2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality

2021 CEO Study: Find your essential

How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality

How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality



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This is a moment to take stock in an entirely new way.

Whether COVID-19 impacts subside from here or persist, 2020 served as a dramatic inflection point. Never before has the entire planet reconfigured its behavior simultaneously, participating in lockdowns, quarantines, and enforced social distancing. For businesses and governments, the implications have been extreme, with assumptions and plans radically altered. From Asia to the Americas, the status quo evaporated both within and across industries. The future is murkier than ever—yet presents both new opportunities and new risks.

To better understand this singular moment, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) launched its most extensive Chief Executive Officer (CEO) research project ever. Building on almost 20 years of C-suite Studies, the IBV gathered insights from more than 3,000 CEOs and the most senior public sector leaders across the economy and around the world, supplementing its own deep expertise with that of Oxford Economics, a leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis. In addition, IBV hand selected two dozen CEOs for extensive, exclusive interviews, that delve into the mindsets, themes, and challenges that top leaders are grappling with right now.

2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality


Bookmark this report  

This is a moment to take stock in an entirely new way.

Whether COVID-19 impacts subside from here or persist, 2020 served as a dramatic inflection point. Never before has the entire planet reconfigured its behavior simultaneously, participating in lockdowns, quarantines, and enforced social distancing. For businesses and governments, the implications have been extreme, with assumptions and plans radically altered. From Asia to the Americas, the status quo evaporated both within and across industries. The future is murkier than ever—yet presents both new opportunities and new risks.

To better understand this singular moment, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) launched its most extensive Chief Executive Officer (CEO) research project ever. Building on almost 20 years of C-suite Studies, the IBV gathered insights from more than 3,000 CEOs and the most senior public sector leaders across the economy and around the world, supplementing its own deep expertise with that of Oxford Economics, a leader in global forecasting and quantitative analysis. In addition, IBV hand selected two dozen CEOs for extensive, exclusive interviews, that delve into the mindsets, themes, and challenges that top leaders are grappling with right now.

2021 CEO Study: Find your essential
How to thrive in a post-pandemic reality

“Strip away distractions, then invest all of your energy and resources in only the things that will make you most successful.”

— Jeff McElfresh, CEO, AT&T Communications

What we've learned is extraordinary.

We discovered eye-opening surprises that reflect just how unprecedented the next era will be, with new priorities and new areas of focus. From emerging expectations around remote work to accelerated technological adoption, leading practices of yesterday and requirements of tomorrow are far from aligned.

The central, overarching question of this new era: what will it take to be essential—to your customers, your employees, your community, and your investors? The CEOs we spoke with almost uniformly emphasized that focusing on the sharpest edge of their businesses, what differentiates their organizations and delivers the most value, has become the overarching imperative.

Out of the chaos has come clarity: get rid of diversions and indulgences, root out “tradition for tradition’s sake,” and exploit distinctive advantages. This applies externally, in products and services, as well as internally. Who is essential to your organization, and what is essential to the operation of your business?

Explore key insights from global CEOs

01

Essential priorities

See key results from the entire pool of 3,000
CEOs surveyed.

Read

02

Essential advantages

Explore what differentiates Outperformer CEOs from their peers.

Read

03

Essential lessons

Learn how CEOs are raising the bar with their customers, products, and operations.

Read
01Essential priorities

What essential priorities will produce the best results in the next 2 to 3 years?

The business environment of 2020 has seen longstanding plans and rules replaced by urgencies of the moment. Yet once CEOs addressed what must be done, the question turned to: What should be done?

After the uncertainty of the past year, CEOs stress organizational agility–the capability of an organization to respond quickly and pivot without losing momentum–as a top priority for leaders to an unprecedented degree.

The challenge often lies in identifying the clear impact of agile initiatives, while in some cases, even “agile chaos” has resulted. Therefore, agile ways of working need to be more purposeful. They should include a clear focus on business outcomes and guidelines that indicate where innovation will lead to essential next-level advantages—so that agile initiatives result in material, valuable changes and real-world impact.

CEOs recognize that this new way of driving flexibility and delivering innovation can only be realized with an empowered remote workforce. While 2020 amplified a host of strategic priorities, empowering remote work was noted by CEOs as their top concern more frequently than anything else.

