Did you notice that 2022 began with far fewer forecasts and outlooks than are usually seen when we put up our new annual calendars?
And most of those who bravely made predictions for 2022 have already been proven wrong.
The emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, just when everyone was eagerly anticipating the end of the pandemic, threw many forecasters off. So did weather events that are supposed to occur once in 100 years or even once in 1,000 years. They all seem to be happening now.
Then there’s the effect on industries and economies of seemingly random and unforeseeable decisions made by many world leaders for strictly political reasons. When this is added to the shortages and disruptions that the once-in-a-century pandemic has generated, the level of uncertainty soars.
The rules that have guided our economy no longer apply. Instead of being short of jobs, we’re now short of workers. Long-term markets for well-established products disappear. Supplies carefully calibrated to arrive just in time now show up late or not at all.
How does one prepare for a year that’s so unclear?
Since we don’t know what unexpected black swan will show up next, the only way to survive – let alone thrive – is to be very flexible. We can’t operate without some plans to guide us. But label all your plans ‘draft,’ and always have a Plan B or be willing to create one as circumstances change.
Labour shortages, not job shortages
The labour shortage has already led to a change in the attitude and expectations of workers.
At job interviews, often the potential employee is interviewing the employer, not the other way around.
Since finding workers is difficult and expensive, retaining employees is crucial.
Because a bad boss is a major reason people leave a job, managers and supervisors have to recognize staff for the scarce and vital resource it is and treat workers the way a good sports coach treats their star players.
Events we never thought would happen have disrupted markets and customer bases in ways we never imagined. Who would have guessed in 2019 that the market for both party and business clothing would disappear for two years?
Some businesses overcame the shock and developed a Plan B. That included making masks and other personal protective equipment or changing a clothing line to focus on Zoom-friendly casual garments.
Lockdowns hit the food service industry in a way that hasn’t happened before. The Plan B that worked for many restaurants was to stop thinking of the business as a dining room and begin to think of it as a kitchen. Wait staff were no longer needed. Takeout and delivery mechanisms needed to be in place. Menus were adjusted to items that could be easily transported.
Many are wisely taking a wait-and-see attitude before committing to post-pandemic operations.
Just in case, not just in time
With all the disruptions to global and local trading systems, just-in-time supply chains have become a fond memory. A better focus is just in case. It may cost a little more, but having more than one supplier for essential inputs could save a business.
Diversifying the customer base is always wise and even more so when many changes are afoot. Supplying only one customer significantly reduces bargaining power and leaves one high and dry should that customer turn elsewhere or go out of business.
Keep another customer on the books or at least waiting in the wings just in case.
Just-in-case thinking doesn’t just apply to businesses – it also applies to employees. A full-time employee is basically a self-employed person with only one customer – the employer.
In our volatile business environment, the only real job security is knowing what you’re going to do next. Consider other potential employers just in case you might need them. And think about upgrading your skills to appeal to a larger number.
There’s not much we can say with confidence about the coming year. May we all be flexible and adaptable enough to get through and even enjoy it.
2022 may contain many surprises, but it certainly won’t be boring.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.