2021 is set to be a very different year than 2020.
The expectation is that we will all regain most of the freedoms we enjoyed pre pandemic, owing to an unprecedented vaccination programme that is already ahead of schedule. Our working lives have all been altered in various ways this past year as well, with an adaptation to remote working that has delivered remarkable productivity in the face of great personal challenges. With a starkly different outlook for the year ahead, business is set to embark on a mass resurgence.
How businesses adapt to this new world though and the key battle for the skills and attitudes that are now needed from senior leaders to thrive post pandemic will be imperative. As executive search specialists, we explore the current business landscape whilst considering the key talent challenges ahead.
Short term planning
In a recent survey of UK CEOs, when asked what investments they would prioritise to meet their short to medium term strategic objectives, UK CEOs were split almost 50:50 between buying new technology and developing workforce skills.
On the latter point, the ability to make changes and investments in talent in a post COVID-19 world, is critical in addressing talent risk as a threat to long-term growth. Whilst the contraction to UK GDP throughout the COVID 19 pandemic has been extreme so too is the projected bounce back that will follow, with estimates of 5% growth in 2021 and 6.5% in 2022.
The first quarter of 2021 is set to be challenging as lockdown continues, but the prospects for the economy after Easter are far more optimistic with the continuing rollout of the vaccination The pandemic period brought with it a significant drop in business investment, but businesses have remained active in M&A to transform their
programme that is thus far exceeding targets. operations. If this translates into profits, then business investment may rebound faster than currently expected.
Investment & talent competition
What is certain is that investment will follow as capital is pent up and ready to be deployed.
The budget announcement on 3 March will be pivotal as it will offer the detail that business leaders need to commit to investment strategy. The post pandemic world is fast approaching, and businesses need to get their transformation and expansion plans in place to hit the ground running. Perhaps the most critical factor though is simply having the right talent and skills for this new world as the labour market and the skills employers now need have changed forever because of the pandemic.
One example is the rapid digitisation of supply chain operations that is occurring at scale. This has been a clear area of transformation for many of our global manufacturing clients. The competition for these skills is fierce and will continue to be. This is not just driven by the scarcity of the leaders with the skills themselves, but the increased competition for them, as access to this talent has become borderless due to remote working transforming the nature of the labour market. Similarly, with society as a whole needing to move towards greater sustainability and with businesses becoming more purpose driven, demand has accelerated for search for executive talent that can impact the delivery of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda.
Time to assess existing skills sets
These talent trends are indicative of how value will be created in a post pandemic world (digitisation, technology adoption, environmental consciousness) and the view of HR executives that their main focus will be on workforce planning, change and strategy further reflects this. Businesses now need to look hard at their own talent pools and assess if they are populated with the skills needed for the future business strategy.
In addition, research shows that a small group of roles are disproportionately critical in delivering value. Comprehending the exact skills and leadership traits that are needed for these roles will ensure a cogent senior talent management and acquisition strategy can be developed and applied. The competition for this key talent in a post pandemic world will be intense, as businesses look to invest, grow, and thrive again with the opportunities that will be created. Businesses with the foresight to see this impending battle for business-critical talent will be planning now to meet the challenge and launch the first strikes as the post pandemic dawn is fast approaching.