How do you plan after a year like 2020? That’s the million-dollar question in boardrooms around the world. The time has come for executives to pause, reflect and brainstorm for the year ahead. While every year brings new opportunities, 2021 will be unique. For many companies forced into major pivots in 2020, and for those whose businesses suffered major losses, 2021 will be about recovery and survival in the next normal.
Monitoring executive priorities is a key part of our work at Boardroom Insiders. Based on our research, we expect these goals to be top of mind for executives this coming year:
Adopt stakeholder capitalism
The human race was challenged quite extensively in 2020, and it wasn’t necessarily governments who stepped up when we needed it most. This year, corporations rose to the occasion with a greater focus on social responsibility.
Companies in nearly every industry found ways to help, from boosting wages to refunding customers and even holding others accountable through efforts like boycotting Facebook. All these developments point to a new age of stakeholder capitalism where companies prioritize people as much as profits.
It’s an idea that can have a positive impact on the bottom line. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff recently cited stakeholder capitalism as a factor in the company’s strong performance. Salesforce has also provided millions in grants for school districts during the crucial wave of distance learning. “This is a moment when we need to be thinking not just about how to serve all of our customers, but also how to take care of our communities because they are in so much pain,” Benioff recently told CNBC’s Jim Kramer.
Quantify and improve remote productivity
For a long time, there was a stigma associated with working from home. In the eyes of many executives, an in-office presence was necessary to ensure smooth operations and effective management. Then the COVID-19 pandemic made digital adopters out of even the most “old-school” business leaders.
Although a vaccine is well on its way, working from home is likely to stick around deep into 2021, and executives are expected to find ways to measure and analyze this dynamic.
Microsoft is one company that recently made an effort to better understand the everyday lives of their remote employees. In their research, they identified several internal trends and lifehacks, such as the concept of “Recharge Fridays,” a dedicated workday with no meetings. Look for similar ideas to make the rounds at boardrooms everywhere.
Invest in digital customer experiences
The stay-at-home economy of 2020 presented corporations with a clear mandate: go digital or else. And after a months-long arms race to expand digital channels, the market has its share of winners and losers.
Certain strategies have ruled the year, such as appointment service and curbside pickup for retailers. With additional lessons learned from holiday shopping, executives will have a strong frame of reference for overhauling customer experiences. A recent example of this has been Peloton, a fitness equipment/lifestyle brand with streamable classes. The company has its sights on 100 million subscribers and recently hired a new CIO from Uber to lead the way.
Reimagine C-suite roles
With new priorities come new strategies — and new executives to lead the way. In response to the social justice movement, companies are empowering chief diversity officers to foster a more inclusive work environment.
In other cases, the hires are focused around technology. As companies rush onto digital channels, chief technology officers and chief information officers have been walking tall in the C-suite and functioning as de facto COOs. One in four traditional large enterprise CIOs will be held accountable for digital business operational results by 2024, according to Gartner.
Get the party started
While it remains to be seen what kind of world will be left once COVID-19 is gone, one thing is certain: There is a lot of pent-up demand.
Consumers can’t wait to get back to enjoying life again, be it taking a long-awaited overseas vacation or simply going out to eat. As a result, entire industries are lined up for a possible boom in 2021 and beyond, including airlines, hotels and restaurants. Some academics and economists are drawing parallels between the current market and the roaring 1920s. If a boom cycle is truly in store, rest assured – executives will be waiting in the wings to seize the opportunity when it comes.
What they’re saying
“When customers engage with both our physical stores and digital channels, they visit more frequently and on average spend twice as much as those who shop in-store only. The vast majority of our digital customers are shopping in-store as well as online. We are, therefore, confident that the seamless experience we are building across our store and digital ecosystem position us well for continued growth in a post-COVID world.” – Gary Millerchip, SVP and CFO, Kroger [December 2020]
“Business leaders should embrace the apparent contradiction—of low trust and high expectations—and make the choice to demonstrate that they see their mission as serving not only shareholders but also customers, suppliers, workers, and communities. The common term for this is “stakeholder capitalism” and we think its time has come.” – McKinsey & Company [November 2020]
“In a COVID environment with a tough theatrical business, we made important organizational moves that further position us for growth in direct-to-consumer streaming. Through the pandemic, we continue to invest in HBO Max and continue to grow total HBO and HBO Max subscribers. I’m pleased with how the WarnerMedia team is responding to a challenging environment.” – John Stankey, AT&T CEO [October 2020]
“Two updates from this quarter that we are proud of are those that have expanded our commitment, diversity and inclusion, which have always been core to TEGNA’s values. The first is the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer role…Our immediate goals are clear: address diversity in our recruitment and career development efforts, conduct inclusive content and anti-bias training and further develop our DNI policies and practices across the company.” – Dave Lougee, President and CEO [November 2020]
Your Next Steps
We all need to be aware of how executive priorities are changing. Marketers should be focused on bringing the latest information to their account teams as it develops. Given that we employ a small army of really smart people to read and parse corporate earnings call transcripts and CXO interviews all day long, we can help by feeding you the latest.
What do you do with this information? Do what you have always done — align and support. Here are the four questions you should try to answer about all of your top accounts:
- How has their strategy/priorities shifted post-COVID-19?
- What are they cutting?
- Where are they investing–or doubling down?
- What can you offer that supports their current focus?