It’s that time of year when our social media feeds start to fill with blogs about forecasts, trends and themes to look out for in the coming year. I always find these posts really interesting because I think it’s a great way to see what’s on people’s agenda. In fact, I wrote a blog on the need to be more specific in 2021 myself in January! When I asked my community what they thought were the trends for business and communications in 2021 there were some key themes: listening, wellbeing and community, hybrid working and AI automation. So, I was interested to cross-reference these priorities against themes outlined by The Big Yak unconference delegates in Autumn 2021. Here I share my views on what I discovered:
1. Is active listening followed by active doing?
It was clear after the challenges of 2020, multiple lockdowns and the necessary shift towards working from home, that listening was key. Leaders need to listen more to employees. And I can see this was still a key issue during our unconference conversations. It made me wonder if we’ve been listening, but still not taking enough clear and specific action? Did we even know what to do with what we heard? Given what’s been termed “the great resignation”, I question if people have become tired of the “same old, same old”, with little or no action taken, which has led to damage and higher staff attrition rates. Although it is interesting to see companies like M&C Saatchi conducting “stay interviews” with staff in an effort to tackle this.
2. Dispelling the myths of hybrid working
A year on and hybrid working is still a big issue after much discussion and debate throughout the year. I’m not sure we have all the answers, but I think we’re closer to understanding what it really means. You can read my blog and watch the webinar about the five myths about hybrid working if you’d like to know more of my thinking around this. The fifth myth is the belief many have got caught up in, which is that hybrid is the answer. It’s not, and we can’t just focus on locations, it must be about culture and a much broader “freedom within a framework”. There has to be a link to culture here and this requires us to be more connected than technology will allow.
3. Are we focusing enough on diversity and inclusion?
I questioned back in 2020 why diversity and inclusion was only mentioned a few times as a key area for focus: “For a year when race, belonging and justice was a topic across the world, the fact that it was not mentioned as a trend for communication and businesses worries me. How has there been so much conversation about something that leads to so little action?”
This was a topic at the unconference but I’m still not sure we have clarity on how to take action and move things forward. I think we still need to sharpen our focus on creating a sense of equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging in our workplaces. It is something I’ve seen coming through more in client work this year – for example, a project to support National Inclusion Week for BAE Systems and helping to create a strategy around diversity and inclusion for The North East Local Enterprise Partnership.
4. Understanding ourselves as humans
A striking difference between this year and last year is the emphasis and interest in behavioural science at the unconference, which didn’t appear on the radar at all a year ago. Delegates shared useful resources about applying behavioural insights and frameworks for designing and evaluating behaviour change. Perhaps because of our experiences of the last two years, there’s a heightened awareness that we need to understand people more. This is something I completely support – there’s even a whole chapter in my book all about this! We can’t make a change and fix organisational chaos without understanding ourselves and those around us.
Trends don’t necessarily move as quickly as we’d like them to
So those were my key observations. I do think it’s important to remember that it’s not always useful reviewing things on a yearly basis. Trends don’t necessarily move as quickly as we’d like them to. Certainly, some issues take a long time to be addressed and changed. When I think about the theme of measurement or line manager communication or the value of the internal communications function, those questions have dragged on for over ten years now… but that’s a whole other blog!
What’s interesting here is that at the end of 2020 it was about listening, giving people a voice, mental health and wellbeing. These issues were such a priority during the lockdown, but they seem to be less of a priority now. At the end of 2021, it may be that the appropriate changes were made and that we’re moving on to look at other issues like understanding how people think, behave and interact, and adapting our communication with this in mind, particularly when it comes to change.
I’d love to know more about what’s on your agenda and how your organisation is planning to make positive changes around key issues in 2022. If you have any questions, please get in touch.