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What's keeping CEO's up at night: Insights from C-Suite Challenge 2021

What's keeping CEO's at night
Source: C-Suite Challenge 2021 report

2021 saw the developed world and some of the developing countries succeed with the massive rollout of vaccination to deal with the COVID pandemic. The end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 is bringing renewed optimism that the worst of the pandemic might be over and we are entering the phase where the pandemic turns endemic; milder infections that can be managed without lockdowns and disruptions.

In this context, the C-suite challenge 2021 report from The Conference Board provides good insight into the minds of top CEO’s. The conference board collected response from over 1500 C-suite executives across the globe and published a report on their findings.

Here are some of the key insights they have drawn

Light at the end of the tunnel: CEO’s visualize light at the end of the COVID tunnel. However, while the growth expectations are modest, there are lingering doubts about China-led recession concerns.

Growth Focus: Shifting consumer behaviour is seen as driving future growth. Leaders see the need for a combination of financial management and cultural change to handle the shift. They see the need to balance between conserving cash and investing in growth through innovation, digital transformation and business model change

Need for speed with innovation and digital transformation: The current crisis has shown that digital transformation and innovations can be delivered very fast. Leaders clearly perceive the need for speed with innovation and digital transformation and believe they don’t have the luxury of years-long transformation programs.

Business model changes are a reality: Growth led by business model transformation is seen as a critical focus and important growth driver. Leaders see a need to quickly pivot and align the organization on new business models that are relevant for shifting consumer behaviour.

Lessons learned: The pandemic has shown that organizations that have demonstrated adaptability, flexibility, clear communication and decisive decision making have succeeded during these uncertain periods. Remote and hybrid work environments are seen as future ways of working. External collaboration and open innovation are seen as critical organizational traits.

What issues within management control do CEO’s believe they need to focus on? The report identifies these 5 issues

1. Accelarate digital transformation

2. Improve innovation

3. Modify business model

4. Lower cost

5. Streamline processes

Our take and recommendations

While digital transformation, innovation and business model changes are great solutions, if these are executed without a very clear vision and strategy of what they need to deliver, they are going to be a waste of money and resources. Cutting costs and streamlining processes will never become out of fashion.

We have seen very often that organizations start digital transformation programs or innovation programs just because other organizations are doing so. Programs without strategic direction are bound to fail or yield sub-optimal results. So we suggest that while the recommendations of the C – suite challenge report is very valid, you have to develop your own blueprint.

Our recommendation to CEO’s is that the focus for your organization must be aligned with your future challenges. We suggest leaders to adopt a systematic approach

1. Develop a clear vision of the future scenario:

The forces disrupting each organization is going to be different. Identify the need for change and the initiatives required to tackle different future scenarios. This will help you define the right initiatives for your organization

2. Define goals for digital transformation:

There are a plethora of digital solutions available in the market. However, the solutions required for your business are probably very specific to your business model. You need to evaluate the goals you need to achieve and figure out which aspect of your business requires digital transformation.

· Does the core operations require a new digital solution? What should it deliver? How will it support your strategic goals?

· Does your supply chain require a new digital solution? How will it enhance your agility?

· Can you use digital solutions to enhance customer experience?

· Can you use digital solutions to create new business model?

3. Focus on delivering innovation:

Innovation is an outcome and not a process. While deciding to invest in innovation understand and clarify to the organization that you need innovation because you don’t know the solution. For that you need to identify the right problem to be solved, build an innovation engine that consists of governance, structure, process, capabilities, tools and methods. If you don’t do this all you will have is innovation theatre and no results that drive growth.

4. Don’t merely copy others business models:

Business model change doesn’t mean copying the business model of others. You need to focus on customer value and how your solution fits them. Developing or modifying business models require you to ensure that the problem being solved is real, the solution you propose is viable, the business model you propose is sustainable and that you have the resources to deliver it.

We would be delighted to help you with any and all of these challenges. Do write to us at the email:

Hope this is thought-provoking. Do reach out to me if you would like to discuss further on the topic.

Krishnan Naganathan

Krishnan is a leading innovation consultant and focuses on helping people and organizations innovate and build capabilities for innovation. He brings over 25 years of experience in the industry and consulting. You can reach him by phone / WhatsApp: +919791033967 or email:


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