Looking back on 2021

Wow, 2021 was quite a year wasn’t it? With amazing highs and some difficult lows, it’s been another unusual year that I’m sure more than a few of us may be happy to see the back of.

However, whilst it may have been a tough year for leaders across all industries, there was certainly a lot to learn from it. As we head into the first few weeks of 2022, we decided to put pen to paper (well, fingers to keyboard) and spend a bit of time reflecting on what us lot here at Zest are taking away from the last few months.

Keep on reading to discover our key learnings from 2021.

Leaders In Organisations Can Be Good For Your Health

I guess we’ve always known this, but what we’ve really learned is that it’s our responsibility, as leaders, to help employees manage the incredible amount of stress they can be under. We’re not just talking work issues either, we mean the stuff that goes on outside of work too: the pandemic, the political environment and increasing awareness of socioeconomic tensions.

It’s not just the right thing to do anymore, it’s pretty sound business practice too! We’ve seen more and more organisations from finance and education sectors, to rocket scientists and lawyers providing more and more opportunities for others to discuss issues and finding ways (not policies!) that bring balance to the lives of all team members.

You Don’t Get Anything Done By Planning!

Hmm, well maybe that’s not 100% accurate, but planning ain’t what it used to be that’s for sure. 

There’s a balance to be had between planning and actually doing things. Earlier in the year, whilst working with an engineering company, we came across the phrase ‘improvisational productivity’, which basically means that the longer you wait between writing a ‘to-do’ down and actually doing it, the less likely you are to get it done.

It’s pretty cool to plan stuff, but less exciting to just do the work that comes from it. So, we’ve learned to ‘go with the flow’ more often, we still have a vision (a strategy if you like) but it’s moved from a 100-point Excel document to a simple Teams page on Trello.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Otis Redding knew this, he told The Black Crowes and now we’ve embraced it too.  It just makes sense. 

It’s much more valuable to show results instead of talking about stuff. This means reducing the time from thinking about doing something, and actually doing it.

In the past, we’ve often either deliberated or waited on more time from clients to discuss a specific point, particularly around proposals and suchlike. Now, if we are confident that something will work, we tend to help our clients along with their thinking. They are calling in the experts after all! They can always say no, but at least we will have given it some independent thought and more often than not it does help them see the wood from the trees.

If You Can Keep Your Head Whilst Those Around You…

You know the rest! We’ve found that maintaining organisational culture amid chaos is essential.  However, we know it’s a tricky thing to do in the hybrid working environment we find ourselves in. 

Often culture is driven by leaders within the business, with those leaders being role models themselves. But without seeing people face to face on a daily basis it can be difficult to pick up on those cultural cues. This has forced some of the companies we work with to think of creative ways to maintain culture. 

We have to be more prescriptive, more mindful and more focussed on it than ever before and, whilst not everyone is accountable, it is everyone’s responsibility.

Do More With Less (And Less)

The pandemic forced us to speak to our people in different ways, and to learn to do more with less in times of uncertainty.

In March 2020 we were on the verge of launching a huge retreat for leaders in business. We had it all planned, it included fireside chats, health and nutrition surgeries, there was even a lodge with hot tubs involved! Whilst we may one day return to this plan, it will certainly look and feel a lot different to the original idea.

We’ve had to move away from our heavy in-person event focus and shift to digital, as tightening budgets was necessary to weather whatever was going to come. It really reinforced the value of an adaptable team and flexibility in how we speak to our existing and potential clients.

Spread The Love

Compassion and patience are always necessary, we believe most of us have learned how essential it is to be aware of the many challenges our employees, co-workers and partners are facing in their lives.

Everyone is dealing with the stresses of life differently, and it is critical to remember that almost everyone is surrounded by the stuff you cannot see through Teams, Google Hangout or hear through a phone call. However, their stuff is very real to them and likely impacting their worldview massively.

We’ve seen leaders in almost every one of the organisations we work with demonstrate extra compassion and patience. The remarkable thing is that this is in no way unique to these times of uncertainty, the ones that have thrived have been the ones that have always done it – and in turn have avoided the ‘great resignation’ of 2021.

It’s Good To Have A Vice!

We know health and fitness are critical to the success of any business and we are big fans of running, dancing, yoga and biking or indeed whatever it takes to release those endorphins, but…

Whether it’s a Greggs sausage roll or an M&S spiced bun, we all need something like this to stay healthy and motivated, if you develop a penchant for something, we say go for it!

Be Kind To Yourself

Last but not least, we’ve learned that we’re human. We mess up sometimes, but the most important part is learning from it, picking yourself up and moving on. 

Not every proposal will hit the spot. Not everything will go exactly to plan. But if we can understand our own values and drivers, not just those on posters and coasters, we’ll be able to stick to our principles, do more meaningful work and make a difference to the thousands of people we have helped over the past 6 years!


There they are, our top learnings from the year just passed. We hope you have a prosperous and positive 2022 and, as always, you know where we are if you need us.

info@zest-learning.com

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