56%
of CEOs emphasize the need to aggressively pursue operational agility and flexibility.
“If you can embrace agile setups and experiments, and constantly nurture a learning culture, then you become adaptive and nimble”— Piyush Gupta, CEO, DBS Bank
Perform with purposeful agility

After the uncertainty of the past year, CEOs stress organizational agility–the capability of an organization to respond quickly and pivot without losing momentum–as a top priority for leaders to an unprecedented degree.

The challenge often lies in identifying the clear impact of agile initiatives, while in some cases, even “agile chaos” has resulted. Therefore, agile ways of working need to be more purposeful. They should include a clear focus on business outcomes and guidelines that indicate where innovation will lead to essential next-level advantages—so that agile initiatives result in material, valuable changes and real-world impact.

CEOs recognize that this new way of driving flexibility and delivering innovation can only be realized with an empowered remote workforce. While 2020 amplified a host of strategic priorities, empowering remote work was noted by CEOs as their top concern more frequently than anything else.

56%
of CEOs emphasize the need to aggressively pursue operational agility and flexibility.
“If you can embrace agile setups and experiments, and constantly nurture a learning culture, then you become adaptive and nimble”— Piyush Gupta, CEO, DBS Bank
Make tech matter more

When it comes to technology, CEOs are obsessed. The 3,000 CEOs surveyed cite technological factors as the number one most important external force that will impact their enterprise over the next two to three years. That emphasis is well placed. According to the IBV’s recent “Digital acceleration” report, digital maturity is significantly correlated with financial performance.

Technology not only enables agility—it is central to enabling a hybrid workforce, as well as both operational efficiency and customer engagement. Which technologies are most important? The new CEO survey results rank IoT, cloud computing, and AI as the top three technologies expected to help deliver results.

CEOs expect 3 key technologies to deliver results in the next 2 to 3 years.
Internet of Things
79%
Cloud computing
74%
Artificial intelligence
52%
“Technology is becoming ubiquitous in everything we do.”— Alex Gorsky, CEO, Johnson & Johnson
Embrace emerging regulations

Over the past 17 years of CEO research by the IBV, regulatory concern has never finished above the fourth position among expected top external forces cited by respondents. For nearly a decade, the first and second spots jockeyed between technology factors and market factors. But this year, regulation leapfrogged to second, cited as a priority by more than half of the CEOs in our study.

This unquestionably reflects a rising assertiveness by governments around privacy, data, trade and— amplified by COVID-19—health. Lockdowns and quarantines set a new precedent for government’s power over business that has at least one out of two CEOs looking over their shoulders.

CEOs are prioritizing the external factors they believe will most impact their businesses in the next 2 to 3 years.
57%
Technological factors
50%
Regulatory concerns
50%
Market factors
44%
Macro-economic factors
44%
People skills

The vanishing Chief Strategy Officer

Since 2013, the IBV research on CEOs has included a question about the C- suite overall: which roles will play the most crucial functions over the next two to three years?

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Since 2013, the IBV research on CEOs has included a question about the C-suite overall: which roles will play the most crucial functions over the next two to three years? Each year, in general, two C-suite positions have led the pack: the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and the Chief Operating Officer (COO). The triumvirate of CEO, CFO, and COO has remained steady.
But looking to the next level, those hoping to break into the top ranks—and maybe position themselves to be the next CEO—have seen dramatic shifts. Back in 2013, one of the rising positions was Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), noted by 47% of survey respondents and fifth ranked overall. But in the most recent survey, that role has fallen nearly to the bottom, noted by only 4% of CEOs. Another rising contender in 2013 was the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), noted by 66% of respondents; here too there’s been a falloff, with CMOs picked by just 19% of respondents today.
No position has done more of a disappearing act, though, than the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). Back in 2013, 67% of CEOs named the CSO as a crucial role—second only to CFOs. This year, the strategy role fell off the map, prized by only 6% of their bosses.
Where has the attention shifted? To the tech chief—the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO). The CTO/CIO role finished in the third position, identified by 39% of the CEOs, its highest-ever spot in our surveys.
02Essential advantages

The performance paradox: Luck, delusion, and overconfidence

Just because your business is doing well, don’t presume you’re doing things right. And if your business is struggling, don’t presume you’ve botched something. This is the reality of the pandemic economy.

Learn More

What essential advantages set Outperformers apart?

Traditional ways of assessing performance, of judging which businesses are worth learning from, were dramatically upended in 2020. The global pandemic and ensuing rolling lockdowns ravaged some industries and locations while boosting others. The heavy impact of circumstantial factors meant that sometimes merely being in the right place was rewarded, and merely being in the wrong place was punished.

