Our 26th Annual Global CEO Survey focuses on a critical question facing leaders today: how to balance reinventing the business to succeed in a changing world with the need to manage short-term pressures and challenges.
Underpinning this dual imperative are three key findings uncovered by our global survey:
Almost 40% of global chief executive officers don’t think their organizations will be economically viable in 10 years.
CEOs are spending more of their time driving current operating performance than on reinventing their businesses.
Almost three-quarters of global CEOs believe global economic growth will decline over the next 12 months.
The findings reflect the growing tensions between transforming the business to adapt to longer-term threats and trends while also navigating increasingly challenging immediate issues like high inflation, macroeconomic volatility and geopolitical uncertainty. Our annual survey breaks down this dual imperative by highlighting three key aspects of what it takes to succeed in this complex environment:
How can CEOs stay ahead of longer-term threats to their companies, society and the planet itself?
How can CEOs manage day-to-day tensions like high inflation, an uncertain economic outlook and concerns about access to key talent and skills?
So what does this mean for CEOs as they prepare for an uncertain economic environment in 2023? Explore below to find out.
CEOs recognize the potential for disruption ahead. A significant number of both global CEOs (39%) and Canadian respondents (25%) think their company will no longer be economically viable a decade from now, if it continues on its current path. The result is a race for CEOs to reinvent their businesses, which many are planning to pursue through further investments in digital transformation initiatives like automation of processes and systems and deploying cloud, artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies.
39% of global CEOs (25% in Canada) say their organization will be economically viable for 10 years or less if it continues on its current path
But CEOs’ race against time is especially urgent when it comes to climate change, and our survey shows many have significant work yet to do on key actions like cutting carbon emissions. A third (33%) of global CEOs either aren’t looking to reduce emissions or have yet to move forward with their plans to do so. For Canadian CEOs, almost half (49%) don’t plan to reduce emissions or haven’t yet started on this.
Balanced against the need to reinvent organizations for the future are the very real immediate challenges facing businesses as 2023 gets underway. Among global CEOs, 73% expect global economic growth to decline this year, a number that rises to 76% for Canadian respondents. This was the highest level of economic pessimism in our survey in a decade among both global and Canadian CEOs.
Besides headline-grabbing issues like inflation, macroeconomic volatility and geopolitical conflict, CEOs are also expressing significant concern about access to talent and skills, which are becoming increasingly important to ensuring resilience and making the most of the digital transformation investments many respondents are planning. In fact, despite plans to reduce costs in response to economic challenges in 2023, relatively few global CEOs are considering actions in the next 12 months that could negatively impact their people, such as hiring freezes (24%), workforce reductions (23%) and compensation cuts (13%). Canadian CEOs were even less likely to be looking at these actions, with just 18%, for example, considering hiring freezes and 67% saying they don’t plan to do this.
24% of global CEOs (18% in Canada) are considering hiring freezes in the next 12 months to mitigate against economic challenges and volatility
Among the explanations for this are CEO expectations that the trend around employees leaving their jobs—a phenomenon referred to as the Great Resignation—will continue to at least some degree. When we asked respondents about how this trend will play out in the next 12 months, 36% of global CEOs (versus 41% of Canadians) said they think resignation and retirement rates will increase. Just 26% of global CEOs (21% of Canadian respondents) think resignation and retirement rates will decrease, whereas the remainder expect no change.
A key issue at the heart of the dual imperative is having the time, capacity and resources to balance investments in reinventing the business with managing day-to-day issues and needs. This year, we asked CEOs how they spend their time, including how much they allocate to driving current operating performance versus evolving the business for the future. We found that not only are they spending more time on current performance than reinventing the business but that, if they could start over with a blank calendar, they would put a greater emphasis on evolving for the future.
The growing range and complexity of issues facing businesses requires them to embrace partnerships with a wide range of collaborators that bring complementary capabilities: established companies, industry groups, start-ups, governments, academics and non-governmental organizations. By building ecosystems of organizations focused on a common goal, companies can uncover new opportunities to solve the challenges they face and create both business and social value, including when it comes to pressing matters like climate change.
Another source of support for CEOs is their people. But for employees at all levels to fully contribute to reinventing the business, they need to feel empowered to pursue new opportunities and be champions of change. CEOs can foster greater dynamism and autonomy by encouraging innovation and taking small-scale risks; decentralizing decision making at the project level; and letting functional leaders make strategic decisions for their business areas without consulting them.
Much of a CEO’s success in creating a more innovative and agile organization comes down to the ability of those at the top to align the business and their people around a shared vision and purpose. This, too, involves developing a leadership style focused on building trust through open dialogue with employees about the challenges the organization is facing, the plan for pushing past the status quo and the role people at all levels of the business can play in shaping the future.