What business challenges are leaders facing this year?
This article explores the biggest business challenges that leaders are facing in the coming year, giving guidance on how they can be approached, and exploring the importance of meetings in doing so.
We should start by acknowledging one truth: Business challenges are a constant. Leaders will forever be tasked with overcoming the hurdles that the world of business throws their way, and there is nothing unusual about this - it's a significant part of leadership.
However, the geopolitical instability and disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have meant that challenges that were once ripples are more like tidal waves or tsunamis. And while vaccine roll-outs along with a deeper understanding of the virus have meant that we should be nearing the end of the pandemic, the business challenges facing leaders in 2022 are still marked by the severity of the turbulence that we all experienced in 2020 and 2021.
What will have to be overcome? What curveballs will be thrown our way? And how will we cope, as the world still comes to terms with what the 'new normal' is after COVID-19? And how can meetings help leaders to tackle these obstacles - especially in remote and hybrid working environments?
To try and answer some of these questions, we hosted our first live conference - 'The Agenda - What Now?' - where leaders from around the world came together to share experiences, learnings, and to exchange ideas on how to overcome leadership challenges.
In this article, we will explore some of the biggest business challenges that leaders are facing in 2022, give guidance on how they can be approached, tackled, and overcome, and explore the importance of meetings in doing so.
What are the biggest business challenges facing leaders in 2022?
So what are these tidal waves that leaders are forced to surf as we head into the new year?
Here are five of the most pressing concerns that leaders raised at 'The Agenda: What Now?':
1. The hybrid world
It's no secret that remote and hybrid working practices are here to stay. However, having your people simultaneously distributed and colocated creates an interesting set of challenges that leaders are still grappling with.
For example, leading hybrid meetings. Creating an equal meeting experience for all participants - both in the room and dialled in - is central to success here, but isn't always easy to do.
Another example is team alignment. How do leaders keep their people aligned, in the absence of physical get-togethers and watercooler conversations? Meetings, however, are especially important in doing this, as in hybrid and remote set-ups they become the sole arena of real-time dialogue in your organisation.
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2. Employee mental health and wellbeing
Another key business challenge that leaders will face in the years to come in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their people. Many will still be processing recent events, which have been incredibly disruptive, and this - coupled with the adversity of working remotely, and potentially even overworking - is a recipe for stress and burnout.
Furthermore, when individuals are stressed or suffering the effects of mental ill-health, they most certainly won’t be delivering their best work. And rather than grinding people to breaking point, it is far more effective to create space for healthy dialogue around mental health, and to put resources in place to support people when they are struggling. In fact, a recent article from Inc. confirms this, stating that leaders need to ‘normalize caring for your mental health in the workplace.’1
For example, clearly communicating, at the management level, that mental health is something to be taken seriously, and to be looked after is a good start. This will enable people to speak out when they are suffering the effects of mental ill-health, which is important - after all, as a leader you would rather be aware of what your team members are going through, rather than being blindsided when somebody is forced to take a leave of absence.
Secondly, investing in an organisation-wide counselling service is important, as it gives people access to the help and guidance they need in order to remain healthy. What’s more, access to these services shouldn’t be reserved until people are already experiencing mental ill-health - preventative measures are highly important.
Mental health and wellbeing is one of the more ‘silent’ business challenges that leaders will face in 2022 and beyond, and it is important that you take action sooner rather than later here. Meetings are a great forum to give clear signals to your teams that this issue is important. This should begin at the top, with your regular all company meetings or town halls, and then should filter down to divisional and departmental team meetings. The more sincere and vulnerable that you and your management team can be in these addresses, the better - after all, unfortunately employees are often used to leaders saying the right things, but failing to back them up.
In addition to this, meetings also play an increasingly important role in fostering psychological safety at your organisation, which is fundamental to your employees feeling able to raise their concerns and struggles.
At the COP26 summit in November 2021, $130 trillion dollars of private ‘green funding’ was committed to net zero, as well as an increase in pace of implementing the Paris Agreement.2 Therefore, it’s clear to see that decarbonisation will be a hot topic for executives in the coming years.
At 'The Agenda: What Now?' conference, 40% of leaders admitted that working towards decarbonisation had already begun at their organisation, with a further 30% still trying to make decisions on how best to proceed. Surprisingly, the final 30% hadn't even thought about it. This topic is increasingly being forced to the front of our consciousness - not only by the agenda of business and politics, but also by the crises around the world that are occuring as a result of climate change.
