The digital agenda of the CEO in a post-Covid world

Fernando Polo

15 February 2021

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This month last year, I wrote about the digital challenges of Chief Executives, before chairing a panel with five CEOs in front of 200+ executives. We talked about scaling agile teams, how to make digital marketing dollars pay or the struggle to separate important tech trends from the hype. Four weeks later, Covid struck and blew up original corporate plans, forcing most companies to abruptly step up their games when it came to the likes of digital transformation and remote working.

Digital agenda CEOs

Next week in Barcelona, we will gather with another group of CEOs (you can register here) to talk about their digital agendas for 2021. Are they more or less the same as last years’, only catapulted 3 or 4 years in time, or have priorities changed?

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These are some of the hot topics we anticipate the CEOs will have to tackle in the coming months (hopefully with Covid remitting thanks to vaccination): 

Working remotely is the new normal

Not only tech and hipster firms declared intentions to make remote work permanent. Many traditional corporations have announced similar plans too. We are attending a once-in-a-lifetime workplace revolution. Firms could tap into talent pools everywhere, migrating to a hybrid or remote-only environment.

The digital talent war will get hotter

As an example, UX/UI experts with real (and enough) experience in building digital products are scarce in the market nowadays. The WFH trend might help tap into new talent pools away from big cities. But salaries will rise most probably. Culture, purpose, leadership and human-centricity will be more important than ever if we want to convince digital professionals to join our ranks. 

The future of B2B sales is digital

Most B2B buyers admit now that the digital context might be as convenient and effective (or even more) as an in-person sales process. But the use of LinkedIn and videoconference won’t be enough to win the battle for the mind of the B2B buyer. A digital sales funnel must be systematically deployed: content, webinars, social selling, lead generation and nurturing through CRM and marketing automation software … A whole bunch of techniques and tools that have not been given enough attention in B2B environments, because sales representatives and buyers thought that important sales had to be done face to face.

Innovation in asynchronous ways 

In all the webinars about leadership in remote environments that I’ve taken part in (if you haven’t, you can check some of my slides here), someone would routinely raise their hand to talk about team engagement and innovation struggles working from home.

Most teams are fighting zoom fatigue or lack of soft connections. But let’s be clear, working remotely is more efficient in many ways and firms won’t let this opportunity escape. Most of our current work practices have been imported from the physical work environment. And we will have to reinvent them, to build teams that are not in the same location, promoting innovation, serendipity and a feeling of belonging.

Some good news, many firms have been doing this for years and we can learn from them. I like to recommend Matt Mullenberg’s blog and thoughts on distributed and asynchronous work. And let’s admit it, what we do now is not always effective. Adam Grant has long advocated that brainstorming is overrated as a technique to generate ideas, and that tools like Candor help generate more ideas working independently without group meetings. 

It’s the moment for D2C

Direct-to-consumer was stagnated and, then, Covid happened. The retail industry has been under lots of pressure since long. Though the retail apocalypse may not be caused by the rise of eCommerce alone, it’s clear that after Covid, more consumers will be buying online and directly from brands.

Not all companies are like Nike, and thus some can’t establish their own touchpoints without Amazon, D2C options keep on rising. Shopify is one of the clear winners of 2020 and, besides consumers are burning their Amazon Prime accounts, they are also buying from local and independent retailers, which means that brands have an opportunity, as we explained in our notes for CMOs during the height of the pandemic. Contextual and social commerce will be the big trends of the coming years.

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No-code: automating without heavy programming 

Another trend that has been around for some time will make its way in the professional world faster than many expected. If your company is not seriously exploring platforms that allow automation and integration without the need of coding (with lots of complexity and configuration, though) you should rethink your position, now. Some experts predict that as much as 70% of the programming will be done through no-code tools and platforms by 2025. The democratisation of software is already happening.

And as always, more human-centricity

Already a trend before Covid, the pandemic has only stressed the need of big companies to take stakeholder capitalism seriously. We defined Human-Centred Organisations (HCOs) using three journeys: the well known consumer journey, the co-workers journey and the citizen journey (being this one a kind of a catch all persona to represent wider society).

As I wrote last year, “It would be more and more difficult for companies to focus on one of them, forgetting the others, because the journeys are intertwined -we are all sometimes customers, sometimes employees and sometimes mere citizens affected by corporate actions. […] digitalisation empowers individuals to access and share information and organise collectively using crowd methodologies. This is why becoming an HCO should be a top priority directly linked to digital transformation programs.

Though CEOs will always risk to bite off more than they can chew,  the Digital Transformation imperative has gained positions in the priority log pushed by the Covid pandemic. There will be losers (some caught unprepared and others hit hard by lockdowns and the rise of the homebound economy), winners and many who will try to get out of this unprecedented crisis stronger. We are happy to stay by the latter, helping our clients to make their digital efforts pay. Happy to link and talk about it next week in Barcelona.