By: Suzanne Bates and Michael Seitchik

In the year 2020 we may not quite achieve “perfect vision.” However, there’s much CEOs and business leaders can do to prepare for the next decade. We’ve spent the year tracking fascinating emerging trends, by reviewing an array of published research and having conversations with top CEOs and executives. Looking ahead, here are our “Top 7 Emerging Trends to Track for 2020.”

1.  Emotion will become the new currency in data.

There are emergent technology advances that portend great changes in how we attract people, especially customers. The most valuable customer data will codify what once was gut. Futurists tell us in the next ten years, there will be a gradual transition from an internet to a “brain-net” in which thoughts, emotions, feelings and memories may be transmitted instantly across the planet.

Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York and author of The Future of the Mind, says scientists can now hook the brain to a computer and begin to decode some of our memories and thoughts. Your next generation customer interactions will incorporate emotion in ways we can’t today even imagine. The winners will be companies that can connect, at a deeper level, with what customers and employees want.

How can CEOs prepare their organizations to tap emotional currency? Pay attention and measure how well people in your organization connect with hearts and minds. Develop managers and leaders with resonance. Resonance can be measured by the ExPITM (Executive Presence Index) assessment. Value these in organizational development and succession as much as you do business acumen.  

2.  “Total Mobility” will redefine human connection.

Yes, as human beings we’re on the go as never before, however, in the next decade, advanced mobility will redefine the way we connect. As modes of transportation and communication evolve, wearable mobile devices will be ubiquitous. According to Dr. James Canton, CEO of the San Francisco-based Institute for Global Futures and author of Future Smart: Managing the Game-Changing Trends that will Transform Your World says by 2025, a massive Internet will link communities, companies, nations and people to the world’s knowledge.

Eric Reed, CTO of GEO Capital, explains these changes will require a “mobile-first” mindset. This means “developing solutions with mobile from the beginning instead of thinking about it later.” This will require speedier collaboration and decision-making for companies to stay on the cutting edge. 

Collaboration includes coordination to get aligned and communication that is timely, productive and positive. We hear CEOs wondering how they can improve technology and conditions for collaboration. Our view is project teams in the next decade need to work in real time to experiment, try, fail, play and ideate faster. Make inexpensive investments in technology to figure out what works and doesn’t work for your teams.

3.  MQ: The “Morality Quotient” will enter the battle for great talent.

Moral identification is the human tendency to feel affinity to a company or entity with similar beliefs. There’s reason to believe that growing sensitivity to issues such as ethical behavior, bias in the workplace, and a sustainable environment is accelerating moral identification in the workplace.

You can measure it as a Moral Quotient (MQ) – and some experts believe it will become a greater factor in attracting and engaging the workforce. What’s the evidence? Today, first-time job seekers are more likely today to consider the moral character of an organization when deciding whether to take a job. Researchers D.R. May, Y.K. Chang and R. Shao found employees were attracted to organizations that behave morally and were themselves less likely to engage in unethical behavior on the job.

Where unethical behavior goes public, there’s high risk. WeWork, Perdue Pharma, Nissan, Tesla and Wells Fargo lost valuation and public trust. On average, companies lose 41% of market value when misconduct is made public (Karpoff et. al., 2017). Poor moral choices have both indirect and direct impact on employees. Researchers Linda Klebe Treviño and Niki A. den Nieuwenboer discovered that middle managers at Wells Fargo innovated ways for their subordinates to perform unethically and pressured them by shaming them for low performance. 

MQ matters to investors and customers. Cone Communications says 88% of U.S. adults stopped buying products from a company that uses irresponsible or deceptive business practices. On the positive side, Bates analytics on 14,000 managers found authenticity and integrity are correlated with statistically significant, above-average GDP growth.    

4.  AI will give way to “Augmented Intelligence” 

The conversation on Artificial Intelligence is morphing to an emerging term, “Augmented Intelligence,” which describes the phenomenon of better deploying information by thinking more clearly about the data you have. This will be critical, as Bain recently found 84% of CEOs were concerned about the quality of data used to make decisions. 

We conducted interviews with 18 companies on people analytics and found most were highly reticent or unprepared to aggregate assessment data for decisions about leader development and succession. Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), found that while 37% of organizations believed big data helped them, 32% said big data has actually made things worse. A Gartner study found, “poor data quality is a primary reason for 40% of all business initiatives failing to achieve targeted benefits.”