A key first step in overcoming this business challenge in 2022 is to understand how your organisation is already performing. Once this is understood, you can begin designing measures to kick-start your organisation’s carbon reduction.
In the decarbonisation narrative, there is also an overlooked component, which arguably has the greatest impact on overcoming this business challenge in 2022 - and beyond. This factor is people. According to KPMG, ‘global corporations who are making net-zero commitments will not achieve their goals without taking into account the people and human capital factor.’3 In order to successfully engage and mobilise people behind decarbonisation initiatives, organisations need to consider the following human capital issues:
- Appointing a responsible person at board level,
- Incentivising management to achieve carbon reduction goals, and
- Reskilling and retraining employees to provide goods and services in a greener way.
As decarbonisation represents significant, deep seated changes for an organisation, change management principles will need to be followed. Meetings play a fundamental role in successful organisational change management, as they are the most effective means of engaging stakeholders at all levels, and achieving buy-in - starting with those who will directly influence, or be directly influenced, by the changes ahead.
Meetings are the field in which your organisational culture can be grown, preserved, and transmitted.
4. The war of talent
A by-product of the shift to remote and hybrid working is the global widening of the human resources for any given role. Organisations are quickly adopting 'remote first' working policies, and posting location-independent positions left, right, and centre. This means that the historical, geographic limitations on recruitment are lifted, and applications can apply for many positions from anywhere in the world.
What does this mean for leaders? Well, whereas organisations once had an advantage of recruiting the top talent from their local area, they are now pitted against a much wider range of organisations, from everywhere in the world, when attempting to attract the right individuals to join their teams. For example, a data analyst from Zürich, who was once limited to working for organisations in Berlin - or at a push, in Germany - can now apply for positions with Silicon Valley technology firms or Singaporean VCs, who will offer higher salaries and more challenging work.
What impact do meetings have here? Well, for starters, when run poorly, they lead to meeting fatigue, and play a key role in alienating people and driving great talent away. The meeting madness is proven to reduce job satisfaction and increase the likelihood of burnout. In addition to this, as the world becomes increasingly distributed, meetings play a vital role in connecting people - both for work, and interpersonally.
Therefore, it is imperative that leaders create a healthy, productive, and welcoming meeting culture in which organisational culture is bolstered rather than eroded. Applicants will quickly pick up on whether your people are connected, and organisational culture will be a key check-point on their list of must-haves when choosing a new position.
5. Preserving organisation culture
Finally, another key challenge facing leaders in 2022 - and that is implicitly linked with the 'war of talent' and the hybrid world, is preserving your organisational culture when co-location isn't the default.
It is far easier to create a culture in the workplace when physical events, team building activities, and informal conversations are commonplace. This becomes far less straightforward when people are spread around the world. Ensuring that your organisational culture - which will have taken years of blood, sweat, and tears to create - is distilled into the context of hybrid and remote working is a cornerstone of the future success of your organisation. It will help you to align, motivate, and inspire your people, and it will enable you to attract the right talent to join your journey.
Meetings are critical to this endeavour. In hybrid and remote working arrangements, they can be the only time that your people connect in real time. Formal business meetings must be planned, managed, and executed effectively, in order to ensure that your ship stays on course and that everyone remains aligned behind your mission. Informal meetings need to be evangelised - and this can be more of a challenge. These meetings give your people the opportunity to connect with one another, whether it is over coffee, or in an attempt to brainstorm or problem solve, and they are all too often overlooked.
Meetings are the field in which your organisational culture can be grown, preserved, and transmitted, and therefore are worthy of deliberate consideration in the face of the business challenges in 2022.
Business challenges: Learning to surf the waves rather than avoid them
It is true that business challenges are a constant in the experience of leadership, and it is important that leaders learn to ride them out rather than trying to resist them entirely. By utilising the tools at their disposal - meetings in particular - leaders are able to understand, tackle, and overcome the business challenges that are thrown their way, and ultimately come through them successfully.
1 ‘2021 Opened the Pandora's Box of Mental Health. Here's What's Likely to Happen in 2022’, M. Altman, Inc., 2021.
2 ‘Reflecting on COP26: what were the key outcomes?’, The Law Society, 2021.
3 ‘Climate change & decarbonisation: The emerging hot topics in the run-up to COP26’, M. Hayes, KPMG, 2021.