CEOs and C-Suite Executives Identify Lessons Learned and Top Concerns for 2021

The 2021 C-Suite Challenge, an annual survey conducted by the Conference Board, looks back on an unprecedented year of change exacerbated by a global pandemic.

The 2021 C-Suite Challenge, an annual survey conducted by the Conference Board, looks back on an unprecedented year of change exacerbated by a global pandemic. To understand where work is going, the survey identified CEO and C-Suite executives’ top concerns, lessons learned, and key strategies for 2021 and beyond, including the need for critical talent.

The Top Concerns for CEOs and C-Suite Executives Around the World

The Conference Board’s C-Suite survey was conducted from November to December 2020 with 1,538 respondents from around the world, 909 of which were CEOs and 629 were C-suite executives. The top concerns for U.S. CEOs are COVID-19, vaccine availability and the risk of a recession. These are also the same top 3 concerns globally, with some results varying by country or region. For example, while China’s respondents are mainly concerned with the risk of a recession, their second main concern is global trade disruptions. Both Japan and Germany’s respondents are concerned about shifting consumer behaviors, while respondents from the Gulf Region’s top concern is regulation.

What are the top lessons learned from the pandemic?

To navigate through 2021 and beyond, CEOs and C-suite executives are looking to lessons learned from the past year to help guide them. Such lessons learned include the need for adaptability, flexibility, clear communication, and quick, decisive action while maintaining calmness. Call it courage under fire, or maybe it’s simple agility; either way, the need for leadership to pivot in an emergency is a major takeaway from the past year that will follow executives into the new normal. In the survey’s open-ended question, here are a few of the lessons learned by selected countries:

  • Germany: Flexibility; Crisis management; Communication; Be calm; Act quickly.
  • Japan: Rethink business model; Ability to execute; Management agility; Speedy change; Vision.
  • Canada: Be prepared and open to change; Flexibility; Act quickly; Understand business environment; Support staff.

What are the internal strategies CEOs are focusing on in 2021?

With the rise in remote work, the need for digital solutions to support a virtual environment is more pressing than ever. Many companies had to quickly and strategically pivot to this digital environment to keep employees safe while ensuring business continuity. When asked about internal management strategies, most respondents identified the need to accelerate their pace of digital transformation. Many respondents also plan on improving innovation, modifying their business model, and streamlining their processes.

In order to foster growth, CEOs and C-suite executives are focusing on offering new products and customer segments driven by data analytics. Japan’s CEOs are particularly focused on environmentally friendly options, while CEOs in China are focused on business model transformation and CEOs in the Gulf Region are focused on using data analytics to foster growth. Understanding the changing nature of costumer behavior and identifying their evolving wants and needs is critical, as well as an opportunity to form new partnerships, a strategy that respondents from around the world plan to implement.

Finding and Keeping Talent is the Number One Internal Issue for Global CEOs

Regardless of a company’s size, location, or sector, finding and keeping talent was identified as the number one internal stressor for CEOs and C-suite executives around the world. CEOs remain focused on the recruitment, retention, and development of talent, while also supporting their “reconfigured workforces by building agile project teams, more flexible work policies, improving virtual work capabilities, and providing more coaching to better equip employees to adapt to change, manage stress and pressure, and maintain productivity through uncertainty” in addition to “building a more inclusive culture.”

The post-COVID talent landscape is likely to feature more competition than ever for critically needed talent who are unbound by geographical location. Indeed, the pandemic has resulted in the relocation of millions of workers in the U.S., who often move away from more expensive cities. CEOs, and mobility professionals, are keenly aware of the need to attract and retain talent while also being mindful of this new landscape shaped by remote work and the overall employee experience. Focusing on flexibility, digital innovation, and empathy are just a few ways CEOs and mobility professionals can navigate 2021 and beyond. From understanding the complexity of remote work compliance to executing excellent employee experience and talent management, mobility remains pivotal to where work is going.

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