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Leading Off
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Expect 2021 to rival 2020 in its singularity. But while the global pandemic made last year a bleak descent into existential risk, loss, and grief, this year begins with at least the promise of an ascent to recovery and a more positive reality. Demonstrating sincere care for teams and employees will still be the leader’s test, as will having the soft skills required to lead well. There’s also a need to see both the entire playing field of recovery and the reimagination of a new work reality. So this week, let’s focus on the trends that will define 2021 and the new forces at work that will shape the business agenda.
There’s pre-, and then there’s post-
We will likely think of the pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 eras in much the same way we think of prewar and postwar periods. The good news is that with the arrival of vaccines, individuals, businesses, and society can begin to think about the future again, rather than grinding perpetually through the present. Here’s a primer on some of the key trends that have emerged during the pandemic, which will be discussed at the World Economic Forum’s virtual event—the Davos Agenda—that gets underway today, and will affect global economics, the ways business can adjust, and the societal changes that may endure.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
That’s Albert Einstein, everybody’s favorite smart guy. Leaders must keep moving to maintain equilibrium, and they also have the opportunity to do more than just “get through” the pandemic and restore for their companies and employees the performance and work life they enjoyed before the virus struck. But companies won’t bounce back unless leaders take on job #1: recharging their fatigued organizations by actively managing the energy of their workforces, cultivating the quality of relationships, and demonstrating a capacity for resilience.
That’s where speed comes out in a ranking of reasons why businesses—on average, across all industries—made COVID-19-related changes. In a recent McKinsey survey, speed topped factors such as the need to reduce costs, improve productivity, or engage more effectively with customers. During the pandemic, the reflex to keep up with changing market demands ran on adrenaline; now the metabolic rate of business has accelerated to a higher plane, and leaders at faster companies report significant outperformance for outcomes including profitability, operational resilience, organizational health, and growth.
A big number exhibit
illustration of a robot
Reskilling. Upskilling. Redeploying. Still with me? How about automation, robotics, and augmented reality? In the grip of the pandemic, companies and their employees have had little time to devise new ways of working. But change is the constant. In this interview, McKinsey talent experts Bryan Hancock and Bill Schaninger of the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast help you parse the best ways to prepare your teams for the new world of work.
Some big questions
illustration of a spinning top
What have we learned during the pandemic? Which ways of working and living will we retain from this horrible—and horribly challenging—episode? Which ways will fade as employees return to work in a mix of traditional, remote, and hybrid settings? Will leaders, shareholders, and stakeholders reassess what value itself means in this next normal? One thing is clear: the experimentation and soul searching now underway is changing the purpose, value, and culture of companies—and reshaping the organization of the future.
Lead well.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey’s New Jersey office
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