Well what a year that was…from Boeing to Brexit, Thomas Cook to Topshop and Patisserie Valerie to Prince Andrew. Reputations have been built or crushed on these and many other issues over the last 12 months. Indeed, several senior executives lost their jobs directly because of how they handled issues which were deemed to undermine the reputation of their businesses, and several more should probably have done so! Meanwhile, global markets have surged to their best performance for a decade and Sterling, whilst flagging at times, ends the year as the second best performing major currency.
Yet all of this has been taking place at a time of heightened geo-political uncertainty and turmoil caused by events such as the US-China trade dispute, Russian ‘geo-flexing’ and yes, Brexit.
What should we expect from 2020? Well if there is one thing that this last decade has taught us it is to expect the unexpected, not to believe pollsters and that experts speak nonsense. So, here are just some of my predictions of the issues that will (or should be) dominating boardrooms in the coming months. Please don’t judge me too harshly in December 2020!
- Anything which truly does improve the environmental impact of a business on its wider community and stakeholders should be welcomed and applauded. However, we should be prepared for a whole host of companies seeking to ‘look’ more sustainable and that these ‘greenwashers’ will be unearthed by the excellent UK business media.
- After January 31st, ‘the City’ and indeed the wider business community will start to grapple with some of the challenges of unwinding from the overarching governance and regulatory framework in which we have operated for decades. Whatever side of the Brexit debate you were on, we can expect some regulatory surprises as we redefine our trading relationships.
- Over recent months business leaders have recognised that it is no longer enough to explain to their stakeholders the ‘What’ and the ‘How’ but also to demonstrate the ‘Why’. The idea of social purpose is particularly important to younger workers who have a point when they see some initiatives blindly undertaken with little thought for the wider impact and consequences of those actions. Expect more questions and hopefully suggestions from our younger colleagues!
- The recent General Election has empowered and emboldened the new government to commit to investing across the UK, including in previously unfashionable regions. If this investment happens, and in the right way, then we must expect considerable opportunities for firms which are best able to harness the talent and resources available to them. We should expect plenty of opportunities for exemplars of regional pluralism.
- If 2019 was the year when the UK faced-up to the reality of its international relationships, then 2020 will be the year when we face an internal political awakening. Domestic upheaval from nationalists in Scotland and Ireland is likely as Brexit progresses. We will also see renewed vigour from UK regions keen to gain greater autonomy and self-empowerment.
- Which takes us nicely on the next point, which is that smart technological investment at a governmental, but also corporate level, is crucial. The lack of decent fibre broadband is a major barrier to harnessing the potential of small and medium sized firms starting life beyond the major cities. It will be hard to know if we’ve missed the next UK Facebook, but we should assume so without significant investment and sustained support.
- And that leads on to the issue of our relationship with technology. If the 2010’s were about harnessing technology at all cost…will the 2020’s be about balanced technology and understanding the social, economic, environmental and even political impact of technological advancement? Professor Hani Hagras, Chief Science Officer at Temenos says that we need raise concerns over the risks of AI and machine learning in finance as many ‘black box’ opaque AI systems can’t tell us how decisions are made. Unless firms consider the issue of Explainable AI, expect some more of the unexpected!
- Finally, people. We are all becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities afforded by dynamic and smart working. The gig economy, plural careers and flexible hours, coupled with greater understanding and awareness of mental health pressures. This means that businesses have to be able to adapt to a more fluid way of working and the reality of a more fluid workforce.
So, plenty for us all to be getting on with in January 2020…and that’s before we deal with the unexpected! Happy New Year.
Alistair Kellie heads the Corporate Reputation team at Newgate Communications