We all know these are uncertain times. Stories of strengthening economies, employment improvements and breakthrough products from some parts of the world are offset by reports on natural disasters, government debt, regulatory changes and political turmoil in others. It’s hard to know for sure which way the wind is blowing.
While change presents opportunity for some, most business thrives on stability – and the fact that this is elusive makes forward plans increasingly hard to develop. No wonder that confidence is down from what we saw last year. Yet it’s still at a reasonably high level.
Why? Because despite the uncertainties, the long-term trends that have encouraged corporations to invest in the emerging world, create innovation and develop talent remain firmly in place.
Most multinational companies have been adjusting, without fanfare, to the new global economic reality for some time. This year, CEOs have made clear that they are not backing away from global growth programmes but in fact are deepening their commitments to their most important markets. Among the CEOs we interviewed, whether based in Italy, Malaysia, the US or South Africa, the goal of delivering results by growing whole operations – not just sales – outside of their home base is the same.
These are ambitious agendas, which is somewhat surprising given economic uncertainties. How are CEOs going to make it happen? This year, we asked CEOs how they think their time is best spent, and two-thirds said they want to devote more attention to developing talent pipelines and meeting with customers (see Figure 1). Four years into the financial crisis, we find CEOs more grounded about the risks and changing conditions for growth. The focus on talent and customers today is a natural ‘next step’ towards establishing their organisations in the markets where they operate and building the trust needed for the business of tomorrow.
That’s why so many CEOs are changing talent strategies to improve their ability to attract and retain the right people. Skills shortages are very real – just 12% of CEOs say they’re finding it easier to hire people in their industries – and the constraints are having quantifiable impacts on corporate growth. Just as our customers are changing rapidly, so are our workforces – and our talent needs are changing, too.
I want to thank the more than 1,250 company leaders from 60 countries who shared their thinking with us. The success of the PwC Annual Global CEO Survey – now in its 15th year – is directly attributable to the candid participation of leaders around the world. The demands on their time are many and varied; we greatly appreciate their involvement. And I am particularly grateful to the 38 CEOs who sat down with us near the end of 2011 for more extensive conversations.
Their thoughts added invaluable context to our quantitative findings.
Dennis M. Nally