Quarter 4 2019 Business Trends
Published by The Deutser Clarity Institute
Uncertainty remained the one constant thread that ran through and connected activities, thoughts and outcomes in 2019. Looking back at the big trends of the final quarter, they are mixed with the realities we experienced much of the year, with a tinge of optimism over what we have and continue to accomplish as we begin the new year and decade.
1. Slow Release/Exhale
The fourth quarter continued the “hold your breath and wait for the next shoe to drop”
feeling that permeated the last half of the year. In businesses, there was an intentional, albeit
slow release that became apparent throughout the workplace. The release was experienced
by leaders and the workforce alike as the realities of the year became clearer. The buildup of
anxiety and continued chaos driven by political, technological and evolving societal norms
began to feel familiar as we kept getting a hit from what was to come next. As the calendar
turned to a new decade, we are seeing more intentionality in preparation for 2020 and
decade ahead. People are definitely forward facing and have quickly processed what seems
to be behind them. The energy of the new year and new decade has brought with it a new
optimism, while still facing the reality of continued volatility.
Volatility feels as though it has set in. All you have to do is tune into any news to see disruptions, surges and uncertainty. Companies continue to experience volatility in many different forms coming from many different directions – from leadership, employee unease,corporate mandates and mergers. The volatility extends outside companies to customers’ changing brand loyalties and the quick social media trigger that is as much of our day-to-day reality as the moodiness of anyone reading it – impacting conversation, mindset and strategy. Interestingly, even with the unrest that permeated the work and social environments at the end of 2019, the lack of volatility in the stock market continues as a welcomed relief as investors were able to retreat to the market to achieve some semblance of order.
3. The Squeeze
This trend is not new or unexpected. However, what is unique about the “squeeze” is that
it began earlier than in previous years. The political environment, impeachment hearings,
the unease of the election cycle were all unwelcome contributors that brought this crush
on at the end of the year in a more intense way than in previous recent years. It was also
the way the Thanksgiving holiday fell on the calendar – which created one less week before
the holiday slowdown, creating a false crunch time “to be productive,” only magnifying
the squeeze. It also amplified the sprint-to-the-finish-line mantra of getting everything
possible out of every investment, department and employee as the decade closed. Consider
for a moment the vast differences to the close of the first decade of the century in 2009 to
the close of 2019. The squeeze is a normal year end tactic to maximize every return before
the December 31 deadline – forgetting that it all starts over the next morning, often with
drained employees and leaders expected to be magically recharged to start a new year. But
the close of the decade became more intensified given today’s volatility.
4. The Cost of Maximized Returns
The push for more immediate returns continues to drive actions and reactions in the
workplace. Shareholders, boards and leaders push financial returns over employee health
and wellbeing at an alarming rate – and this is after a group of business leaders, led by Jamie
Dimon, urged for a more responsible and respectful approach in corporate America. Whether
the concern over the next shoe to drop, the end of the year squeeze, or direct performance
expectations, we continued to see the prioritization of returns over the long term health of
the workforce and the impact on employees, their families and the greater community. It is a
trend that needs a reversal and strong commitment to resist and transition on to something
more sustainable for long term gains.
5. Return to Basics
The year saw the continued emergence of technological advancements, including 5g
and serverless computing as well as a host of high impact personal technologies. New
technological introductions will continue at a record pace and will continue to change the
way people interact with technology and each other. However, technology is no longer a
trend. The rapid pace of change is driving the very human need to return to basics. As we
each check the “I am not a robot” box, we are reminded that we have human needs that
extend way beyond what technology brings us and that cry out for integration rather than
replacement. We’re seeing people find new ways to connect and communicate with each
other inside and outside the workplace. While the reliance on social media continues at
alarming rates, there was a definite shift in people coming together to create communities and movements. Basics are timeless and they work because they work.
6. Infusion of Creativity into Business Solutions
The second part of the year brought an important and, to many leaders, an exciting trend
to the forefront. Leaders began to shun status quo solutions and instead embraced new
ways to solve traditional business problems. These new approaches were infused with
creative solution-sets with leaders unafraid to throw away the tried and true strategy or
communication tactics that have worked previously, and approach problem solving with
new, highly creative, imaginative concepts, even willing to fail with them. This injection of
creativity added a positive energy among leaders who have yearned to put their own stamp
on their organization. We also saw boards and outside consultants openly encourage these
new approaches and an end to the compliant checklists and often touted best practices.
Refreshingly, the insertion of creativity is a trend we expect to continue – and it is an outgrowth of the continued chaos that permeates our workplace and requires new solution-sets. Perhaps most encouraging, the trend we are experiencing is not creativity for creativity sake, but purposeful creativity to address the near constant changes that impact leaders daily.
Deutser Clarity Institute publishes business trend reports each quarter based on research and work conducted in industries across the country and globe.
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