Lessons learned in 2020 – Corporate structure

Lessons learned in 2020 – Corporate structure

What did happen?

As 2019 was drawing to a close, it couldn’t have been clearer that virtually all of the sales growth the beauty industry was enjoying was located in one place: Asia. Why then, did companies fail to react as it became increasingly clear that a novel virus was circulating and that China would have to lockdown? The reason? The beauty industry’s corporate structure was stuck in the 20th century. Agile it was not. Local, it was not. Diverse, it was not.

Since then, the pandemic has forced widespread changes. Home working, executive pay and diversity have become the big topics of 2020 and we’ve seen some major reorganisations. Companies have had to rip up the rule book, throw out their forecasts and get to grips with the new era of reactive business.

What does a business need to react but not provoke? It needs the right people in the right room. And so, one of the major stories of 2020 has forced several organizations to reassess their executive make-up. We’ve seen a number of high-profile D&I appointments as a result – although we’re yet to see whether they will make a difference. Time (and the boardroom line up) will tell whether companies were virtue signalling or committed to change.  

And talking of the right room, home working has also become a matter of contention this year, with some organisations (Twitter) embracing it and some resisting.

What should have happened?

The beauty industry can hardly claim that it wasn’t warned that its rigid corporate structure needed reform. Heritage brands have been battling more agile start-ups for years yet somehow have failed to learn from the experience. Brands were too rigid in their long-term planning, staff were not empowered, which meant they couldn’t be truly invested.

What the industry needs for now and the future is more regional, agile, flexible roles. We need more representation and purpose. It has already begun with some major reorganizations announced in the last quarter and long-term plans abandoned in favour of the more predictable medium-term.

What will happen next?

We’ll no doubt see further restructuring. And inevitably more job losses too. This pandemic has exposed the disadvantage of multiple decision makers – we expect a lot of middle management to become surplus to requirements.

As for diversity, conversely, we are seeing improvements in this area. More women have smashed the glass ceiling in 2020 and, as mentioned above, we have seen the start of progress in terms of representation. Will there be real, lasting change? Ultimately, after all the equality furore over the course of 2020, another white man was just named the CEO of L’Oréal. Plus ca change.

Over to working from home – with many in Europe set to continue beavering away in bedrooms until spring at least, we’ll soon be marking a year away from the office. Will this, as many have predicted, lead to permanent change in working patterns? Certainly, the Financial Times’ Martin Wolf thinks so: “We have leapt into a new world of virtual engagement we will not leave. This will change some patterns of living and working for good,” he opined recently.

If that’s true then there will no doubt be consequences. By wfh, are we opening up local jobs to a global market? And what about security issues? After all, can we ensure data protection, firewalls and proper protocols when dialling in from the dining room table – not to mention health and safety? There’s also the cost to consider, both from the employee’s perspective (heating, space, etc) and employer’s (they are, after all, still paying for those empty offices).

And that’s before we consider the effect on creativity and innovation, or the increased loneliness for those who enjoy the bustle of office life. There are challenges when it comes to on-boarding, recruitment and progression too. Let’s not forget, however, the gains – empowerment, agency and flexibility are all benefits of teleworking. For parents in particular, the 9 to 5 office life has not worked for some time. And that’s why the best employers will give their staff the choice While workers will need to pivot in the same way that companies must. We need to wave goodbye to fixed job descriptions and lifetime careers and embrace transferable skills and hyphen-method professions.

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