To adjust for this reality, the IBV applied a two-factor screen to the data provided by 3,000 CEOs. We identified those who reported high revenue growth compared to their peers over the three years prior to 2020 and during 2020 itself. About one in five respondents met that two-pronged standard of outperformance. A similar-size group of respondents, one in five, reported below-par revenue growth for both periods. When the IBV compared the responses of the Outperformers with those of the Underperformers, dramatic differences emerged.

Outperformers entered 2020 with higher revenue growth than their competitors and have since widened their advantage —from a 5% to 7% point difference in annual rate of growth. For organizations with $10 billion in annual revenue, this difference in revenue growth is equivalent to an additional $700 million annually.

Outperformers were aligned on five key strategies.

Across our study, Outperformers demonstrate a far more focused set of priorities compared to Underperformers, whose responses are more distributed. The Outperformers are not passively gathering information or hedging their bets waiting for the dust to settle. Regardless of their specific areas of focus, we consistently see the decisive strategic leadership that sets Outperformers apart. In fact, 85% of Outperformers overall cite leadership as critical to business performance. Only 69% of Underperformers report the same priority.

Outperformers also identify a sense of purpose and mission as critical to engaging employees at a rate 53% higher than Underperformers. In today’s trust climate, where faith in institutions overall has been declining, that is an emerging competitive advantage.

“There’s a higher expectation about the role of business in society than a year ago,” says Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson. “It’s become part of the vernacular in a much more significant way. Expectations have changed.”

Outperformers view purpose and mission as an employee engagement essential.
Leadership comes first

Across our study, Outperformers demonstrate a far more focused set of priorities compared to Underperformers, whose responses are more distributed. The Outperformers are not passively gathering information or hedging their bets waiting for the dust to settle. Regardless of their specific areas of focus, we consistently see the decisive strategic leadership that sets Outperformers apart. In fact, 85% of Outperformers overall cite leadership as critical to business performance. Only 69% of Underperformers report the same priority.

Outperformers also identify a sense of purpose and mission as critical to engaging employees at a rate 53% higher than Underperformers. In today’s trust climate, where faith in institutions overall has been declining, that is an emerging competitive advantage.

“There’s a higher expectation about the role of business in society than a year ago,” says Alex Gorsky of Johnson & Johnson. “It’s become part of the vernacular in a much more significant way. Expectations have changed.”

Outperformers view purpose and mission as an employee engagement essential.
Technology is more than a tool

The CEOs of Underperformers tend to underappreciate the impact of technology, focusing instead on traditional marketplace concerns. The CEOs of Outperformers, meanwhile, are most focused on the forward-looking risks and opportunities of emerging technologies.

Emerging tech must be built on something, and Outperforming CEOs identify tech infrastructure as a top challenge twice as often as Underperformers. The specific figure, 62% of Outperformer respondents, is significantly higher than that received by any of 17 other specific challenges we asked about. This also underscores the appreciation by Outperformers of how quickly tech continues to move, as well as how laggards overlook that factor.

When it comes to specific technologies, Underperformers seem to be a cycle behind. They identify chatbots, voice technologies, and Natural Language Processing as key to delivering future results more than three times as much as Outperformers Certainly, these tools can be powerful. But Underperformers should consider that, without being paired with other sophisticated technologies, these tools may not ultimately deliver differentiating performance.

Meanwhile, Outperformers expect AI to deliver results in the next two to three years—and to do so at more than double the frequency of Underperformers. This gap in appreciation for next-generation tech indicates that those already trailing in AI adoption may fall further behind.

More than twice as many Outperfomers expect results from AI than Underperformers.
Empowering employees is a must

When it comes to the workplace, the perspectives of Outperformers and Underperformers diverge sharply. The pandemic-fueled, remote “anywhere” workplace is among the most cited areas of future focus by Outperformers, with 50% of CEOs identifying it as a key challenge. Underperformers identify the anywhere workplace at half that rate—on a par with topics such as tariffs.

Surprisingly, despite inherent differences across industries when it comes to the issues associated with a hybrid workforce, in only one industry, local government, do more than 50% of Underperformers identify this challenge. Even in the other industries with relatively high percentages of Underperformers focused on the anywhere workplace—retail/consumer banking, IT services, and retail—Underperformers still consistently lag behind their outperforming competitors on this issue. In other words, while Outperformers are actively preparing for the challenges and opportunities associated with the anywhere workplace, Underperformers risk falling further behind.

