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This year, business leaders learned to pivot, to listen, and to innovate. Here are the top eight management trends of 2021, revealing what we learned this year.

2021 has been quite a year! Dynamic. Challenging. Transformative. COVID continued to evolve as vaccines emerged. Customer-facing employees (and their employers) navigated despicable treatment by customers. Remote and hybrid work arrangements became the norm. The “great resignation” brought into focus – for individuals and companies alike – what matters most.

This year, new and seasoned business leaders learned to pivot, to listen, and to innovate as they navigated the ups and downs – and positioned their companies to thrive. What’s new? What’s here to stay? Here are the top eight management trends of 2021, revealing what we learned this year.

1. Putting employees first. For many decades, we’ve been taught that “the customer is always right.” But when choosing between their badly behaved customers and their employees, business leaders stepped up to put their employees first. Their safety, their dignity, their well-being. Leaders were reminded of the deep value of creating a culture of respect for employees.

2. Embracing the hybrid workplace. In 2020, companies scrambled to temporarily support employees in working from home. One year later, many employers accepted that hybrid work environments are here to stay. Their leaders pivoted to ensure that managers and employees had the tools and training they needed to be productive, recognized, and supported in the hybrid workplace.

3. Investing in employee retention. In the wake of the great resignation, business leaders across the county and across industries scrambled to retain valuable employees. Yes, many increased hourly wages and salaries. For the most enlightened leaders, though, investing in employee retention is about much more than money. This management trend shows that work place (and time) flexibility, taking a stand on social issues, a holistic approach to supporting employees, offering work that matters, and career transparency are what makes a difference for employees.

4. Insisting on inclusion. In 2020, hundreds of companies scrambled to hire diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders to help shape new, better ways of doing business. This year, leaders are maturing their DEI programs and practices to build the cultures, work environments, and company performance that attracts and retains employees from all backgrounds – so they can serve each other, their customers, and their communities well.

5. De-emphasizing college degrees and other “required” employment credentials. This year, there was a bit of an awakening around the role of higher education and other experiences once believed to be essential for work. Leaders of top companies – and the federal government – are rethinking certain college degree requirements. By removing that often-unnecessary credential in favor of targeted skills and competencies, they’re having greater success with recruitment, onboarding, employee development, and retention in a tight labor market.

6. Preparing for a range of potential business disruptions. The discipline of business continuity started as a way to get in front of potential physical disruptions such as tornadoes, fires, and hurricanes. 2021 sadly reminded business leaders that, in addition to natural disasters, threats of today include pandemics, workplace shootings, and customer violence, as well.

7. Adopting a skills-first approach to solving workforce issues. Top HR and other business leaders are starting to let go of outdated, often-biased ways of building, tracking, and measuring employee performance. They’re engaged in conversations around how to reskill, upskill, and new-skill their employees and leaders. This management trend showcases a better understanding that it takes the right mix of perishable and durable skills to future-proof the workforce and protect the business.

8. Right-sizing the right technologies. It’s no secret that technology is an accelerator. The small and mid-sized enterprise leaders that are making a difference are adopting technologies and partners that are able to support their performance management and talent management initiatives — and that are streamlined enough to provide just the right features, support, and guidance to inform and support next steps.

These eight management trends of 2021 reveal as much about effective leadership as they do about the world we’re in today. Whatever the new year brings, we’re grateful that you were a part of the Avilar community this year. We wish you and your team a safe, productive, and purpose-filled 2022!


Are you moving toward a skills-first approach to workforce issues, changing policies and practices to better retain employees, or planning to right-size your performance management technology? Our Competency Management Toolkit has some tips to get you started. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s team and WebMentor Skills™ may be able to support you in your next steps.



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