The C-Suite has had to be agile and continues to make difficult decisions, explains Thom Dennis

After another incredibly difficult year of uncertainty, angst, constant change, health concerns and logistical backlogs, the C-Suite has had to be agile and make difficult decisions without really knowing what the future might hold. The pandemic and our response to it have created great splits, partly depending on sector and size. Some companies have profited enormously, and others are in survival mode while markets and settings are continually transforming.

Here are some of the things keeping the C-Suite awake at night:

1. Pervading Uncertainty

People tend to seek reassurance and answers from leaders in times of uncertainty; however, it isn’t always easy to provide them in this unpredictable day and age. The C-Suite are struggling to deal with their own anxieties of living in a tumultuous world. Making time to reflect and be present themselves whilst reassuring colleagues, clients and consumers is a priority. Boards and executive teams need to create the space to think proactively and further than the current quarter.

2. Cash Flow

In an uncertain world for most businesses, and with global trends exacerbating that uncertainty, CEOs, CFOs and sales directors are increasingly concerned about cash flow, especially as orders continue to be cancelled or delayed often with very little notice. For some, this is pretty much all they are able to focus on.

3. Logistic Delays

Before coronavirus, most organisations could comfortably rely on supply chains. However, recent industry changes have seriously subverted this model; a small error in the supply chain can have disastrous repercussions for an entire operation. Having to factor in unknown delays and stretch out the operational and completion process has meant leaders have never had to plan more, as well as manage their customers’ expectations and be comfortable with not pleasing everybody. At the same time, the price of many commodities has risen far beyond any reasonable expectation, which has had considerable knock-on effects, all of which need to be dealt with by CEOs and their teams.

4. Securing New Talent

Younger generations have very different work values, such as less institutional loyalty and shorter-term goals. They prioritise being a valued and respected part of the workplace. Young people are also more inclined to avoid certain companies if they do not align with their values, particularly in terms of equality, social conscience, and the environment. A high salary in return for extended working hours is considerably less appealing to today’s youth than past generations. Recruiters find themselves having to market their clients’ businesses in new and innovative ways to attract more talent, and this is made easier if the business has a clearly defined purpose which addresses its ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) awareness.

5. Fear of Failure

We can all feel unstable, unsure and insecure, but those in senior positions have been increasingly stifling their own feelings of doubt, for fear of it showing them up to be weak or unsuccessful during turbulent times. Many are feeling the need to conceal their uncertainty not just to their people, but also to the Board – a situation which can best be alleviated by the helpful and supportive ear of an executive coach. They are also trying to create transparency, honesty and openness within the workplace because they know that this builds trust.

6. Managing Risk

The regulatory environment seems to be getting increasingly tight, so today’s C-Suite actively avoids scandals for fear of damaging their company’s reputation, brand and bottom line. Balancing the demands of good governance and caution without detrimentally affecting innovation and creativity is a challenge.

7. Environmental Concerns

Investors are increasingly applying the non-financial factors of ESG as part of their analysis process to identify material risks and growth opportunities. CEOs are under increasing pressure to plan, respond to, and address long-term decisions that affect depletion of limited resources, recycling, pollution and rising water levels. However, they also need to meet short-term financial obligations to shareholders, as well as address the concerns of the Board, and these three pulls are often in conflict.

8. Diversity and Social Pressure

CEOs understand the importance of diversity in the workplace and want to get it right, but have previously hoped that quota filling or box-checking might be enough. Identifying unconscious bias, stopping groupthink, and focusing on diversity, equality and inclusion are rightfully taking centre stage, but there is a new understanding that this needs to be done properly and systematically. This means expenditure and overcoming the reticence to commit resources now for long-term returns is a struggle for most CEOs.

9. Home vs Back to the Office

Working out how to return to the office (if that is indeed the desire), either full- or part-time, is an erroneous task because different people want different things. Whatever the new norm, it will vary between companies and industries, so it is important to get it right in reconfiguring new contracts, developing company culture and listening to individuals’ needs. Recent recruits may have never even been within the company’s walls. UK bank NatWest, for instance, has said it expects just 13% of its 64,000 staff to work full-time in its offices in future. A third of the bank’s employees will be allowed to live and work anywhere in the UK and will only have to attend a NatWest building twice a month.

10. Nimble Competitive Edge

Some established industries report a rising concern for maintaining a competitive edge when the technology they use may fast become out of date, forcing huge expenditures to keep up with competitors. Newer businesses are used to being nimbler and can address client needs quickly. This has repeatedly been seen as a result of the pandemic and Brexit. Those who fail to adapt quickly to unpredictable changes are likely to suffer serious organisational damage. The adoption of new technology is being given high priority as part of the move to hybrid working practices.

12. Avoiding Burnout

Mental health and work/life balance are finally now being taken more seriously, and CEOs are having to re-educate themselves on how best to support themselves as well as colleagues and to avoid collapse. Prioritising wellbeing, allowing flexibility, supporting a good work/life balance and addressing burnout before it engulfs the team are top priorities.

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Thom Dennis is the CEO of Serenity in Leadership. With an MSc in Change Agent Skills & Strategies, skills as an NLP Master Practitioner, 17 years’ experience as an officer in the Royal Marines and having extensively travelled around the world, Thom ... (Read More)

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