Outperformers also focus more on employee well-being, with 97% more of them than Underperformers supporting workforce health and wellness even if it costs near-term profit. “The far most important capability is human capability,” says Younis Al Nasser, CEO of Smart Dubai, a government agency that facilitates digital transformation. “Technology advancements come when you have the right human capabilities.”

Outperformers support employee wellbeing—even if it hurts profitability.
Partnerships fuel open innovation

Over the past several years, we have seen a steep decline in the percentage of CEOs who expect more partnering opportunities in the years ahead. From a high of 79% in 2015, only 36% of CEOs in our 2020 research expect more partnering opportunities.

It is therefore particularly notable that, in a reflection of the “focus on what we do best” mantra, Outperformers report a heightened emphasis on partnerships. Asked to identify those factors that increased in importance most in 2020, 63% of Outperformers identify partnerships, compared with only 31% of Underperformers.

Looking ahead, 47% more Outperformers than Underperformers expect to aggressively pursue establishing flexible partner networks. They stress customer relationships and experiences at 68% and 59% higher rates, respectively, than Underperformers, indicating a more outward-looking perspective.

In other words, organizations are forming fewer new partnerships. But Outperformers stand out in their recognition that the partnerships they do engage in are more important—and more valuable—than ever.

Outperformers prioritize partnering for needed capabilities.
63%
Outperformers
32%
Underperformers
“Respect of someone else’s expertise just gets you there much faster. And by being there faster, you get greater results.”— Duncan Painter, CEO, Ascential
Cybersecurity provides a foundation

In parallel with their deeper focus on ecosystems, remote activities, and technology overall, Outperformers distinguish themselves from Underperformers in one more significant area: a heightened focus on cybersecurity. 26% more Outperformers than Underperformers identify cyber risk as among their greatest challenges over the next two to three years. The number two factor Outperformers will aggressively pursue is securing data and systems. Furthermore, 31% more Outperformers than Underperformers cite security and risk as an area where they expect technology to have the greatest impact.

Outperformers appear to recognize that digital security and trust need to be integrated into strategy, given the essential reliance on technology for partnering, culture, customer engagement, and more. The importance and impact of tech is so important, so central, that cybersecurity is elevated to a justifiably highest-order priority. This is consistent with research from the IBV “Digital acceleration” study, which found top performers to be 72% more likely to use AI to gather and assess threat intelligence. By not preparing, Underperformers reveal their tech naiveté. They also may be creating exposure for themselves—because even less tech-mature businesses are still, essentially, tech-dependent.

Outperformers view technology
as a potent tool to enhance security.

The quantum opportunity

CEOs may be ignoring quantum at their own peril.

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What technologies do CEOs anticipate helping deliver the most results over the next two to three years? When presented with a menu of 16 options to choose from—from biometrics to autonomous vehicles to 5G—the big winners were cloud computing, the IoT, and AI. Even the CEOs from Underperformer enterprises largely agreed with these priorities.
Among the technologies near the bottom of the list? Quantum computing. 89% of CEOs do not expect quantum to deliver results for their organizations in the next two to three years. Yet this certainly stands in stark contrast to the tech-industry media coverage and investments quantum garners.
Certainly quantum can be difficult to discern, and with few experts embedded in organizations, understanding how it fits into workflows and where it adds the most value can be challenging. At the same time, quantum has been advancing at a steady pace toward broad applicability, with dramatic potential implications across industries and operations much more diverse than just tech stacks.
There is an echo here with how AI was viewed not long ago: as a tech obsession and curiosity that was so far from the realm of applicability that it could be ignored. Yet those enterprises that chose to invest in and grow comfortable with applying AI were those most likely to take advantage as it matured and delivered outperforming results. CEOs who ignore quantum and allow it to become a blind spot may be doing so at their own peril—a parallel missed opportunity to when AI was emerging a decade ago.
03Essential lessons

What essential lessons deliver a competitive advantage?

To unlock even more specific insights—and mindful of CEOs’ rising emphasis on finding distinctive advantage—the analysis in this study went a layer deeper. Applying a data-driven segmentation analysis, the IBV discovered three natural groupings within the 3,000 respondents. By drilling deep into each group, specialized and distinctive leading practices were illuminated—some which differentiate the groups from each other, and others that differentiate Outperformers and Underperformers within a specific group.

