To be a CEO today is to be part of a new generation of leadership, forged in the crucible of historic challenges over the past year. It’s a period for which there has been no playbook or survival guide. In this environment a new style of leadership has been prominently on display, casting aside old orthodoxies of an all-knowing CEO issuing edicts from the corner office. In its place, values-based leadership has thrived, with empathy and connection generating followership among a new generation of employees during a time of crisis. While there is still no playbook for what comes next, these leadership attributes will be every bit as necessary to success going forward.
The reality is that while many businesses such as Deloitte may be thriving, many people can’t say the same. Challenges to business have paled in comparison to the challenges to life that so many individuals have personally felt and experienced every day of the pandemic, in what must be characterized as a collective trauma that will have lasting implications. Humans are above all resilient and adaptable. By virtue of being here today, we have risen to the challenge. But as a society, we have yet to fully process the toll this past year has taken on all of us. We must be empathetic to the diverse challenges our people have faced. And we must demonstrate to our people that we will take the learnings of the past year and construct a new way of work that fosters well-being and flexibility, enabling our people to grow and thrive in their careers while at the same time promoting a higher quality of life.
Now that the pandemic is beginning to recede in many parts of the world, the future is here for the making—the race is on to create a reimagined and optimal future of work for our people.
High on the CEO agenda
In the latest Summer 2021 Fortune/Deloitte CEO Survey, 110 leading CEOs representing more than 15 industries shared a perspective on the new shape of a CEO agenda. When asked to name the biggest challenge they face today, CEOs named one above all others: talent, in nearly every form—attracting, hiring, retaining, developing, engaging, growing, as well as succession planning and the war for talent.
The concern is justifiable. In a nutshell, today many industries are far more supply constrained than they are demand constrained, placing talent at the forefront of the strategic agenda. Seventy-seven percent of CEOs in the same survey say they expect their organization’s growth to be strong over the next 12 months. But growth is not possible without the right people, and this is the hottest market for talent that most of us have ever seen. All of this puts into clear focus why getting the future of work right is a strategic imperative.
The race to remake work
Deloitte is the largest professional services firm in the world. We have long recognized that there is no one-size-fits-all talent solution and have continuously evolved our approach to meet the diverse needs of our people.
Even before the pandemic, we prized flexibility with distributed, virtual teams that brought together the right people, regardless of geography or proximity to each other. But the past year has brought into full view what we now believe to be possible in combining the best of both models of work—being intentional about when we co-locate with each other and our clients for maximum impact, while empowering our people to preserve the flexibility that they have overwhelmingly told us they want to keep.
There are important reasons why a level of co-location is critical to the development and mentorship of employees, as well as the strong relationships that companies seek to build with customers. But there are equally compelling reasons to also keep the best parts of what worked over the past year and move away from many pre-pandemic norms, with the mental and physical well-being of employees and the sustainability of our planet front and center.
As we emerge, our aspiration is to create an environment where the vast majority of our people will be together when it matters most, fostering the connections, culture, and mentorship that are the foundation of high performing organizations; while also retaining the flexibility so many have come to enjoy, thereby experiencing the best of both virtual and in-person work. This will absolutely require new forms of leadership. Leading teams in a new hybrid environment—learning how to create equitable experiences, strengthening our inclusive culture; reshaping learning, mentorship, and apprenticeship; supporting sustainable outcomes—is the future of leadership.
The journey continues
Humanity is prevailing against the pandemic. The cost has been an accumulation of keenly felt losses, large and small. But individually and as a society, we have seized the opportunity to create something better and stronger than what we had before. CEOs are resolved to do their part.
In June 2020, surveyed CEOs expressed cautious optimism. By January 2021, they had moved to hope (and relief that 2020 was over). Now, in June 2021, CEOs are embracing a newfound determination and bold plans to reshape their organizational narrative, make things happen, and above all, make things better—for the workforce, customers, communities, and future generations.
By Joe Ucuzoglu, CEO of Deloitte US