In 2020 the conversation will turn to preventing algorithms from having problematic, unintended consequences. A Wharton School study found relying on algorithms can jeopardize rational “explainability.” For example, Jack, who is told he must work the Saturday shift two weekends in a row because a computer says it’s a fair distribution of work, may still believe it’s wildly unfair and go to his manager. It gets worse when the boss can’t explain how the decision was made and tells him “the data is the data.” Jack is unsatisfied with the answer and his boss feels powerless.

5.  Vision will morph from “forward-looking” to the art of “seeing around corners.” 

As William Gibson famously, said, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” Disruptive change is often recognized after the fact. The taxi industry failed to take seriously Uber and Lyft. Rent the Runway appeared “out of the blue” (though it was visible). Retailers missed the point with Amazon. The future doesn’t show up on the horizon and move steadily closer; it’s usually “around corners.” 

Rita McGrath, Columbia University expert on seeing disruptive business models before anyone else, notes this trend in her latest book, Seeing Around Corners: How to Spot Inflection Points in Business Before They Happen. It is getting a lot of deserved attention. No industry is immune to new entrants and business models and McGrath argues you can see around corners by monitoring the edges through better customer data.

Empowering employees is another strategy to take a left turn before others have. Adobe’s Kickbox offers a real box with among other things a $1,000 gift card in it to allow employees to explore ideas their bureaucratic organizations would never let them look at. At Bates we “stumbled” on a new, innovative concept, “belonging,” while researching a newer model of team performance. We’ve been asked by experts, “How did you know two years ago that Belonging was going to be an emerging issue?” The answer is our employees were empowered to explore, and it paid off. What are you doing to enable people to explore the edges? 

6.  Belonging will emerge as the 2.0 of employee engagement.

Speaking of “belonging,” we aren’t the only ones to note this phenomenon is poised to emerge as the 2.0 of employee engagement. We’re hearing about it in conversations with top HR leaders. Why? Just 30% of employees are engaged, and that may be because we still believe we can engage people with perks and fun. What we need is to create an atmosphere where everybody is truly part of something.  

High engagement, which we believe is an outcome of the environment of belonging, is correlated with retention and turnover (Samuel and Chipunza, 2009) and a better motivator than money (Stewart et al., 2012). Our research on Millennials found a major factor in job satisfaction is having bosses who listen and respect them (not just inviting them in). 

Companies are taking note. Research by Jacob Morgan, author of The Employee Experience Advantage found leading companies are “shifting focus and attention away from working on solving the negative problems unearthed by engagement surveys toward shaping more positive, meaningful experiences for employees every day.” Kevin Kruse, a New York Times Best Selling Author, defines the phenomenon as “The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” 

7.  “Address the stress” will become the mantra on productivity.

Twenty five percent of US workers say work is the #1 source of stress in their lives. While stress feels like the “new normal” it’s also estimated to cost US business $300B a year in lost productivity. Fifty four percent of workers express concerns about health problems caused by stress, and 46% of people say their stress is due to workloads.   

New studies show flexing work time and commutes does reduce stress. PGi found 61% of telecommuters reported lower stress levels, 80% reported higher morale working from home, and 60% reported lower absenteeism. Findings by UpWork are corroborated by data from Gallup, Stanford University, and SurePayroll. Companies like FormAssembly see remote work as facilitating a competitive advantage, and flex work is regularly cited as a perk in Medallia’s GlassDoor reviews, with comments from former employees like these: “Very flexible work schedules (especially for parents who want to pick up their children after work).”

However, and it’s a big HOWEVER, you can’t address the stress simply through choices about when and where people work. The big issue is who they work with, especially the boss. Employees who respond to the Bates ExPITM assessment surveys value the quality of concern in their bosses. Those high in concern are regarded as demonstrating greater interest in other people, encouraging their development, and promoting a sustainable culture. Concern may seem like an elusive, unmeasurable quality; however, it is possible through 360 evaluations like the Bates ExPITM

In closing, 2020 will be a year of agility, listening, engaging and innovating how we work together, work with customers, and evolve our business models. This will require CEOs and business leaders to dial up their Integrity, their Resonance, their Vision and Concern. And they will have to focus equally on empowering their teams to have Curiosity, Condor, and Trust, and learn to collaborate and perform together at new levels. If you are not focusing on both, 2020 just might pass you by!


In addition to the sources cited above, the following sources were used as input on our research and insights: Huffpost,, I/O At Work, Upwork,, Fast Company, N2Growth, and RSR Partners.

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