3 Pressing Challenges CEOs Face Heading Into 2021

The CEO Benchmarking Report from The Predictive Index highlights hurdles for executives. Helping remote teams work well together tops the list.

By Mike Zani

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As the calendar turns to 2021, maybe you feel some comfort in putting 2020 in the rear view—but if you don't feel total and immediate relief, that's understandable. The landscape won't alter itself overnight.

In fact, many shifts have taken place since March, and there's still plenty of uncertainty. Of the 160 CEOs surveyed for the 2021 CEO Benchmarking Report, conducted by The Predictive Index (where I am CEO), nearly 70 percent have restructured their teams.

We're prepared for, even expecting, a W-shaped economic recovery. But having a contingency plan and forging ahead are not mutually exclusive. Whether your organization has stabilized, is back in growth mode, or is barely surviving, you need to solidify your talent strategy for 2021.

Report data revealed that leadership is still wrestling most urgently with:

  • Team cohesion

  • Managing people problems

  • Reconciling remote work

So how do you tackle these pressing issues, while staying in the competition? You get really good at talent optimization. By leveraging behavioral data and self awareness, you can help your teams work well together, while setting your organization up to capitalize on the seismic shifts Covid-19 has forced.

Let's walk through how.

Reinforce team cohesion

What a difference six months make. The CEO report data confirms much of what we already felt: September looked nothing like March.

Where 88% percent of respondents felt their teams had "strong cohesion'' in Q1, that figure dropped 10 points by Q4. And the percentage of people who "strongly agreed" with that statement fell from 58 to 41.

You can understand why cohesion has suffered. Not only were the majority of organizations forced to restructure—many did so while overhauling their strategy at the same time. An overwhelming 96% of CEOs confirmed they've had to adjust operational strategy in some form since the pandemic hit; 50% did so "to a great extent."

When talent and business strategies aren't aligned, cohesion and engagement will suffer. You'd be forgiven for letting these areas slip over the summer. But getting everyone on the same page is essential to promoting trust and productivity moving into 2021.

Take stock of the people you have, if you haven't already. Consider their strongest behavioral drives, their strengths, and how they complement their teammates.

Next, think about how those behavioral drives play out at the team level, where blind spots might persist, and how that team discovery aligns with the work to be done. Do you have an innovative team pursuing a results-oriented strategy?

Until you understand who you are as individuals, and as a group—and how your collective behavioral style helps or hinders executing your strategy—you can't function as a fully cohesive unit.

Related: 10 Simple Ways to Build a Collaborative, Successful Work Environment

Manage people problems

Another reason executive teams are struggling to get everyone aligned? Many are still caught up in managing day-to-day issues.

Some 58% percent of CEOs acknowledged they mediate interpersonal conflict "at least monthly." Many employees are operating remotely, often within new teams. So it's no surprise that 56% of respondents cited performance and productivity as a top concern.

You can't operate at peak efficiency if you haven't ironed out your people problems.

Things are uncertain; remote work carries on indefinitely; people are stressed and fatigued with roles and strategies are in flux.

Not everyone is going to be as productive in a remote setting, and it may be harder to gauge that productivity when you can't see them. But engagement fuels discretionary effort. And if engagement is suffering, more often than not, it's because of a poor fit at the team or managerial level.

As you assess your teams, be sure to take stock of who's working with who now. Talent optimized teams recognize strengths and gaps in relationships, and they anticipate where conflict might arise. Have you run an engagement survey since the spring? If not, now's a good time to do so.

Cohesive teams are also founded in trust. If trust isn't a core component of your organizational culture, you can't engage in healthy conflict, or commit to move forward while holding each other accountable.

Trust that everyone is well-intentioned, and lead with empathy. We're all experiencing various levels of stress. Leaders who display self awareness, rather than leaning too heavily on their strongest drives, will better navigate people problems and find themselves overseeing more productive teams.

If you've taken care of your people, that will pay off as the broader recovery takes shape. If you've burned them out or neglected the root of their concerns, they may look elsewhere.

Related: 12 Ways Successful People Handle Toxic People

Reconcile remote work

It's worth remembering that, in many ways, we're building the house while we're still in it. More than half of CEOs consider "working well remotely" their primary challenge. And that's despite having more than half a year to figure it out.

Those who succeed will lean into the remote work transition. Most already have. An overwhelming 97% of respondents have incorporated remote work in some form, and 76% of CEOs are allowing employees to work remotely all or most of the time.

This pandemic is defined by its indefinite nature, but we can control some elements of remote work. You just have to be intentional about it. Embrace collaboration tools such as Miro and Figma, and virtual engagement aids like Menti and Pear Deck. These not only help you visualize productivity when you can't see busy conference rooms—they're also essential to making remote work a competitive advantage.

If your organization can get really good at this remote stuff, it will open all sorts of new doors.

Related: Survey Reveals 4 Transformational Remote Work Trends

Remember that talent strategy doesn't go on pause

The war for talent may take place within a new landscape, but it continues. Companies are hiring again, and the best candidates don't view a remote-friendly policy as a perk. It's an expectation now.

The Q4 report reveals talent strategy is too often being neglected, with many CEOs backburnering it in favor of other pressing issues. That's a mistake. You can pursue a 2021 talent strategy in conjunction with these other priorities.

Talent optimized teams are better engaged. They align their business goals with their people goals. And they leverage behavioral data and self awareness to make remote work work.

This year has tried us all, but the time for sitting stunned has passed. If you've stayed true to your people, you can still win the war—even as it changes locations.

Mike Zani

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

CEO of The Predictive Index

Mike Zani is the CEO of The Predictive Index, the leader in talent optimization. An avid sailor, Mike began his career in marketing and sales with Vanguard Sailboats and was a coach for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Sailing Team. He holds a B.S. from Brown University and an MBA from Harvard.

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