Published Monday 25th October 2021

2022 is all about opportunity. With most CEOs focused on resilience and adaptation throughout 2020 and 2021, the new year offers a sustained move towards driving growth and expansion.

While CEOs will have to continue balancing the uncertainties created by the pandemic along with these opportunities for growth, the majority of UK CEOs are confident about the prospects for growth.

The KPMG 2021 UK CEO Outlook survey finds that 83% of UK CEOs are confident about UK growth over the next three years. The study also outlines some interesting points on the direction CEOs’ priorities are taking to ensure they achieve these growth-focused goals.

The Essential Qualities for CEOs in 2022

Before considering the 2022 priorities, it’s worth noting some of the top qualities CEOs will need to embody as they strive for their goals. The KPMG study picks out the following areas:

  • Plugged-in leaders – Digital investment is something that cannot be ignored and something to which CEOs will have to take a proactive approach.
  • People-first leaders – Investing in a skilled workforce is just as important as digital investment, so a people-first approach is essential.
  • Purpose-led leaders – CEOs will need to focus on purpose and prioritise environmental, social and governance issues.

These areas can be seen in the kinds of changes that CEOs are prioritising as a rule.

Digital-Driven Changes

It comes as no surprise that digital transformation remains a top priority for 2022. Many CEOs are setting their sights on aggressive digital investment strategies with mergers and acquisitions as a driving force behind innovation and incorporating necessary technologies.

The digital landscape is ever-changing and marches forward at a rapid pace, so CEOs must make sure they participate in technological shifts and remain one step ahead.

According to KPMG, 81% of UK CEOs agree that the shift to digital opportunities needs to occur more rapidly if businesses hope to avoid the threat of digital obsolescence.

Partnering with third-party organisations is a top priority in this respect. The KPMG survey finds that while only 33% of CEOs are prioritising organic approaches to growth, 67% are focusing on inorganic approaches, including alliances with third-party partners to drive technological capabilities.

In 2022 and beyond, we expect CEOs to demonstrate their ability to transcend the traditional boundaries of their business, leading with a technologically forward-thinking approach so they can meet the changing markets head-on.

Workplace Flexibility

A lot of emphasis has been put on flexibility over the past two years, with CEOs having to be willing to divert usual business practices and put new norms in place.

Perhaps surprisingly, fewer CEOs are suggesting a reduction in the physical footprint of the workplace and instead place emphasis on changing the way work is done. While organisations are not turning to complete remote working, 37% of CEOs state most of their employees would be given more flexibility to work remotely two or more days a week.

Flexible working comes on the heels of needing to adapt quickly, but it is also a reflection of the growing desire for CEOs to make people-led decisions where they genuinely listen to their employees’ concerns and wishes for the future of work and adapt accordingly.

The idea of more flexible work is also coming in the form of new office designs, shared-space offices and hybrid workplaces, with a reinvigorated focus on employee wellbeing.

Ensuring employees are upskilled and trained for the digital workplace is also essential – the importance of taking action to retain a capable and committed workforce cannot be ignored.

Social Issues

A focus on corporate purpose is no longer a bonus, it is an absolute requirement, with both customers and investors expecting organisations to have a clear strategy when it comes to positive social and environmental impact.

Along with the keen need for rapid digital transformation, the pandemic exposed a need to address equality issues in economies around the world. 84% of UK CEOs acknowledge that their response to the pandemic has included shifting some focus onto addressing social issues.

However, 54% worry that with the rising expectations for diversity and equity, they will struggle to meet social issue goals – CEOs need to set clear and measurable goals in this area to ensure they are acting on this priority.

The Environment & Sustainability

The environmental and governance components of an ESG strategy are also becoming an increasingly relevant priority; action to address climate change and environmental impacts across all sectors has never been more urgent.

While CEOs recognise their role in investing in sustainability issues, this commitment must also be matched by governments and world leaders. 80% of CEOs say that government intervention and stimulus is needed if real change is to be made by businesses striving for sustainability goals.

CEOs also recognise the need to tell a compelling ESG story if they hope to tie together meaningful change, accurate reporting to stakeholders and financial returns.

The top priority for CEOs in 2022 is, of course, growth and sustained resilience. There are numerous aspects that go into furthering this goal, with digital agility and an effective future workplace strategy being among the most important things to get right.

CEOs are also facing further pressure to prioritise social and environmental issues while using these areas to drive financial growth, which is something that cannot be overlooked in the coming years.

Recognising your priorities and putting them into action are two very different things. If your organisation is struggling to access the resources you require to reach your goals, our cost management consultants can help. Get in touch with the ERA team today to find out more about our expertise.