Uncertainty seems to be on the mind of almost every CEO these days. Over the past few months, I've spoken to CEOs across the world and time and time again what comes up in our conversations is the lack of certainty over the what business-related policies might look under the new administration.
But amid the uncertainty, CEOs are focused on building a better business environment, a stronger economy, and more inclusive workplaces for their people. Here are five common themes that I've continued to hear from CEOs as they try to achieve these goals:
1. Optimism. Despite any uncertainties that may lie ahead for CEOs and business leaders, the majority of the ones that I've spoken to are generally optimistic about business in 2017. While the U.S. could be growing faster and there are certainly some troubling spots internationally, the overall macroeconomic outlook is positive.
2. Tax reform. Changes to the corporate tax code under the new administration is on virtually every CEO's mind. With the likelihood of pro-business tax reform, companies are starting to evaluate the opportunities and readying themselves for quick action should tax reform come in the next year. There's a real sense in Washington that the corporate tax code should be reformed in a way that is pro-growth and will help the US economy be more competitive. However, it's not clear how lawmakers are dealing with key issues like border adjustments, increased tariffs, and repatriation. Business leaders have to be ready to react to how potential tax changes could affect their operations, supply chains and bottom lines.
3. Compliance costs. Similarly, there's been a lot of excitement among the business community over promises by the new administration to reduce regulatory burdens. That said, how this happens — whether it be in new laws or changes in tone and intensity of existing regulations — remains to be seen. The movement of stock prices of many companies may already reflect an expectation of imminent savings from relaxed regulations. And businesses in highly regulated industries are starting to think about how they might change the compliance processes that they've built up over the last several years to ensure these potential savings are realized over time. This will be an important area for management to watch as they make key compliance decisions in an environment where we still don't have clear guidance.
4. New technologies. It doesn't really matter what country or industry you're in, if a company is not embracing and expanding into new technologies, such as data science and analytics, it's going to get left behind. CEOs are already hiring skilled talent to leverage data science and pilot artificial intelligence programs in finance, marketing, and customer service. While these are generally long-term investments, some companies are expecting returns within the next 12 to 24 months. Many businesses are also looking for possible partners in this area to minimize investment and learning curves.
5. Diversity and inclusion. CEOs are continuing to focus on building diverse teams and creating inclusive workplaces. More and more companies are setting diversity and inclusion goals, reporting progress to their boards, sharing best practices with each other, and moving the issue to the top of their agendas. As companies compete for top talent in their respective industries, business leaders are seeing that a real commitment to diversity and inclusion will improve the talent they can expect to recruit and retain.
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While uncertainty will likely continue, I'm encouraged that most CEOs I've spoken to remain optimistic about business this year. The glass is most definitely half full and remaining optimistic is key because it helps CEOs stay focused on what they can control and on finding new opportunities for growth.