April 9, 2021 – With more states and cities lifting restrictive business measures amid a decline in the number of coronavirus cases, the jobs economy continues to show signs of improvement. Will organizations and top executives be ready to handle a quick bounce back? How effectively organizational leaders rise to the occasion will play a determining role in the structure and pace of recovery, said Jodi Chavez, president of Tatum. In a recent interview with Hunt Scanlon Media, Ms. Chavez unpacks the pain points and opportunities that are confronting four key executive roles — CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and CHROs — for insights and answers.
People invariably look to leaders during times of uncertainty, she said, and CEOs must rise to the occasion — but doing so means mastering your messaging, carefully balancing short and long-term priorities and pushing vigorously for the workplace of the future. “The global pandemic has shaken our world to its foundations, and that’s placing heightened expectations on organizational leaders of all kinds — and on CEOs in particular,” Ms. Chavez said. “Yet for CEOs, the first priority must be the human side of the crisis: your people. Recognize that employees feel anxious and confused. Use consistent and clear messaging in your outreach. Communicate about next steps as much as possible and be candid about the rationale for key decisions.”
Transparency will also be crucial. “While you’re allaying employee concerns, don’t be afraid to touch on some potential upsides to the new COVID-19 world of work,” said Ms. Chavez.” Working from home, for example, means more time to spend with family and loved ones, plus more flexible working arrangements. Prior to the pandemic, 99 percent of employees said they wanted to have the option to work remotely. Now, broader changes to social life aside, they’ve gotten it.”
Delicate Tight Rope
Many CEOs are walking a delicate tightrope these days. “On the one hand, they’re making critical decisions in response to changing near-term needs every day,” Ms. Chavez said. “On the other, they’re trying to align these decisions with a much longer range strategic vision for the business.” As part of her practice with Tatum, for example, she’s been hearing CEOs ask questions like:
- Do we have the proper training tools, processes, infrastructure and compliance checks in place to effectively manage a more blended workforce?
- Have we validated all of the new processes we improvised early on in response to COVID-19?
- Can we deliver on immediate hiring needs while also prioritizing new workplace competencies like adaptability, resilience and flexible learning?
“In answering these questions, CEOs should bear in mind that, while there inevitably will be tradeoffs involved, they don’t necessarily have to split the difference. Investing in upskilling and reskilling initiatives, for example, is an investment in greater agility, adaptability and digital sophistication at your organization, now as well as in the future,” she said.
CFOs in the Spotlight
The global pandemic has thrust CFOs into the spotlight as never before — and along the way, it created a unique business environment in which CFOs are uniquely positioned to collaborate, advise on key decisions, and drive business value going forward. “Revenue plummeted sharply at many organizations with the onset of COVID-19,” Ms. Chavez said. “As a result, many are keen to put as much cash on the balance sheets as possible in order to weather the storm. CFOs, of course, must take an active role in this process. Whether that means drawing down on revolving lines of credit or pursuing other avenues for capital — divestiture, joint ventures, you name it — their contributions will be key.”
With more than 22 years’ experience in the staffing industry, Jodi Chavez, president of Tatum, oversees the field organization and provides overall direction for the firm. Throughout her career, Ms. Chavez’ entrepreneurial drive and strong business acumen have led to increased revenues, gross profit growth and improved ROI. Along with a proven track record of building high performing teams, she brings a wealth of knowledge in strategic planning and execution, mergers and acquisitions, brand strategy, social media, and multi-generational leadership.
In a similar vein, cost reduction and containment measures are being explored by many companies right now. And from a messaging standpoint, according to one recent PwC survey, the majority of companies are framing these cost-containment measures as essential components of their business strategies. Meanwhile, another 56 percent of companies indicated that they would be looking to change their financing plans, according to the same study.
Both of these findings point to the ways that CFOs are uniquely positioned to help organizations overcome obstacles — and successfully pivot toward recovery,” said Ms. Chavez. “Perhaps the most immediate lesson in the eyes of enterprise leaders during the early stages of COVID-19 was the importance of disaster recovery planning and business continuity planning. Certainly, the stakes seemed higher than ever before.”
