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24 May. 2019 | Comments (0)

‘There’s never been a better time to be a worker with special skills or the right education, because these people can use technology to create and capture value. However, there’s never been a worse time to be a worker with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer, because computers, robots, and other digital technologies are acquiring these skills and abilities at an extraordinary rate[1].’

Since 1990s, the world of work is experiencing major transformations. Automation, digital transformation, shifting demographics and the rise of the gig economy have had prominent impacts on societies, organizations and workers. These global trends are creating new challenges – as well as new opportunities— for businesses with one thing being certain: skills needs are changing, and education and training systems cannot cope with them. C-Suite executives are not immune from this challenge. In this year’s C-Suite Challenge survey, conducted between September and October 2018, we asked 1,426 C-suite executives for their views on the Organization of the Future through 2025, including what skills will be needed to thrive in 2025 and beyond. The results outline a world of work where skill variety will become critical while organizations are reshaped by new business models. A full analysis of the survey results is available here for members of The Conference Board. This blog, based on key survey findings, discusses the debate around future skill needs for the C-Suite.

Understanding the context is key: the future of work is primarily about people and talent management. In the new job environment, work is getting redefined around projects that requires a team of different people from different professions with distinct but complementary skills in order to accomplish a task[2]. Enhanced skills achieved through a continuous learning mindset is therefore necessary for workers to remain employable throughout their working life. It is also critical for companies to deliver efficient and innovative solutions to the marketplace and remain productive. Thus, constantly updating skills continue to be the best guarantor of social mobility and opportunity for both individuals and businesses.[3] The survey results show that regardless of the job one is in, everyone should expect to face pressures to upgrade their skills or invest in new ones. Yet, depending on the job function, industry and even where a C-suite executive sits in, there will be variations in the characteristics of those required skills.

Starting with the CEOs, 22% of our CEO respondents argue that success in future of work requires stronger emphasis on strategic skills.  Having a clear definition of goals and strategies, and critical thinking are essential for business leaders to successfully engage with their team. Another 21% say soft skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively, finding creative solutions and high emotional intelligence will also play a critical role. Interestingly, CEOs place a higher emphasis on creativity—almost twice as high compared to other C-Suite executives. Creativity and the ability to innovate will become crucial for future leaders in order to be resilient in the face of rapid changes in market needs and customer preferences.  

While strategic skills carry the flag with nearly 26%, technology skills appear to be an important contributor of future of work for CFOs. As the role of AI, big data and blockchain technology accelerates, one fifth of CFOs see a certain level of comfort around technology and being able to manage data as critical to future success in their role.

For HR Executives, emphasis on strategic skills goes hand in hand with soft skills. Just over 22% of respondents see stronger reliance on critical thinking and complex problem-solving skills (strategic skills), whereas same number of respondents state the importance of people skills. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In order to support employees in a multidisciplinary, yet challenging workplace, HR Executives acknowledge the importance of strong communication and management skills in managing future workforce and helping them to become more adaptive.  With only 5% of respondents, lack of emphasis on technology skills as a primary driver of how their job will change in the future raises a red flag. In an era where AI, data analytics and strategic workplace planning gaining huge momentum, HR executives should be more technically minded in applying technology to both the HR function and to learning and development applications. Developing AI ready leaders as well as a workforce will be crucial to retain competitive advantage in the future.

My job in 2025 will have changed primarily as a result ofCEOCFOHR Executives
Stronger emphasis on strategic skills 22.2% 25.7% 22.4%
Stronger emphasis on people management and other so-called soft skills 20.7% 13.5% 22.4%

My organization will be structured in a very different way

18.3% 20.3% 19.8%

Stronger emphasis on creative skills

13.0% 5.4% 6.9%

Stronger emphasis on technology skills

9.9% 17.6% 5.2%

I don't expect my job to change much

7.9% 5.4% 6.9%

Greater automation of my tasks

3.7% 6.8% 4.3%

My department will have a very different role in the company

3.4% 5.4% 10.3%

n= 1426

Source: C-Suite Challenge 2019 – The Future-Ready Organization


When looking at a regional level, although there is alignment on strategic skills, it is worthwhile to point out the dispersion placed on each skill. With 22% of respondents, people management skills seem to be the priority for European C-suites, followed by strategic skills with nearly 17%. The case for American C-Suites on the other hand, shows the opposite with nearly 23% of respondents placing higher importance on strategic skills, and soft skills follow with 16%.  Latin American respondents show greater interest in people skills with 23%, yet emphasis on creative skills is a close second. US and Latin American C-Suites also place greater importance on technology skills, almost twice as high, compared to other regions except Europe. Moving to the other side of Pacific Ocean, Asian C-Suites place greater emphasis on strategic skills. This is especially prominent in China, where strategic skill ranks as a differential skill with nearly 30% of respondents. Creative skills seem to be another priority for Japanese C-Suites with 19 % of respondents there seeing this a critical future skill. This regional dispersion shows that there is no distinct consensus in evaluating skill development.


My job in 2025 will have changed primarily as a result ofEuropeUSJapanChinaLatin America
Stronger emphasis on strategic skills






Stronger emphasis on people management and other so-called soft skills






My organization will be structured in a very different way






Stronger emphasis on creative skills






Stronger emphasis on technology skills






I don't expect my job to change much






Greater automation of my tasks






My department will have a very different role in the company






n= 1426

Source: C-Suite Challenge 2019 – The Future-Ready Organization


Yet, despite the heterogeneity, one thing is clear: change is inevitable. Most C-suite executives expect their organizations to be restructured in a very different way. Roles will get redefined and flexible structures and networks will become essential for teams to work together across different functions, levels and locations. In order to meet the demand for more a flexible and agile workforce, businesses should be aware of the importance of education and training systems. Supporting talent with necessary training and development opportunities is crucial to equip their workforce with the necessary skills for success in 2025 and beyond.

About the C-Suite Challenge : Since 1999, The Conference Board CEO Challenge® survey has asked CEOs across the globe to identify the most critical issues they face and the strategies they intend to meet them. Since 2017, the C-Suite Challenge™ has expanded the survey pool to the C-suite. This year’s survey, conducted between September and October 2018, asked 1,426 C-suite executives, including 815 CEOs across the globe, for their views on the Organization of the Future through 2025. More resources on the survey and reports can be found at

[1] Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, (New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)

[2] C-Suite Challenge™ 2019: The Future-Ready Organization, The Conference Board, January 2019

  • About the Author:Pelin Ozgul

    Pelin Ozgul

    Pelin Ozgul is a research analyst in human capital at The Conference Board. Prior this position, she completed her internship at The Conference Board as a research assistant in economics team. Pelin h…

    Full Bio | More from Pelin Ozgul


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