Business Leaders Say They are Fundamentally Rethinking Their Future Workforces

The findings in C-Suite Challenge™ 2018 result from a survey of over 1,000 business leaders about the top challenges facing their organizations in 2018, and their strategies for meeting those challenges. Attracting and retaining talent ranks as the foremost concern not only among CEOs but also the rest of the C-Suite, including CHROs and CFOs.

“To cope with worker and skill shortages down the road, this year’s survey results tell us that organizations are fundamentally rethinking the composition of their future workforces,” said Rebecca L. Ray, report co-author and Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization at The Conference Board. “Nearly 80 percent of CHRO respondents foresee greater use of contingent non-traditional employees. Moreover, three-quarters of them anticipate a rise in digital labor solutions such as robotic process automation.”

A desire for organizational cultures that are inclusive, engaged, high-performance, customer-focused, and resilient is signaled throughout the responses to this year’s survey. The desire for a “culture of innovation” ranks as the number-one innovation strategy in every region (Asia is the one exception, where it is third), every industry, every size company, and among CEOs and C-Suite executives alike. Also, the report finds the impact of the New Digital Economy is clearly being felt in the daily processes and practices of organizations, and through the emergence of new competitors from every part of the globe.


The report also asked business leaders about their “hot-button issues” – issues that will require a special focus this year. Some of the key findings include:

  • Fear of a global recession has plummeted. For 2017, CEOs globally ranked it as their number-one concern; for 2018, they moved it down to their 19th. However, CFOs are more concerned than CEOs about a global recession. They ranked it as their 7thtop concern.
  • The top concern of CEOs is attracting and retaining talent. This is also true for the rest of the C-Suite, including CHROs and CFOs.
  • The 2nd top concern of CEOs is creating new business models because of disruptive technologies. This is also true for the rest of the C-Suite, including CHROs and CFOs. (While the C-Suite is aligned in their 1st and 2nd top concerns, they differ in their prioritization of other hot-button issues.)
  • Concern about income inequality has risen sharply. For 2017, CEOs globally ranked it 18th; for 2018, it is their 7th biggest concern. It is of special concern in China, where it ranks 3rd.
  • Anxiety about global trade has increased. For 2017, CEOs globally ranked threats to global trade systems as their 15th biggest concern; for 2018, it is their 8th.
  • Business leaders also detailed strategies they are employing to improve performance in six areas: Human Capital, Innovation, Operational Excellence, Customer Relationships/Corporate Brand and Reputation, Regulation and Risk, and Sustainability. Some of the key findings pertaining to Innovation and Human Capital include:


  • Culture reigns supreme. To improve innovation performance in 2018, both CEOs and CHROs ranked as the most important strategy, Create a culture of innovation that encourages cooperation across functions and business units and promotes risk taking.
  • Less than half of CEOs (48 percent) see their organization as a technology leader in their industries. Moreover, less than 10 percent of CEOs globally say they are “extremely satisfied” with their organization’s ability to innovate, and they continue to struggle with how to measure innovation.

Human Capital

  • Braced for a new world of work. Fewer than half (41 percent) of CHROs think their workforces in the next three to five years will be comprised predominantly of traditional, full-time employees.
  • A culture of safe, ongoing communication. For human capital strategies in 2018, CEOs ranked as most important, Communicate effectively from all levels (up, down, and across); communicate consistently and transparently. Also, in this area CEOs ranked as 4thEncourage an open, safe, and transparent speak-up culture.

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