As our calendars turn from 31 December to 1 January, many of us usually reflect on the year that has passed, while also thinking seriously about our plans and aspirations for the year ahead. The new year is often seen as a time of rebirth – a chance to do things better than we did in the previous year. A fresh start.
I, for one, love the sense of ‘a clean slate’, but this year, as COVID-19 continues to impact people and economies worldwide, the hopes and positive aspirations we all have for 2021 must be seen through a lens of caution.
It’s important that we take a measured, common-sense approach to planning within our personal and professional lives, and building resilience remains key.
How quickly things change
If we turn the calendar back only a month or so, there was a genuine sense within Australia and New Zealand that we had defeated the virus. While COVID-19 was still raging in other parts of the world, for the most part, most people’s lives and businesses were starting to return to normal. As a result, people were facing the New Year with a true sense of optimism. Travel within Australia and New Zealand was returning, more businesses were opening again, economists were predicting a strong economic performance for 2021, cricket was on our televisions. In short, all was quite good. It seemed life was returning to some sense of normalcy. People starting planning for the New Year with a renewed sense of optimism. Then, in some regions, the virus reared its ugly head again. Borders started to close again, travel become restricted in some areas, some businesses were forced into restrictions. In essence, the sense of confidence which had been present in early December was evaporating.
A time to foster resilience
I find people, on average, are quite resilient, but we will need to tap into a deeper level of resilience, as the race to combat the virus, which we thought was over, still has more time to run.
Understanding your own approach to being resilient, and fostering resilience within your team, is critical. One of the most important traits of resilient people is that they understand that setbacks are temporary. Situations change and often eventually improve, and it is from this foundation that resilient people make plans for the future. It is therefore important to note that, in the context of the return of COVID-19, the virus will eventually be contained. It may or may not go away forever, but the world will work out how to manage with it. Vaccines are being distributed, but this takes time. As I write this article, in Australia and New Zealand we are again managing to contain the virus and have slowed its re-emergence. That is incredibly impressive, and it speaks to the resilience of our two nations. As leaders, we need to continue to work on this resilience. We also need to work on ourselves to ensure we aren’t experiencing ‘pandemic fatigue’, and work with our teams to ensure they too are okay. There is an excellent article within the Harvard Business Review which talks to this very point. (A big thanks to Geoff Missen from Bentleys Network member firm MBA Partnership for directing my attention to it.) The article highlights that cultivating resilience within people and teams is important to ensure we all rebound in 2021. And rebound we will.
The economic outlook
For the year 2021, there remains an overall positive economic outlook. This is extremely encouraging to many who have struggled to keep business afloat during 2020, and also to those who have struggled to manage through various emotional crises throughout the year. 2020 was certainly a tough year for many, but 2021 is filled with the hope of a positive resolution to COVID-19. This is the light at the end of the tunnel, and while it may still seem far away, it is there. I encourage you all to maintain your positivity about the year ahead. We will beat this thing and have a successful 2021.
From a business perspective, while rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe make it hard to imagine a resolution to the crisis, a resolution is on its way. Given the scale of the increases in cases in the northern hemisphere, the pace of recovery in the north will be slower than ours. Authorities in the north are gaining a foothold on this virus, and I believe it will be under control by the middle of the year. This may allow such things as international travel to return, in a measured way, in the second half of the year. That would be great for global economics.
The consensus of global economic conditions for 2021 forecasts growth at 5.4%, which is up substantially on the negative growth of 3.4% for 2020. Within the context of the Australian marketplace, we expect to see the 2020/21 financial year show a negative growth of approximately 2.7% (as the financial year is already half-way through). As we emerge from the COVID-19 quagmire there is a strong expectation that pent up demand for tourism, hospitality and retail will lead to a growth rate of 4.5% for the 2021/22 financial year. These tail winds will drive a strong uplift in consumer spending which will prove to be a leading factor to our economic growth recovery story. It is important to acknowledge the strong foundation laid by the respective governments of Australia and New Zealand to keep companies and individuals liquid from a financial perspective during this time. Sadly, some individuals and businesses have slipped through the cracks, and we must be cognizant of that unfortunate fact and try to assist those as the recovery takes shape. To those who have suffered during this time, please remember that tough times are temporary. Please reach out for assistance if you need it. You’re not alone.
Controlling that which is in our control
An important ingredient to assist with the rebound of our economies is to ensure that we control the virus as best as we can. While it may seem out of our control to many, we can all take small steps to assist. We can all control how we travel and when we wear masks. If you’re not feeling well, it’s important to get tested if you are seeing symptoms. All of this will assist our lives returning to normal and our business environment getting back on track. We may be lucky enough to have started rolling out vaccines in early March, but this will take time to have an impact, thus we must control what we can. If we get this right, there is no reason why we can’t have an extremely successful 2021.
Focus on people
During this time it is important that we all remain focused on our people, our clients and our values to ensure that we continue to remain true to who we are and move forward during these challenging times. As CEO of the Bentleys Network, I know that each of the Bentleys firms will endeavour to remain close to our clients to ensure that we fully understand their goals and aspirations for 2021, and to be in the best position to assist when the market allows. Our role as trusted advisors within the community is something we hold very dearly, and it is an important foundation for how we conduct ourselves at Bentleys.
I’d like to end this note by once again thanking again all of the front-line workers for keeping businesses alive and society functioning over the past year. I would like to particularly thank our healthcare workers who have been at the forefront of fighting this pandemic. Our community owes you all a significant degree of thanks. I had to be COVID-19 tested several weeks ago, and I can say the professionalism of the healthcare workers made me very proud to live here. Waiting three hours for a test was an infinitesimally small price to pay. For anyone struggling during this time, please remember there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it is important that you reach out and talk to someone if you are suffering from any mental health issues. You’re not alone. It is important to note that mental health is an incredibly debilitating illness and it requires professional assistance to deal with these matters.
Once again, I wish you all the very best of success for 2021. I encourage you all to focus on resilience and the successes that will flow in 2021. I am looking forward to 2021. It will inevitably bring challenges, as all years do, but I believe it will bring many more successes. Stay strong, and I look forward to meeting with many of you during the upcoming year.
At Bentleys, we understand the feelings of concern and anxiety you may be experiencing at this time. We encourage you to speak with a trusted friend or family member, or seek expert assistance for yourself or a team member, if required. Specialist organisations such as Lifeline (telephone 13 11 14 in Australia, or 0800 543 354 in New Zealand) are also available to assist.
We will continue to update our COVID-19 resource hub with important developments, so please return soon.
Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and should not be relied on as advice. It does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. You need to consider your financial situation and needs and seek professional advice before making any decisions based on this information.