A post-pandemic vision: HLB releases their annual Survey of Business Leaders 2021 report

Published: Tuesday 19 January 2021

There is no doubt that 2020 will be one for the history books, remembered as not only a year of unprecedented challenges for businesses across the globe, but also as a time of innovative, re-defining and forward-thinking leadership and strategic action.

Hazlewoods benefits from being an independent member of HLB International, the dynamic network of professional accounting firms and business advisers, by having access to a wealth of expertise and insight from business leaders across the world. From September through to November 2020, HLB International surveyed business leaders across 55 countries and a range of industry backgrounds. Their feedback has been collated to produce the Survey of Business Leaders 2021 – a report which gives an invaluable insight into how COVID-19 has impacted world-wide organisations, whilst providing observations for the future, and discusses how business leaders are actively planning to achieve their post-pandemic vision.

Since the start of 2020, business leaders have had to step up in order to tackle the hurdles that COVID-19 has presented, all whilst managing the wellbeing, motivation, and engagement of their employees. Consequently, it has made business leaders reassess and reinvent their strategic priorities and business models, adapting to change and becoming more resilient. This, in turn, has produced some key findings along the way, which are outlined in the report:

Digital first

Technology has become a crucial driver for keeping operations at speed during the pandemic. Cloud computing, AI, and robotics process automation (RPA) are the top three areas of importance for the leaders we spoke with. In the current international business environment, 88% believe technology will help overcome cross-border challenges.

The human touch

Prolonged physical distancing and transition to remote work have placed a strain on the workforce’s well-being and business development. For 84% of leaders, deploying the value of ‘human touch’ in their businesses remains a tough act to master.

Talent diversity

As innovative thinking has become crucial for all rather than the task of some teams, business leaders are increasingly seeking ways to promote the diversity of thought within their organisations. 82% believe that commitment to building a more diverse and inclusive workforce will result in better financial performance in the shortest-term perspective. 


The halt, prompted by the pandemic, was seen by many leaders as an opportunity to reflect on their past actions. As leaders are reinventing their business models, they are re-committing to new prerogatives — leaner and greener production. 65% plan to focus on increasing operational effectiveness and nearly half of leaders seek ways to reduce costs.

Some further key figures to come from the survey show that:

  • 54% expect global economic growth to decline
  • 81% cite COVID-19 as top concern
  • 76% remain confident in own ability to grow
  • 77% see opportunity to profit in low-carbon economy

Ultimately, although a crisis, it is a crisis that has made us think. The report explains that some have moved quickly to make the most of opportunities that present themselves at moments of change and disruption, predicting that, ‘future winners will find that the pandemic served as a helpful catalyst to adapt to new business models, embed digital and ensure a strong pipeline of diverse talent and ideas required to rebuild their business.’

Hazlewoods Partner, Scott Lawrence, commented: “While the repercussions of COVID-19 and the global economic state remain uncertain, it does appear that levels of optimism and confidence are still high amongst business leaders. The timing of the survey in September and November 2020 may account for some of the more negative views of leaders; however, there is now evidence of hope for a steady recovery, with the overall vision for the post-pandemic world being ‘leaner, greener and keener’.”

To read the full HLB Survey of Business Leaders 2021 report, click here, or for further information on becoming a #BusinessForTomorrow, visit our dedicated COVID-19 page here.

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Scott Lawrence
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