Future-gazing: what 2010 has in store for UK businesses

Ruth Spellman (pictured below) shares her thoughts on lessons learned in 2009, and what the next 12 months might hold in store for British business.


It’s been a tough 12 months in British business. Many organisations will be breathing a collective sigh of relief as they prepare to close the door on a turbulent 2009.


The start of a new year is often a time for personal reflection. Many of us think of 1 January as a new beginning – an opportunity to reflect on what has passed, both good and bad, and to move forward. New Year’s resolutions play a big part in helping us to feel positive, reinforcing our determination to do things differently during the next 12 months.


In my view, this process of reflection and making a concerted effort to “do things differently” is something we should to bring into our professional lives. We need to embrace recovery, and get ourselves in the best possible position to take advantage of it. But we also need to remember the circumstances that led to the downturn in the first place.


The worst financial crisis in 60 years should prompt us into a radical transformation of our attitudes towards how we do business in the UK. A collective opening of eyes, if you will, as to what’s really important. The recent downturn has shaken UK organisations to the core, and as a result, priorities are changing.


We now know that a combination of reckless capitalism, combined with a disregard for the potential consequences of greed – as demonstrated by the bonus scandal and unrestrained borrowing, both of which now require strict regulation – helped to fuel the meltdown. The importance of having good and talented people in our organisations, and nurturing them, got lost somewhere in all the change and turmoil. One key lesson for all of us, then, is that we need to start looking inwards and putting staff back at the heart of our organisations.


Throughout the downturn, the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) has been calling for managers to prioritise investing in the development of staff – we know this will be vital to putting organisations in the best possible position to take advantage of the upturn. Encouragingly, our most recent member survey shows that managers are taking this on board. Their priorities for 2010 include providing more immediate support to boost their employees’ performance, saying ‘thank you’ more often, and spending more time with colleagues – all key to engaging employees.


To ensure our businesses are best placed to take advantage of the upturn, when it comes, a priority should be minimising the potential for a ‘brain drain’, whereby staff feel unappreciated and look elsewhere for employment once the job market picks up. We need to keep hold of our best people. This is where employee engagement comes in – improving employee engagement levels will be vital to success in 2010.


The past year has also been a great leveller as people in all walks of life have suffered because of the indiscriminate nature of this recession. It has meant that, with the increased pressures of work, 2009 has been a year when individuals and their employers have had to develop a clearer understanding about how to get ahead.


CMI’s research suggests that individuals are beginning to accept that to remain employable, they must constantly develop their professional skills base. Employers, for their part, are telling us that corporate reputations, employee engagement and staff retention are all boosted if they support their employees’ development.


There is reason to be hopeful, and economists claim that recovery has now begun. In reality, however, the phrase ‘cautiously optimistic’ still applies for most of us, especially in light of CMI’s bi-annual research into business confidence, which shows that three-quarters of UK managers think it will be at least October 2010 before they begin to feel the effects of the upturn.


As we reach the end of the year and begin to consider the outlook for 2010, it is clear that the effects of the worldwide recession will continue to be felt for some time yet. There is clearly still some way to go before many of us will be able to say that we are truly ‘back on track’.


We need to meet the current crisis of confidence with a more competent workforce, one that is well-managed and well-led. But the burden of action falls on all of us – on government, on employers and on individuals. Basic level skills development is no longer good enough. 2010 must see the development of management and leadership skills become a national priority. Managers and leaders are vital to job and wealth creation, but you cannot expect individuals to manage or lead unless they are taught the skills from a younger age. The economic, social and political challenges we face across every industry sector means that a radical new approach is needed, as 2009 draws to a close, if Britain is to compete on a global scale in the future. So many employers are on record bemoaning the fact that school leavers are not work-ready that the problem cannot be ignored. It means that more attention must be paid to the development of practical skills that matter in the workplace. This has to happen now.


What is encouraging, however, is that there seems to be a renewed commitment by many to learn lessons and bring about change. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be naive. Recessions will happen again. Boom follows bust and just as things go up, so they must come down. If we get all the right things in place then we will recover and we will enjoy competitive success once more. But we mustn’t forget what happened in 2009.


Ruth Spellman, chief executive, CMI

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