CFOs have an instrumental role to play in determining the financial models that will underpin business operations, particularly for organizations that are moving in new directions. Some companies, Ms. Chavez says, have shifted their approach to manufacturing or production in order to prioritize products with more reliable near-term demand. Still others are exploring alternative sales and delivery channels (e-commerce, above all). “First, of course, they need to have a fine-tuned understanding of the financial implications of these decisions in order to act,” she said. “Almost universally, moreover, companies are looking to apply automation to business processes — something nearly half of CFOs in one survey identified these as key strategic goals they’re pursuing in light of COVID-19-related disruption. So whatever the strategic priorities at your organization today, what’s clear is that the CFO will need to play a vital role in steering you toward them.”
It isn’t just strategic priorities that are changing for CFOs — the core expectations associated with the role are shifting, as well, according to Ms. Chavez. “Looking ahead, the focus for these savvy finance officers is going to be less on backward-looking analysis (pre-pandemic preparation and readiness) and more on forward-thinking strategy (post-pandemic planning, financial strategy and leadership),” she said. “CFOs, for their part, appear poised to meet this challenge.” In fact, 76 percent of CFOs in one study agreed that their role is increasingly moving away from core finance skills and toward advanced collaborative capabilities. “Indeed, it would not be altogether surprising if the extent to which CFOs are able to proactively partner with other business heads to guide operating decisions even became a productivity metric for assessing their performance down the line,” Ms. Chavez said. “Either way, it’s clear that CFOs have their work cut out for them.”
Tackling Human Capital Challenges
From health and wellness to remote employee engagement, Ms. Chavez says that CHROs will have to tackle pressing human capital challenges in the short term, while at the same time building out new workforce models as value-adding business partners that will enable their organizations to operate with greater agility down the line. “Much as the constraints placed on employees by COVID-19 — remote work, social distancing, shelter in place — seem to be purely physical, they also come with powerful psychological and emotional aspects, too. This can be measured in concrete terms,” she said. “To counteract that, CHROs should push to adjust employee benefits to more accurately reflect post-COVID-19 mental health realities.”
HR Leaders Thrust into the Spotlight Once Again in 2021
The best CHROs emerged as trusted leadership voices in navigating the pandemic last year. Odds are that they will continue to hold that elevated position in the months and possibly years ahead, according to a new report from Slayton Search Partners. “COVID-19 created a make-or-break situation for HR leaders, and those who rose to the occasion are the ones who are prepared for 2021’s HR trends,” says report author John Doyle.
In one Gartner webinar focusing on COVID-19 recovery efforts in the Asia Pacific, HR leaders revealed that “manager concerns about productivity or engagement” have outstripped all other issues as the primary human capital concern being escalated to HR leadership in the region, accounting for more than three quarters (76 percent) of all escalations. For C-suite executives, Ms. Chavez said that “this finding also suggests a broader point: Given the relatively stable state of new-infection rates and the correspondingly advanced stage of economic recovery and reopening efforts there — U.S.-based CHROs and other executive leaders should look to their functional counterparts elsewhere around the globe for clues about what future developments might be on the horizon here.”
Diversity & Inclusion Efforts
The death of George Floyd while in police custody — together with the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and others — catalyzed a massive protest movement. This movement, which is supported by the majority of American adults across every racial and ethnic group and considered by experts to be the largest social movement in U.S. history, has in turn spurred difficult but critically important conversations about race, inclusion, representation and equality in America. “All of this is long overdue,” Ms. Chavez said. “And while organizations can and should be a part of that conversation, in light of the fact that only four out of America’s 500 largest companies have Black chief executives, it’s clear that they must take action, too.”
Related: Pandemic Changes CHRO Role for Good
“Many CHROs and HR teams, unfortunately, currently lack the in-house resources, relationships and candidate pools to effectively move the needle on their D&I talent acquisition goals,” she said. “This is an area where executive search partners can contribute tremendous value, and forward-thinking HR leaders would be wise to leverage those capabilities in order to start hiring more D&I candidates for executive roles.”
