We have been past the official ‘COVID-19 Public Health Emergency’ for about six months now, and the companies that have made it this far are finally able to exhale a bit. They can stop focusing on survival and look forward. They’ll bring some battle scars into their next round of annual planning, as well as some lessons learned and strengths uncovered. Many companies are anxious to address the pent-up demand for change. Projects, expansions, innovations that were put on hold can soon move forward. What will the C-suite consider as they choose which projects to take off the shelf, where to invest? What will the differentiators be in the next few years? We’ve identified 10 areas, in no particular order, that will make significant moves up or down in the priority list.
- Customer Service: As a result of COVID, customer service is an area of great opportunity. While in survival mode, many companies cut customer service staff and lowered their standards. Meanwhile, customers raised their expectations and became more savvy on the technology to automate and personalize many aspects of customer service. According to a 2022 Hubspot study, 93% of customer service teams say customers have higher expectations than ever before. The organizations that can meet and exceed those expectations will have a great advantage. The goal is to ensure that every single interaction and experience makes the customer smile.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI): While diversity initiatives are not new, the murder of George Floyd spurred a new level of action in 2020. But it was short-lived. DEI efforts have lost momentum and even become controversial in some aspects. Cecil Howard, a DEI consultant, put it this way, “The honeymoon is over… A few years later, they started realizing, ‘We checked the box and things are a little quieter now.” Several politicians are said to be ‘weaponizing DEI’ and even promoting ‘anti-DEI’ policies.
- Artificial Intelligence: ChatGPT was released in November 2022. In less than a year, ChatGPT and similar platforms have permeated our lives, from the tech powering autonomous vehicles to virtual travel booking agents to email programs suggesting the next word in your sentence. McKinsey’s latest research estimates that generative AI could add the equivalent of $2.6 trillion to $4.4 trillion annually to the global economy. For context, the United Kingdom’s entire GDP in 2021 was $3.1 trillion. It seems common sense at this point that companies must explore opportunities to leverage AI to stay relevant. These opportunities include, but are not limited to, streamlining processes, informing decision making, driving productivity in software engineering, and enhancing quality of customer operations, marketing, sales and R&D.
- Cybersecurity: COVID accelerated the movement of our business and personal information from local machines (and even physical paper) to existing online. This has in turn increased activity and advancements in cybercrimes. Recent victims include major institutions such as the University of Michigan and the MGM Grand Casino. CEOs and CIOs need to prioritize cybersecurity to protect company data, systems, and reputation. This includes implementing robust security measures, conducting regular audits, and investing in employee training.
- Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG): Similar to DEI, ESG seems to be past the honeymoon phase and settling into the need to fight for its seat at the table. Renewable energy advances, net zero emissions policies and social justice efforts launched the popularity of ‘ESG funds’ in 2020/2021. Results are not encouraging though. Although the highest rated funds in terms of sustainability attracted more capital than the lowest rated funds, none of the high sustainability funds outperformed any of the lowest rated funds. Corporate leaders will need to tread a fine line here, supporting ESG initiatives, but not overcommitting to programs (or funds) that they cannot truly afford.
- Regulation and Compliance: With technology advancing at such a quick pace, regulation and compliance functions seem to be struggling to keep up. Moving into unknown territory in social media, for example, has led to a high stakes game of ‘make the rules up as you go.’ Executives from Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, etc. have spent a lot of time in courtrooms over the past few years, discussing topics such as antitrust laws, monopolization and freedom of speech. Companies will need to consider these aspects as they develop new products. In the banking industry, SVB’s collapse has led people to question the security of their investments. Evolving regulatory compliance and reporting requirements have caused many customers to rethink their portfolios and move assets.
- Higher Demands from Workers: The pandemic put nearly all conventional working conditions up for debate, the most obvious being work location and schedule. As of 2023, 27% of U.S. employees now work remotely, which is four times the number who worked remotely before COVID. Not surprisingly, workers would like to continue to see more flexibility and benefits. Evidence of this trend includes strikes from the UAW, actors, screenwriters and Kaiser healthcare workers. Companies will need to proactively maintain an understanding of what matters to their workers and act on those findings to attract and retain talent.
- Cloud Adoption and Management: The migration to cloud-based infrastructure and services will remain a priority. Even where organizations had migrations planned or in progress, the pandemic significantly accelerated cloud adoption. Companies continue to look to the cloud to support and enable greater business agility, cost reduction, data analytics capabilities, and accelerated innovation. Cloud is not just a technology though, and its adoption is challenging. Not only in terms of integration and management, but also with regards to new cybersecurity, data privacy, ROI measurement, and cloud talent. CIOs, COOs and CEOs will need to work together closely to ensure the entire organization moves forward in synch.
- Agility and Flexibility: To accelerate innovation and improve time-to-market, CEOs and CIOs will continue adopting agile development methodologies and DevOps practices. This enables faster software delivery, increased collaboration, and improved quality assurance. Smart leaders understand the imperative of adapting to the ever-changing business landscape. They recognize that the world is undergoing rapid and profound transformations driven by technological, environmental, social, and economic forces.
- Leadership: Leaders, in particular middle-managers, impact nearly every aspect of a company’s performance. Effective managers help turn an organization’s vision and strategic goals into reality, and they are on the front lines of the competition for talent. This competition became especially fierce in early 2021 and has stayed that way. Companies will need to invest in developing their people managers in order to attract and retain talent. Once new joiners start, managers help them navigate the onboarding process, their new team, and the organization. Managers are at the heart of creating a culture where people want to stay.
How companies choose to address, prioritize, and invest in these broad-ranging issues will impact everything from employee retention to cybersecurity in our current and ever-changing environment.