Press Release / News
Survey Finds CEOs Leaning on Talent and Organizational Culture to Survive and Thrive amid Global Volatility
31 January, 2017

A year ago, few chief executives could have predicted the turbulent global environment their organizations would face at the start of 2017. Mushrooming geopolitical and social tensions, policy flux, financial market volatility, and labor market imbalances have coalesced in a level of business uncertainty unseen since the end of the Great Recession in 2010. At the same time, new opportunities for sustained growth and competitive advantage are opening in many regions and sectors. How are CEOs positioning their companies to succeed through the world of shocks, uncertainties, and disruptions likely in the coming year?

It all starts with their people. According to CEO Challenge 2017, a global survey and report released today by The Conference Board, business leaders worldwide are focused on creating more agile, aligned, transparent, and responsive companies able to weather the storm of internal and external uncertainties. More than 500 chief executives participated in this year’s survey. Their responses revealed a set of common organizational priorities shared across industries and geographies, including: fiscal discipline, an engaged and resilient workforce, strong and inclusive leadership, and the need to develop and nurture talent with expanded twenty-first century skills. 

“In the eyes of this year’s CEO Challenge respondents, organizational culture and quality talent are the critical enablers of success,” said Rebecca Ray, Ph.D., a co-author of the report and Executive Vice President, Knowledge Organization at The Conference Board. “CEOs are clearly awakening to the dangers of static processes, rigid roles, and outmoded thinking at a time when their most pressing challenges all demand leaders and workforces committed to openness, innovation, and agility.”

“Despite the rapid technological advances of the past decade, real productivity gains from this era of digital transformation have yet to emerge,” said Bart van Ark, Ph.D., another report co-author and Executive Vice President, Chief Economist & Strategy Officer at The Conference Board. “This year, we’re seeing CEOs respond to this disjuncture. Internally, they’re emphasizing the mindsets and core skills needed not only to implement new technologies, but master them in a manner that enhances efficiency and growth. Whether the challenge is technical, political, or otherwise, the key question for organizations in 2017 is this: Are we driving change and disruption, or are they driving us?”  

The Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2017 is the latest in a survey series first conducted in 1999. From lists of choices vetted by a panel of CEOs and other experts, respondents detailed the critical strategies they are employing to improve performance in each of six areas: Human Capital, Customer Relationships/Corporate Brand and Reputation, Operational Excellence, Innovation and Digitalization, Regulation and Risk, and Sustainability.      

Alongside these perennial strategic challenges, survey participants were also asked which “hot-button issues” were likely to demand enhanced vigilance and tactical responses in 2017. Worldwide, the potential for global recession was the most cited concern, followed by the need to develop next-generation leaders, cyber security, failure to attract/retain top talent, and global political uncertainty. From these responses, seven big-picture themes emerged:

  • Pressure is building from ongoing political, policy, and economic uncertainties.
  • In a tightening labor market, an open and inclusive culture that lets talent thrive is critical.
  • Innovation is being democratized. Companies that produce innovators will be those based on inclusive, collaborative, internally and externally networked cultures.
  • For most CEOs, digital transformation is a longer-term challenge that will play out over the next decade, not an urgent risk to competitiveness in the next 1–2 years.
  • The fruits of digital transformation have been elusive, with only around a third of CEOs reporting strong impact on revenue or productivity.
  • Customer centricity is a growing priority, and demands high-tech, high-touch, and high-value strategies.
  • Relative economic development shapes leaders’ worldviews. CEOs in mature and developing economies diverged on a number of strategies and hot-button issues for 2017.

The conversation continues on Twitter. Follow
@Conferenceboard and #CEOChallenge17.

The results of this year’s survey are presented in a suite of seven reports. Members of the media, please contact Joe Diblasi for a press copy of any of the following:


Full CEO CHALLENGE 2017 research report (executive summary also available)

Leading through Risk, Disruption, and Transformation: Leveraging Talent and Organizational Culture to Create Opportunity in an Era of Digital Transformation and Global Volatility


Topical CEO CHALLENGE 2017 strategic overviews:

Meeting the Human Capital Challenge

Meeting the Customer Relationships and Corporate Brand & Reputation Challenge

Meeting the Innovation & Digitization Challenge

Meeting the Operational Excellence Challenge

Meeting the Regulation & Risk Challenge

Meeting the Sustainability Challenge

For complete details, visit


About the Conference Board

The Conference Board is a global, independent business membershipand research association working in the public interest. Our mission is unique: To provide the world’s leading organizationswith the practical knowledge they need to improve their performance and better serve society. The Conference Board is a non-advocacy, not-for-profit entity holding 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status in the United States.

For further information contact:

Rebecca L. Ray, Ph.D.
+1 212 339 0481

Bart van Ark
+1 212 339 0325

Charles Mitchell
+1 212 339 0277

Jonathan Liu
1 212 339 0257

Joseph DiBlasi


Leading Economic Index for:

  • Australia 0.3%
  • Brazil 0.9%
  • China 1.8%
  • Euro Area 0.8%
  • France 0.4%
  • Germany 0.3%
  • Global 0.6%
  • India 1.3%
  • Japan 0.4%
  • Korea 0.7%
  • Mexico 0.1%
  • Spain 0.2%
  • U.K. 0.2%
  • U.S. 0.4%
  • International Labor Comparisons:
  • Visit ILC website
  • Productivity:
  • Visit Total Economy Database™ website
  • Global Economic Outlook:
  • Visit Global Economic Outlook website