6 Business Lessons Learned from 2020

2020 is almost over.

Now that we are at the end of what has been a roller-coaster year, it is time to look at some of the business lessons learned from 2020 and the COVID19 pandemic.

We want to be prepared for the next big thing, the next black, grey, or white swan that might come our way. Which also brings me to the first lesson of in total six major lessons learned.

Lesson #1: Being prepared helps

Businesses and organizations that had foreseen key trends where much better prepared in dealing with the change that we saw. My key question to everybody is, wherever you are on the globe: What would you wish your January self would have done to be better prepared? As we get to January 2021, implement it.

Going forward, I recommend to conduct a “disaster plan” on a personal as well as business level once a year. After we conducted such a session 18 months ago, long before the pandemic, one executive said: I feel good now and am much better prepared to also benefit from the opportunities any crisis might bring.

Lesson #2: Full remote work…works

Especially for the businesses where remote work is possible it also payed off to be prepared for a full work-from-home setup. But especially one insight stood out: FULL remote work works. Before the pandemic employees and especially leaders were often not so happy with virtual arrangements. This is because virtual work used to be a hybrid setup in many cases: Everybody in a meeting room and  two to three people calling in from somewhere else, and often quickly forgotten in the discussions.

This type of hybrid-work where the „remote“ people are like second-class participants didn’t and won’t really work. However, when there is a levelled playing field, when everybody has to work from a distance, the picture looks different. It can work perfectly and this lesson should not be forgotten also when it’s safe again to go back to the office.

Lesson #3: You need to be able to pivot fast

The companies that could adjust very quickly were the ones that succeeded and could recuperate some of the losses or in some case also benefit fast from the opportunities that presented themselves. For instance, the businesses that could scale up the production of much needed equipment fast, such as ventilators. Or the companies that switched to the production of protection material.

Some weeks ago, I called at two restaurants to order take-away food. One answered “We have a reduced take-out menu, sorry, only two dishes available”. The other one answered “Of course you can have everything from the menu”. Guess which one I ordered at? And to top it, they had a free small desert added to take out. Guess where I will go back to? Making the decision to adapt business processes super-fast and keep that speed of quick decision-making has proven to be a key skill in times of the pandemic.

Lesson #4: Digitalization is the key to success

One retail executive recently mentioned to me: “The pandemic hasn’t changed anything but it has accelerated everything“. This is especially true in fields such as retail, but in reality we see it across the board.

Digital technology & processes are “Corona-proof” and scalable, two properties that have shown to be invaluable in this pandemic. If an organization has not yet thought about its internal and external digital transformation journey, it is now high time to accelerate this process.

Lesson #5: Own the customer relationship

One thing became crystal clear this year especially for smaller businesses: You have to own your customer relationship, and you have to be in touch directly with your customers. If people know you and you are able to communicate with them, you could inform them what’s going on, what your pandemic plans are.

You could also reach out and ask for the special needs of your customers and build a roadmap together. But if you don’t really know the customer, then you quickly risk of becoming a commodity and are replaceable. Especially small & large businesses who truly own the customer relationship are the ones that will thrive.

Lesson #6: Organizational adaption can happen at enormous speed

One thing that has stunned executives and researchers alike is the speed at which change was possible. Programmes that were years in the making got implemented in days. A now famous internet meme highlighted this „Who was in charge of driving your digital transformation? a) The CEO?, b) The CIO? or c) COVID19?“. Many people would have chosen c)

People adapted fast, improvised, kept businesses going. Very rarely does one see this behavior across the full organization. That shows that change IS possible. The key lesson to be learned in the coming months and years: how can this spirit of change be kept, especially in large organizations.

Final Lesson Learned

The final lesson that we have all learned in 2020 is that life can change very, very quickly. This probably won’t be the last highly volatile moment in the foreseeable future. Taking the above lessons into account, and even more importantly, making your own list of lessons learned, will help to hopefully adapt and maybe even thrive also in uncertain times that are yet to come.

What are your (business) lessons learned from this year?


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