One of the most frequently used phrases I heard from business leaders and friends last year was something along the lines of: “When things get back to normal.” While some days I also feel nostalgic for pre-pandemic routines, it is clear that there is no going back to the old ways of doing business. In 2022, change is the new normal. 

It’s hard enough to accept that the coronavirus variants and general disruption will continue, but how does that affect your business strategy? How do you lead your organization through continued change? Drawing on themes that have emerged at our company’s panels and events, conversations with other business leaders, and research, I offer this list of business requisites as food for thought as you look to navigate the year ahead.

10 leadership lessons for 2022

1. Change is the new normal. Regardless of the fact that many humans seem to dislike uncertainty and crave stasis, business interruption and disruption continued throughout 2021 and are likely to be the horizon for the foreseeable future in 2022. Between supply chain issues, staffing shortages, hybrid work arrangements, inflationary pressures and cultural shifts, business leaders will find that change is constant. My advice: Get comfortable with it. 

2. Remote work is here to stay. Even over the last few months, many leaders were talking about the day their teams would come back to the office. But as my dad used to say: “That horse has left the barn.” Depending on the job, employees will increasingly work when, how and where they want. Are you ready to help your cultures evolve to offer choice and flexibility in work arrangements?

3. Online meetings are a work in progress. Whether your team is remote, in the office or on the move, meetings are increasingly online. If your workplace is like ours, the satisfaction levels with video, audio and lighting quality on Zoom or Teams calls have varied – some days are smooth and other days we spend the first 10 minutes trying to get the technology to work. Expect to invest in or adapt to evolving technology. The days of “You’re on mute” or “We can’t see you” are not over. Take a deep breath.

4. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are front and center. If you don’t know what DEI or some version of that abbreviation is, it’s time to get with the program. Creating and advancing inclusive cultures and communities for every single person in your workforce (Every. Single. Person.) will be table stakes for any organization that wants to recruit or retain employees. Will you open your mind and embrace the opportunity DEI presents?

5. Create contingency plans for everything. In an age of constant disruption, smart businesses should have proactive playbooks with plans for every possible scenario. In addition to the pre-pandemic standard-fare disaster recovery topics such as weather and natural disasters, power outages, active shooters, workplace violence, and data breaches, remember to add or amp up your planning for new virus variants, cybersecurity attacks, public unrest and protests, investor activism, supply chain shutdown, and unbridled inflation (with a subchapter on derechos). Better to have a plan for something that seems far-fetched than to be caught off guard.

6. Diversify, diversity, diversify. When I worked on Wall Street in investment management, the old portfolio adage was “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” As the first wave of the pandemic showed us, when consumer preference and market forces shift, businesses dependent on a single product or service can find themselves in trouble if that one line is threatened. Successful companies will create or tweak their products and services, and even staffing models, to create buffers against unforeseen challenges.

7. Innovate, innovate, and keep innovating. In 2022, leading executives will be focused on innovation, from creative, short-term problem-solving to brainstorming on long-term transformation. Consumers’ needs are evolving quickly, and leaders must be ahead of the curve, anticipating and fulfilling those needs. Whether the innovation is around people, processes, products or services, leaders and teams who think outside the box will be positioned to compete.

8. Create flexible, adaptable cultures. In addition to hybrid or remote work, the need to meet employees where they are is intensifying and demands for top-down workplace transformation are increasing. While the snacks and pingpong tables of pre-pandemic days are nice, today’s worker wants a competitive wage and benefits, flexibility, assistance with child care, and a respectful culture. While there may be costs to creating a new world of work and the return on investment of worker satisfaction is as yet unknown, I’d place my bet on culture every time.  

9. Develop resilience. Our ability to adapt has been tested repeatedly, but resilience can be practiced and learned. Tending to your own physical, spiritual and psychological needs and insisting on healthy boundaries between your professional and personal life will help you bounce back when adversity hits. You can do it; you now have a track record to prove you can roll with the punches.

10. Practice kindness. With change will always come tension, and as a leader, you’ll continue to be confronted with individuals and teams who are stressed. Some of that stress may be work-related, but some may be way beyond your scope – yet as a compassionate leader, you have the choice to give grace and be kind in all your communications and interaction. When you role model kindness, others will follow, and that will make a difference. 

As much as we might wish for our lives and businesses to look like they did pre-pandemic, the world is different. The ability to accept that reality and adapt will be increasingly important to leaders’ success in 2022 and beyond.