The old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same seems to be holding so far this year. Even as we’ve moved into a new year, the first few weeks of 2021 seem like the 13th month of 2020.

I don’t think we need to rehash the trials and tribulations of 2020, but if we are to grow and excel, we need to learn from the hardships we have faced in the past. If there is a silver lining to 2020, perhaps it’s that the year was full of lessons — if we are open to heeding them.

The easy path is to look to the future, believing it will undoubtedly be better. While it may, I also want to raise the possibility that the year ahead will present additional challenges.

If there was a primary takeaway from last year, it’s that complacency is the enemy. After making it through a hellacious year like 2020, organizations cannot presume the future will provide more favorable circumstances — especially if the first days are any indication.

I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but 2021 could be just as challenging as the past year, and if we are blind to that reality, we learned nothing from the year we just put in our rearview.

We cannot stop change.

Change is the great equalizer. We saw that in 2020, and I believe 2021 will present us with even more change. We cannot stop it; all we can do is prepare the best we can and use change to our advantage.

No one can anticipate all possible changes. The best we can do is develop a plan to respond to the trials we can anticipate and adapt them in real-time to whatever reality we encounter.

Complacency is often the easy path. But, as the old saying goes, most things that are worthwhile do not come without effort.

Luckily, opportunity goes hand in hand with change. Too many people try to resist the change, but that only prolongs the process and makes it more painful.

Nothing will go according to plan.

At the end of the year, it’s essential to reflect on what we accomplished and what we did not. Most years, it’s equally imperative we compare it to what we planned at the beginning of the year — what were the reasons for failing to execute a particular initiative, and how can we remedy moving forward?

Believe it or not, we should still do this even in light of the pandemic. There may be an opportunity to salvage elements of the earlier plan and repurpose them for the new reality.

It’s safe to say most teams’ plans went askew last year. However, the victories are what they were able to accomplish even in the most trying of circumstances.

A year after the pandemic entered the equation, it is time to look back at our 2020 plans and see what, if anything, we should revisit. Yes, the year didn’t go according to plan, but businesses continued. We adapted and persevered, but that doesn’t mean our old business objectives are no longer relevant.

Agility reigns; this is no time to stay complacent.

If nothing else, perhaps the past year is the perfect case study in agility. Think about it. At the beginning of the year, how many organizations allowed either the bulk of or their entire team to work remotely? How many would have been willing to do so unless forced by a pandemic?

The moment forced them to be agile. But what is most telling is that too many organizations would not have risen to the occasion if it wasn’t their only choice.

They didn’t have the right systems — or protocols — in place, but they made it happen on the spur of the moment. We need to remember that not just the next time we are forced into the corner but daily.

We need to keep this spirit with us as we move forward in 2021. No one knows what the future holds, but I’ve found we are better off if we face head-on the challenges that emerge rather than hoping they resolve themselves.

Perhaps our accomplishments will exceed our expectations of what we could have accomplished in a “normal” year.

The right team makes all the difference.

I’ve often highlighted how organizations must put in place the right team, and we proved that in 2020. As we learned, the right team can help any company navigate an uncertain landscape; the wrong team is an anchor.

As we start a new year, it’s important for organizations to take stock of their teams. Do they have the right talent with the right skills, or do they have people with titles occupying roles?

Take an assessment, looking at what skills gaps exist and how to fill them. Is it just a matter of hiring new team members, or is it helping existing members better themselves? If you’re an organization that continually touts how people make a difference, now is the time not just to say the words but act on them.

Whatever you determine the best action to be, develop an improvement plan — and execute it.

The “old normal” is gone; we can only transition to the “next normal.” Be sure the team in place is the right one to help traverse the road ahead — that it has diverse skills and varied approaches to solving problems.

There will be curves on the road ahead.

When I take my motorcycle for a ride, it’s fun to traverse new roads. Sure, if you take the same route every day, you know where the curves are and what traps to anticipate. But a new road presents a challenge.

Sometimes it turns out to be fun, while other times we learn we should never go that way again. We should follow the same principle in our business routines.

In life and business, we don’t have the luxury of choosing every route we take, but we can make the best of it once we start in that direction. That’s not to say that every bump in the road will be fun, but it should help us anticipate what lies around that next curve.

If we can overcome one bumpy road, it should give us the confidence to overcome others — and we will be better equipped to face them.

Every business should better prepare for the unforeseen — but it necessitates us to take action. It is impossible to predict every challenge we might face in the weeks, months and years ahead, but we can put in place a framework that allows us to respond better.

However, it may necessitate giving the team the solutions and tools they need to achieve more in 2021. That is the real role of a leader — setting up his or her team to be successful; no true leader will be successful if he or she does not do so.

The “next normal” of today is not the “final normal.” We may not be prepared to admit it, but we could encounter a seismic shift — and sooner than we may be willing to accept.

With this in mind, are you prepared to face all that 2021 has in store for us?