IT leadership: 3 practices to let go of in 2021

The challenges we've all faced in 2020 have taught us a lot about what is most important as we move toward the new year. IT leaders should leave these three things behind
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2020 has forced CIOs and other corporate leaders to reevaluate old ideas, get rid of practices that aren’t serving the organization, and quickly embrace change. It has been a year in which events happened too fast to ponder consequences. Leaders were forced to make up solutions in real time and defer long-term considerations for another day.

With 2021 nearly upon us, a few glimpses of what next year may hold are beginning to gain clarity, and there is much to be optimistic about. But before the new year begins, it’s worth taking stock of what to leave behind in 2020. Here are three things that we’ll all need to let go of for the foreseeable future.

1. External focus

Many of us in technology keep a close eye on competitors – it’s important to understand your place in the industry. But following the lead of competitors in the current business environment will only distract you from what your company really needs: to double down your focus on your customers and your employees.

Due to the uncertainty that pervades virtually all aspects of commerce today, your customers deserve first consideration. Their priorities have shifted. If you’re a vendor or partner, some of the new concerns may be evident to you, but many aren’t. It’s critical to listen to your customers carefully and with empathy, responding with new programs, solutions, and policies that answer urgent needs.

Customer-centric companies are 60 percent more profitable than companies that don’t focus on customers. Organizations that show dedication to their customers during challenging times will earn their trust over the long haul.

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The same amount of attention should also be given to your employees. From the pandemic’s first days, your employees have been forced to juggle personal health concerns, family issues, economic uncertainty, and an upheaval in daily routines with work from home and remote schooling. They may be putting up a good front, but the stress your staff is shouldering is huge. Empathy, trust, and assistance are sorely needed.

They may be putting up a good front, but the stress your staff is shouldering is huge. Empathy, trust, and assistance are sorely needed.

2020 has forced organizations to take a hard look internally and focus less attention on outside factors like competitors. Become obsessed with your corporate culture and your employees. Research shows that companies with engaged employees outperform the competition by 147 percent. Focus on being the best in these areas, providing your customers and your employees with creative and consistent support.

2. The annual plan

In today’s world, all sorts of metrics have compressed – none more vital than timeframes. That means leaders across the organization should be evaluating plans not by the traditional annual cadence, but monthly and even weekly.

Companies that are able to iterate more than once every 12 months will be the high achievers of 2021. Agility in predicting and responding to change isn’t a luxury anymore. It’s the sign of an enterprise that knows how to conduct business in modern times.

continuous planning approach allows companies to optimize business performance as conditions change. It’s become apparent that what business leaders thought they had control over can be completely outweighed by uncontrollable factors. Leaders need to be ready to assess a range of scenarios and course-correct more often. They need to be more iterative in the way they plan, making their approach inherently agile so they can easily pivot before going too far down one path.

Leaders need to be ready to assess a range of scenarios and course-correct more often.

Bringing it back internally, this is also true for employee input, as the annual feedback approach is dated. Companies need a continuous feedback loop that promotes constant growth. Organizations simply must be in touch with the problems, issues, and opportunities that arise within their teams.

3. Fear of speed

Tech and IT leaders are acutely aware that the pandemic has rapidly increased the need to complete all kinds of programs – particularly digital transformation and efforts to automate back-office operations. No longer is there room to be cautious or laggardly; it’s time to force these processes to conclusion.

This initiative must show gains in the new year. Organizations must constantly find new ways to digitize and optimize. Echoing the imperative to refocus on customers, companies should concentrate on the digital customer journey and its implications for transformation strategies. Budgets, cloud adoption, back-office transformation, critical paths, and corporate culture must all reflect an accelerated timeline. Speed is essential – without it, companies risk being left behind.

Also important is a renewed emphasis on data collection and analysis. You should be looking for new ways to achieve insights quicker. Planning platforms are gaining the ability, through AI and machine learning, to parse massive amounts of data in near real-time for faster understanding and immediate identification of data anomalies.

Continuous analysis and continuous planning are necessary to make gains in digital transformation possible. When you’re armed with modern cloud technology, you can rapidly push forward on the rate of change your workplace must achieve, level-setting as you go.

These are just three things worth letting of in 2021, but the list could go on. I, for one, will be taking optimism with me. This past year has taught all of us a great deal about ourselves and our organizations. With the right tools, the old saying goes, anything is possible. It’s a principle that will be tested in 2021 like never before.
[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Grant Halloran
Grant Halloran is the Chief Executive Officer at Planful. He has over 20 years of senior leadership experience in enterprise software, a career to date marked by positions where he drove high growth and global expansions.