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What matters most? Six priorities for CEOs in turbulent times

Managing complex organizations is much harder today than it was just a few years ago. A CEO’s most difficult task is deciding what must be done now and what can wait.

CEOs across the world, and in different markets, are bracing for choppier waters when it comes to supply chain, global trade flows, political instability, geopolitical issues, the list is long. In an environment of persistent exogenous shocks, the most successful CEOs are playing offense as well as defense. For the second year in a row, Liz Hilton Segel, chief client officer, and Homayoun Hatami, managing partner for global client capabilities, shared key insights on what CEOs should prioritize, from the capabilities they’ll need to build, to the growing digital priority some sectors face, to the implications for your net-zero transition. The following priorities are at the top of leaders’ agendas, and CEOs who adopt and master them will improve the odds of their organization’s success.

  • Resilience: Fall back, spring ahead. Building the resilience muscle is vital to navigate turbulent environments and volatility. Leading companies are playing defense on risk and also playing offense on growth. The companies that have mastered resilience skills outperform their peers by designing flexibility into the business model, building buffers, and strengthening networks.
  • Take courage. Today’s stormy times are testing leaders’ mettle where many organizations are slowing down or looking for shelter. But others are taking defensive actions while leaning into the volatility, stepping on the gas and galvanizing action around new opportunities.
  • Hatch new businesses. Many of the world’s greatest companies were founded in the depths of a downturn. While most business leaders identify building new businesses as a top priority, only one in five scale successfully. To beat the odds, CEOs need to dream big, set the bar high, and have a crystal-clear idea of the unique advantage of each new business.
  • Technology: The basis of growth. Mastering tech trends is essential to capture the full value of digital transformation, build new business, and grow. It’s the primary catalyst for change in the world and gives all organizations more possibilities to lift productivity, invent and reinvent offerings, and contribute to humanity’s well-being. Which is why more companies are realizing they need to think and act like software companies themselves to reach their full potential.
  • Net zero: Stay the course. It’s clear that the dependence on fossil fuels is far from over, and it’s equally clear that the net zero transition is taking off. Top CEOs are working toward net-zero emissions and addressing immediate needs at the same time. They are reframing issues as opportunities, not costs. The best companies will be early movers in green technology, a domain with a potential collective value of $12 trillion.
  • Compete in the talent market. CEOs know they can’t go back to the pre-COVID talent proposition and must modernize work and foster employee engagement to recruit, retain, and develop today’s workforces. To succeed in the talent market, companies can shift their focus to potential instead of pedigree, impact delivered instead of time served, and leverage the flexibility of hybrid work in a way that maximizes team performance.

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For more on the topic, see the full report and explore the interactive article collection “What matters most? Six priorities for CEOs in turbulent times.” In addition to the articles linked to above, read articles “Navigating inflation: A new playbook for CEOs,” Something’s coming: How US companies can build resilience, survive a downturn, and thrive in the next cycle,” “A defining moment: How Europe’s CEOs can build resilience to grow in today’s economic maelstrom,” “Speeding up in a slowing economy,” “How to build a unicorn: Lessons from venture capitalists and start-ups,” “The net-zero transition in the wake of the war with Ukraine: A detour, a derailment, or a different path?,” “Workplace real estate in the COVID-19 era: From cost center to competitive advantage,” and the article collection titled The Future of the Workplace.

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