48%

of CEOs say their most important business priorities revolve around customers, clients, and citizens.

30%

of CEOs say their most important business priorities revolve around products and services.

20%

of CEOs say their most important business priorities revolve around operations.

While all organizations are active in this vector, CEOs in this category give heightened attention to customer relationships. During 2020, they stressed virtual engagement with end users 50% more than other CEOs. For example, they are more likely to include customers in development and testing as well as in validating privacy and security policy.

The customer-related lessons become acute when comparing Outperformers in the group to Underperformers. Consider acting on customer feedback, a logical and expected priority for this realm. This is cited as the most important method of creating a differentiated consumer experience—but by the Underperformers.

Of course, Outperformers value customer feedback too, but their first and second priorities when it comes to customer experience are customer-service etiquette and dynamic feedback—feedback that's smart, curated in real time, and fueled by technology such as AI. The message is that simply giving customers what they say they want isn’t enough. The goal should be to delight customers at every interaction by treating them better than they expect, acknowledging that a customer’s impression of the organization is only as good as their last experience. “The bar has been raised higher,” says CEO Piyush Gupta of DBS Bank.

“The big change,” Gupta says, “is hyper-digitalization.” When asked where technology would have the greatest impact over the next two to three years, customer-focused Underperformers cited consumer insights. Yet for outperformers, the by-far dominant answer was consumer experience. The lagging organizations look to data for competitive clues. They collect data and use it to give consumers what they ask for. Outperformers take it one giant step further. They are proactive in how they apply data, using it to emphasize engagement. Rather than simply respond to data, Outperformers use it as a tool to build and shape customer relationships.

Outperformers in this segment are also focused on:
  • Platforms and partnerships
  • Ethics and integrity
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Applying AI in customer-focused efforts
  • Protecting against cybersecurity risks
Customer-focused Outperformers see the importance of protecting against cybersecurity risks.
Customer-focused CEOs raise the experience bar

While all organizations are active in this vector, CEOs in this category give heightened attention to customer relationships. During 2020, they stressed virtual engagement with end users 50% more than other CEOs. For example, they are more likely to include customers in development and testing as well as in validating privacy and security policy.

The customer-related lessons become acute when comparing Outperformers in the group to Underperformers. Consider acting on customer feedback, a logical and expected priority for this realm. This is cited as the most important method of creating a differentiated consumer experience—but by the Underperformers.

Of course, Outperformers value customer feedback too, but their first and second priorities when it comes to customer experience are customer-service etiquette and dynamic feedback—feedback that's smart, curated in real time, and fueled by technology such as AI. The message is that simply giving customers what they say they want isn’t enough. The goal should be to delight customers at every interaction by treating them better than they expect, acknowledging that a customer’s impression of the organization is only as good as their last experience. “The bar has been raised higher,” says CEO Piyush Gupta of DBS Bank.

“The big change,” Gupta says, “is hyper-digitalization.” When asked where technology would have the greatest impact over the next two to three years, customer-focused Underperformers cited consumer insights. Yet for outperformers, the by-far dominant answer was consumer experience. The lagging organizations look to data for competitive clues. They collect data and use it to give consumers what they ask for. Outperformers take it one giant step further. They are proactive in how they apply data, using it to emphasize engagement. Rather than simply respond to data, Outperformers use it as a tool to build and shape customer relationships.

Outperformers in this segment are also focused on:
  • Platforms and partnerships
  • Ethics and integrity
  • Data-driven decision making
  • Applying AI in customer-focused efforts
  • Protecting against cybersecurity risks
Customer-focused Outperformers see the importance of protecting against cybersecurity risks.
Product-focused CEOs prioritize innovation

CEOs in this segment give heightened attention to product and service innovation. “We can outsource channels and suppliers, but product creativity cannot be bought,” says the CEO of a consumer wearables manufacturer in Asia.

Interestingly, this is the group reporting the least impact from the COVID-19 convulsions of 2020. Two-thirds of the product-focused Outperformers, in fact, reported an expectation not just to best their peers over the year, but for continued growth in absolute terms. They report remarkable confidence, too, in their preparation for a broad range of risks. What they are worried about, at a higher rate than other CEOs, is regulation. CEOs of product-focused organizations cite regulation as a concern over the next three years 23% more often than their underperforming product-focused peers.

