We’ve seen massive upheaval in the workforce over the last two years. Today’s workers aren’t the same as they were before the pandemic. They have different motivations and different attitudes. They want flexibility and purpose — and they want more from corporate leaders. Today’s customers are different, too, expecting high levels of personalization and experience.

How can executives in the C-suite adapt to these growing demands? Our research shows that new priorities are emerging for corporate leaders in these turbulent times. In addition to being digitally savvy, they need to handle change with agility and they need highly developed emotional intelligence to navigate new relationships.

70% of C-suite executives report their employees are happy, but only 44% of employees agree.

For example, check out the disconnect when it comes to employee satisfaction. Our recent report, The Experience Advantage, found that 71% of C-suite executives think their employees are engaged with their work, when in reality only 51% say they are. And, 70% of C-suite executives report their employees are happy, but only 44% of employees agree.

How can companies empower their leaders to deliver in an era of heightened expectations? Let’s start with what is top of mind for the CEO.

What do 4,100 executives and employees say about employee and customer experience?

Download the full paper for more about how you can harness the experience advantage.

Top priorities for corporate leaders

CEOs are now accountable to more stakeholders than ever in an increasingly complex world. They are also expected to speak out on social issues, advocate for sustainability, and maintain stability in times of constant (and unpredictable) change. Knowing how to quickly pivot is essential for success in this landscape. 

With this in mind, the top priorities in the C-suite are constantly changing – as they should be! Here’s what we are hearing right now across events and our meetings with the C-suite.

Top priorities for corporate leaders:

Taking action to promote diversity, equality and inclusion, both internally and externallyCreating environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards Developing strategies for big data and automationFlattening the corporate management structureEliminating layers of approvalsEmpowering customer-facing employees to do their jobs more efficiently

But how is this done? At Salesforce, we have found success with operating like a startup in terms of solid values (with consumer trust being the most important), constant innovation and simple, clear goals. And that all hinges on alignment. Marc Benioff outlines our approach, which we call V2MOM, here

The new skills required of corporate leaders

After listening in on events, interviewing customers, and poring over the latest research, we are starting to see some clear trends. The most successful leaders today have the following key skills in common:  

Being agileLearning to lead from behind (and with less hierarchy)Understanding and prioritizing the employee experience (EX)Developing soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ)Making decisions based on data

The IBM Institute for Business Value uncovered similar trends. In its 2021 survey of 3,000 global CEOs, two of the top priorities mentioned were performing with purposeful agility and making tech matter more.

In fact, 56% of surveyed CEOs emphasized the need to “aggressively pursue” operational agility and flexibility over the next two to three years. And empowering remote work was noted by CEOs as their top concern (61%). 

The CEOs cited technological factors as the most important external force impacting their enterprises over the next two to three years. They also noted that the most important technologies to deliver results are the Internet of Things (79%), cloud computing (74%), and AI (52%).

Another priority rocketing to the top of leader agendas is support for employees. The pandemic only accelerated the importance of employee experience. “Employees are now the most important stakeholder to long-term success and expect the same level of ease and convenience in their experiences as customers do,” said Tiffani Bova, chief growth evangelist for Salesforce.

‘Employees are now the most important stakeholder to long-term success and expect the same level of ease and convenience in their experiences as customers do.’

Tiffani Bova, chief growth evangelist, Salesforce

Our recent report, The Experience Advantage, found that a unified customer and employee experience is a winning growth strategy that can increase revenue by up to 50%. The report uncovered that 73% of C-suite executives don’t know how to use their employee data to drive change. We also saw that the disconnect between C-suite perception and employee experience is undermining growth. 

One way to improve the employee experience is to sharpen your leaders’ emotional intelligence, also known as EQ. Last August, we conducted in-depth interviews with 10 CEOs across enterprise and commercial business. One thing we saw was that many expect to replace current C-suite team members with more digitally-literate and “high EQ” leaders better equipped to handle not only stressed employees but a more socially engaged workforce. 

This isn’t new news. In 2020, Summit Leadership Partners found that 80% to 90% of high performers in the C-suite were differentiated by high emotional intelligence. According to that study, EQ is twice as important for predicting performance in executives than technical skills or IQ.

Who does the CEO turn to the most?

Which executive does the CEO rely on most? Almost a decade ago, 47% of the CEOs in IBM’s Institute for Business Value survey said the chief innovation officer would be the most crucial over the next few years. Today, only 4% of CEOs agree.

The chief marketing officer position also saw a drop, from 66% in 2013 to 19% today. The biggest fall goes to the chief strategy officer, whose importance declined from 67% to 6% today. 

The roles that are now important to CEOs include the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Officer (CIO), which have moved up to No. 3 on the list. 

Only the chief financial officer (CFO) and the chief operating officer (COO) are more important, according to the survey.

One person who knows this path well is Jeff McElfresh, who climbed the ladder from president of technology and operations at AT&T to chief operating officer. And he did it in only three and a half years.

“It’s unclear to me that anyone has cracked the code on how to operate the distributed workforce model that COVID has accelerated us into,” McElfresh said in IBM’s report. “Not all leaders are comfortable managing in a distributed model. You have to be more precise about each role and the kind of leader that best fits. We’ve got work to do to unlock the potential.” 

There has been a 60% increase in job titles related to the future of work and a 304% spike in titles that reference ‘hybrid work’ since the pandemic began. 

And there might be one more position that makes its way into the C-Suite: head of the future of work. New data from LinkedIn finds there has been a 60% increase in job titles related to the future of work and a 304% spike in titles that reference “hybrid work” since the pandemic began. While these positions vary in title, their importance is uniformly agreed upon.

Diversity is key to profitability and innovation

One more element has become essential for leadership teams: diversity. It’s a major factor tied to revenue, innovation, and ultimately success.

According to McKinsey’s 2020 report, Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile. For ethnic and cultural diversity, McKinsey saw that in 2019, top-quartile companies outperformed the bottom quartile by 36% in profitability.

A report from BCG found that diverse management teams deliver 19% higher revenues from innovation (defined as new products within three years) compared to their less-diverse counterparts.

A World Economic Forum report found that companies leading their geography and industry for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging perform better than their market average across a wide range of key performance metrics:

25%-36% more likely to outperform on profitabilityUp to 20% higher rate of innovation19% higher innovation revenuesUp to 30% greater ability of spotting and reducing business risks

The most highly trusted companies are 1.4 times more likely to have gender diversity targets in their chief executive compensation plans.

And it’s not all talk. Diversity is increasingly tied to compensation plans for the C-suite. According to PwC, the most highly trusted companies are 1.4 times more likely to have gender diversity targets in their chief executive compensation plans.

So, now that you know that diverse organizations are more profitable and more innovative, how do you support diversity in the leadership path? Find a complete guide here.

And what about ensuring diversity in general at your company? Being intentional about workforce development helps organizations increase the diversity of the leadership pipeline. Here is how to cultivate an engaged team of employees with diverse cultural and experiential backgrounds.

How corporate leaders can move forward

Take steps to help plan for changes while maintaining business continuity, make sure all leaders are digital and EQ experts, and redistribute power and responsibilities for success.

The healthiest C-suites will include a COO, CFO, and CIO/CTO with diverse leaders in those positions at bare minimum. Corporate leaders should align the entire business around common goals, like those outlined in Salesforce’s V2MOM. Organizations that eliminate barriers for employees are best positioned for success. Constant evolution will be your key to success.

Looking for more leadership resources?

Subscribe to the C-Suite Perspectives Newsletter for monthly insights delivered to your inbox.

Leave a Reply