?
"Get real. Businesses talk to investors via quarterly earnings calls, reach out to customers through multiple channels, and engage with employees by holding regular meetings and running periodic surveys. Pay attention to the nitty-gritty details of your business. Do you review your sustainability targets every month - or year? Are your local outreach programs championed by youth volunteers or handsomely-paid influencers? Do you know what your minimum-wage employees are going through? Well, many of them work two other jobs and have no time to spend with their families.
"In 2021, let go of infinite scrolling. Raise yourself above the feed. Even if you are barred from leaving your office or flat, make sure you see the faces and hear the voices of employees or friends with whom you have long lost touch. Ask them how they are doing, whether they are happy or anxious. Find out what they care about. Look into their eyes and ask them if you can do anything for them, for their families."
Lin concludes: "2020 was a tough year because it alienated business people and their companies from human interaction. It robbed us of our sense of fellowship, adventure, and wonder. Let's commit to making 2021 a year where we regain all that. This way, when 2022 starts, we will know we have not shed blood, sweat, and resources in vain."
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