The Right Tech Tools
COVID-19 is creating unprecedented tech pressure for organizations (according to a poll from Appdynamics, 81 percent of IT professionals), escalating IT costs and surfacing new risks — all of which is to say CTOs will be key influencers and make-or-break decision-makers as we navigate the road ahead, according to Ms. Chavez. Tech’s role in enabling businesses to generate value — to say nothing of maintaining business continuity — is difficult to overstate. Yet studies show that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, only 22 percent of companies had the infrastructure in place to support mass remote working. Equally worrisome, 35 percent of workers said they didn’t feel they had the right tech tools to effectively carry out their jobs remotely.
“Gaps like these have got to be identified and fixed. Doing so should be the first order of business for CTOs and other IT leaders over the near term,” said Ms. Chavez. “Overcoming obstacles to digital transformation Digital transformation initiatives were certainly underway at organizations across the board prior to the global pandemic, but their baseline importance has gone up dramatically since then.”
“Fast-tracked approval cycles and expedited completion timelines are the good news,” she said. “The bad is that alongside these recent wins are salient concerns. Fifty-nine percent of IT leaders are spending significant amounts of time either firefighting or simply implementing one-off tech fixes, according to the study above. And more than three quarters (76 percent) expressed concerns about the long-term fate of these recent digital transformation initiatives, or the extent to which they’ll positively impact business operations down the line.”
Why should best-in-class cybersecurity be a top-level priority for organizations today? Ms. Chavez says to consider the following stats.
- Companies are reporting as much as five-fold increases in the volume of cyber attacks since the onset of COVID-19. Federal officials have issued warnings as well.
- With new ways of working, new threats are emerging. One study that evaluated 1,700 Zoom-related domains registered in recent weeks deemed at least four percent of them “suspicious” or “malicious.”
“If your remote teams are heavily reliant on video conferencing tools for collaboration, as most of us are these days, threats like the above obviously need to be on the radar,” Ms. Chavez said. “Fundamentally, more time spent online in and of itself likely creates the more opportunities, touchpoints and vulnerabilities for malicious actors to exploit. Yet many of these risks can be mitigated through improved awareness and education.” Ms. Chavez points to a full 90 percent of data breaches that can be traced back to human error, for starters, so a lot of these risks are avoidable. “But you won’t avoid them by taking an automated or reactive ‘check-the-boxes’ approach to cybersecurity training and awareness with remote teams,” she said.
Globally, companies spent a record $34.6 billion on cloud services in the second quarter of 2020. That figure constitutes an increase of around 11 percent over the first quarter — and a jump of 30 percent above the same period the year previous. Ms. Chavez says what’s more, most analysts expect this trend not to reverse, but rather to accelerate on the road ahead. Why? “Organizations that decide to permanently move core technology, security and other teams off-site, for example, will be in effect channeling a larger share of their overall spending toward the cloud,” she said. “And that kind of increased reliance on the cloud isn’t cheap: Take the example of Audi Business Innovation GmbH, a unit of Volkswagen AGowned car company Audi, for proof. Their cloud spending rose by 12 percent in the course of a single one-month period during COVID-19 alone.” In terms of IT infrastructure and strategy, Ms. Chavez says it’s also worth mentioning that migrating to the cloud has been demonstrably linked to business resiliency at many organizations during the crisis. The majority of respondents in one survey, for example, said that doing so had helped their organizations “a lot” since the onset of the global pandemic.
“In this viewpoint, I’ve broken down pain points and opportunities for four key executive roles,” Ms. Chavez said. “I think it’s probably difficult to overstate the impact their decisions will collectively have in determining organizational success — not to mention the pace of recovery — in the weeks and months to come. Whatever comes next, one thing is clear: C-suite leaders are going to face heightened scrutiny, even as they’re forced to make tough calls about everything from digital transformation to technology investments and the future of the workplace. Tough, yet critically important work is on the horizon. And it is my sincere hope that the insights I’ve surfaced in this viewpoint will help your organization think through next steps, align on executive priorities and light out on the road ahead.”
Related: CEO Leadership During COVID-19
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media