While product and services innovation is noted as the highest future priority by both product-focused leaders and laggards alike, the laggards dedicate extra effort to some telling areas. Roughly twice as many Underperformers as Overperformers cite brand and social media among their most important differentiating factors today. And Underperformers rank improving the effectiveness of marketing and sales as their second-highest priority for the future. This could indicate a reliance on packaging and promotion, rather than product quality itself.

For product-focused Outperformers, sales and marketing finishes in the eighth slot, identified almost 40% less frequently. In other words, the Underperformers are focusing on the message (perhaps to counterbalance concerns about what they are offering). The Outperformers may expect that the intrinsic value of their products and services will, to a certain degree, prevail. The product-focused Outperformers recognize the importance of human-centric design and product and service excellence as the prime route to lasting success.

Outperformers in this segment are also focused on:
  • Customer relationships and experiences
  • Prioritizing spare capacity instead of just-in time inventory
  • Blockchain and distributed ledgers
  • 3D printing for design and manufacturing
Product-focused Outperformers took more employee-related actions to deal with recent volatility.
Operations-focused CEOs have an experimentation mindset

Operators stress efficiency, distribution, pricing structure, and transparency. But while the laggards are prioritizing short-term issues, such as budgets, leaders are taking a more proactive, forward-looking perspective. They’re positioning themselves for a prosperous tomorrow by emphasizing factors such as emerging technologies. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, process automation is identified as an expected driver of results, as well as cloud computing and AI. Technology will drive improving business agility, say the operations-focused CEOs.

“Shifting the mindset from engineering something to death to experimenting and failing quickly is the opposite of the way we’ve worked culturally,” says Mark Little of Suncor. “It’s a very different approach.”

Much of the solution, Little says, revolves around technology and the proper approach to implementing it: “We’re trying to accelerate investments in the intangible world. How do you generate value?”

A second critical differentiator among operations-focused Outperformers: partnerships. Outperformers designate partners and ecosystems as a key tool at double the level of Underperformers. In fact, when identifying ways to build trust with customers and meet expectations, Outperformers rank partnerships as first on their list among eight choices; for Underperformers, it ranks dead last, at eighth.

Even amid the darkest pandemic-disrupted moments, operations-focused Outperformers stuck with partners, responding to a challenging economy by renegotiating partnerships 44% more than Underperformers. “If I work with partners, then I can be successful faster,” says Daimler Mobility CEO Franz Reiner. “And I don’t have to have every competency on board here.”

Outperformers in this segment are also focused on:
  • Sustainability
  • Employee engagement
  • Customer engagement
Operations-focused Outperformers will build new ecosystems and partnerships to meet customer expectations in the next 2 to 3 years.
“You have to be ready to go all in.”
— Alex Gorsky, CEO, Johnson & Johnson
What are your organization’s essential truths?
“What does your company stand for, and what do you want to achieve?”
—Franz Reiner, CEO, Daimler Mobility

Standing still has never been an option for executives, and the events of the past year have amplified that truth. CEOs of all stripes recognize that reality, whether by choice or by pressure. The pandemic spurred urgency, but which organizations will persist in operating at that speed? “The big challenge,” says Daimler Mobility’s Franz Reiner, “will be to carry this momentum forward. To continue with a clear focus on fewer projects, with a clear mindset to implement those more quickly. We have to be careful not to fall back into old habits.”

“What does your company stand for, and what do you want to achieve?”
—Franz Reiner, Chair, Daimler Mobility

When it comes to a crisis, the word “survival” is limiting. Organizations can’t just stay the same and endure; they need to reshape themselves for the future. Even the oft-cited word “resilience” could describe bending in the wind—and then simply snapping back to the status quo, with no ground gained. That may be the safest course, but it’s not the most forward-focused. And it may not be enough to navigate future disruptions.

To thrive in the years ahead, CEOs should continually examine five questions that help them find their essential.
What is our essential strategy?
What is our essential technology?
Who is our essential workforce?
Who are our essential leaders?
What are our essential risks?
Explore past C-suite studies
2019 C-suite Study reports
Build Your Trust Advantage
Role reports
Chief Executive Officer:
Seizing the data advantage
Chief Financial Officer:
Realizing the data dividend
Chief Human Resources Officer:
The human side of data
Chief Information Officer:
From data science to data diplomacy
Chief Operations Officer:
The intelligent operations advantage
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