9 new leadership priorities

It’s time to look into the crystal ball to see what it’ll take for CEOs to succeed in 2024 and beyond.

If only it were that easy.

Or is it?

Every year brings surprises, of course, including rare and unpredictable “black swans.” But many of the issues that keep CEOs up at night have been brewing. We know artificial intelligence (AI) is changing how we live, work and play. We know the markets are volatile. Data is important. We know CEOs need help.

So, what can CEOs do differently this year? How can they grow and create value for their firms in this environment?

These nine priorities can help leaders turn obstacles into advantages — and stay ahead of the next storm. In 2024, CEOs need to:

1. Move AI past the proof-of-concept stage

Companies are using generative AI to disrupt business practices and entire industries — at least in concept. In 2024, companies need to find practical ways to scale AI and deliver measurable results.

Leaders need to get clear on how business units will use and benefit from generative AI, and how AI will integrate with other tools and applications. To do that, CEOs need to stay current on AI tools and developments, both in their industries and further afield. Then, they need to turn “what’s possible” into concrete and actionable plans.

2. Empower people, not just technology

Digital transformation is nonnegotiable in most industries. Nobody is debating the fact that companies need more efficient and accurate ways of working to turn a profit amidst labor shortages, high inflation and rising interest rates. However, many digital efforts are falling short of expectations. Because of people.

To unleash the power and potential of technology, leaders need to address fundamental organizational challenges. Technology projects need impassioned sponsors. People need to buy in to change.

Digital projects also need clear milestones and measurable targets that are easy for people to understand and rally around, whether that’s growing revenue, lowering costs or putting a new product out into the world.

3. Clean your data

“Garbage in, garbage out” should be old news and enough said. But, many business initiatives are still hamstrung by wrong or missing data. Leaders need to prioritize data hygiene this year — or risk the consequences.

Generative AI and other tools require good, clean data to produce accurate results. Invest in data cleansing and governance tools before you pursue integrations and analyses.

If data is informing your strategy (or compliance), then it better be good, clean data.

4. Keep an eye on the energy transition

Keep an eye on green technologies, the energy transition and opportunities to build more sustainability into your business practices and supply chains. R&D or energy tax credits could mitigate the cost of venturing into new territory.

The energy transition affects every industry differently — but every industry is affected. Keep watching. You’ll find the right areas, timing and strategies to invest in and evolve with the industry.

5. Embrace your superpower

At the beginning, your company answered a need that nobody else could in a way that nobody else did. You had a superpower.

Do you know what it is? Or did it get lost or diluted as the company grew? Have people forgotten?

Make sure your superpower is clear and understood, and that every action and decision is nurturing your distinct advantage. People, investments and capabilities should be aligned around your superpower, no matter how big or far your company has grown. It’s easy to get distracted. Don’t.

6. Hire expertise at every level

Companies have traditionally outsourced low-level work and supporting roles. “Grunt work.” Now, they’re seeing the value of outsourcing more specialized expertise, including C-suite positions.

An overwhelming number of C-suite executives will retire soon — and that will trigger an enormous loss in experience and institutional knowledge. At the same time, companies are facing new and highly nuanced challenges. Outsourcing C-suite roles, either short-term or permanently, is one way to shore up important skills gaps. Companies can acquire the stability or mentorship they need to scale.

7. Think globally

Geopolitical events cause ripple effects across the global landscape. CEOs need to be aware of potential implications before they hit home.

What-if scenarios and contingency plans need to look further and wider than they have previously. Leaders need to incorporate geopolitical scenarios into planning and forecasting sessions and develop strategies to withstand a number of outcomes.

8. Cut a clear path toward growth

There’s more than one way to grow. CEOs need to make sure their growth plans are clear — and clearly communicated.

Use your growth plan as a litmus test for programmatic and strategic decisions. Make sure core technology, staffing plans, and other investments all march toward growth (or your biggest-picture goal for the year).

9. Embrace the unknown

CEOs are never going to operate under absolute conditions. So, they need to get really comfortable with the unknown.

Leaders need to make the best decisions they can with the information they have when they have it. And they need to prepare.

Yes, you can practice for uncertainty.

You can assess and understand your risk appetite. You can strategically invest during downturns. You can forecast and re-forecast based on variables. You can ask experts for insight into developments you don’t understand yet.

CEOs can — and must — embrace the unknown and cut clear paths through uncertainty.

How Wipfli can help

We have a unique perspective that helps leaders embrace and thrive through change. We combine strategy, technology, operations and people strategies into one compelling organizational plan. When everything works together, you can achieve growth, innovation, resilience and transformation. Learn what it means to operate in prime.

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