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Opinion: Time to dust off the crystal ball

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In this issue, we asked local industry leaders to dust off their crystal balls and make forecasts as we enter 2022. It’s a great exercise for both our newsroom and our experts. With everything you know at this moment of your area of work, what’s on the horizon?

It’s also a bit of an unfair exercise, since we know crystal balls aren’t real, right? Look back at the 2020 Outlook issue and you’ll see how far predictions take you when there’s something massive lurking in the unknown.

But forecasting is important, even if it turns out to be flat-out wrong or the timing is off. From basics like stocking inventory to big-picture goal setting, forecasts build a foundation for our businesses as we move forward, and that foundation allows us to better react to unexpected changes.

Forecasts also require us to look back and evaluate. Data plays a key role in forecasting, and businesses are increasing their investment in these areas to make these forecasts more accurate. A study from research firm Gartner found more than one third of respondents estimate that data and analysis technologies will experience industrywide investment growth of 100% or more from 2021 to 2022.

This kind of on-demand data is critical in the moment, too. I recently interviewed Amanda Hedgpeth, the incoming president of CoxHealth’s Springfield hospitals, who said the health system is investing in software to give leaders instant access to real-time and trend data to quickly make decisions. How critical in an industry that had to be nimble amid the changing landscape of COVID-19.

Reading through our forecasts for 2022 and reflecting on the news of the past year, I’ll bust out my own crystal ball and make a prediction of my own. I predict workplace culture will be a major focus of 2022. Culture has been a buzzword for workplaces for many years, but the pandemic has brought new meaning to this concept. Our newsroom identified changes to the workforce and workplaces as the top business story of this past year. Think remote work, flexible work, labor shortages, wage demands and the “Great Resignation,” as droves of people left the workforce, some for good.

I recently heard a solid explanation for how I want to think about workplace culture in the coming year. It came from Brandon Welch, president and chief of strategy at Frank & Maven, at Springfield Business Journal’s 90 Ideas in 90 Minutes event last month. He said as leaders, we must shift from thinking about how well our teams are helping us to how well we are helping our people. And rather than worrying if an employee is wasting our time, as leaders we should create meaningful work to ensure we’re not wasting their time.

We’ve entered 2022 with the same tight labor market we ended the year with. Employee wages are rising to meet the demand of the moment, and as economist David Mitchell pointed out in his forecast for this issue, workers will return to the labor market in 2022, and they will have choices.

Workers in the market, too, are looking for a change, partially driven by pay, no surprise there, but also driven by the culture. The latest data from the American Staffing Association finds four in 10 adults will look for a new job in 2022. More than 6 in 10 report pay is a top factor, followed by 37% citing flexible work hours and 36% citing benefits and perks.

Workplace culture encompasses where we work, how we work, who we work with and those perks that make us smile. We just bought a popcorn machine to use on our press days at SBJ, and it’s got the office buzzing.

Workplace culture is also about recognizing the humanity of our teams. And that’s why I also predict grace will lead workplace culture in 2022. In 2020 and even in 2021, we saw a fusing of our personal and work lives as we officed from home. Networking events slowed. We spent more time with family. We evaluated what was important to us. As business returns to a new normal this year, barring another surge or deadly variant of COVID-19, we’ll need to keep grace front and center recognizing that we’ve changed as people, and that means we’ve changed as workers.

So, for 2022, I’m putting people first in my forecast planning. I predict that will pay off.

Springfield Business Journal Executive Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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