The disruptive forces CEOs are prioritizing in 2022 do not include covid-19

Image: REUTERS/Gabrielle Lurie
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CEOs are getting anxious, according to a survey of 3,000 executives from the management consultancy AlixPartners. Supply chains are in chaos, workers are hard to find, and the specter of cyberattacks looms over companies that are still struggling to update their aging computer networks. These forces are so disruptive that 72% of surveyed CEOs worry they’ll lose their jobs in the next year, up from 52% who worried they’d get sacked last year.

But the most obvious disruptive force of the past two years—covid-19—barely registered among the top concerns of the CEOs AlixPartners surveyed, who hailed from companies with annual revenues over $100 million in the US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, China, and Japan. When asked to rank the disruptive forces they planned to prioritize in the next 12 months, the vast majority put other worries ahead of covid-19.

Executives’ top concerns include supply chains, labor, and cybersecurity

Overall, AlixPartners pulled three common threads from their survey of C-suite worries: A majority of the CEOs they reached are concerned about busted supply chains (69%), trouble hiring workers (62%), and poorly managed IT networks (60%).

These fears are rational: Each of the three executive phobias took a turn dominating headlines and earnings calls in 2021. Concerns about a labor shortage bubbled up early in the year as economists fretted about the impact of pandemic stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits and workers began quitting jobs in record numbers. IT networks briefly became top of mind around May, when hackers shut down the biggest US fuel pipeline in a brazen cyberattack. And supply chains became executives’ top concern in the second half of the year as shipping rates spiked and retailers resorted to desperate measures to stock shelves ahead of the holiday shopping season.

Each of these fears is also, in one way or another, a symptom of the pandemic. Fear of contagion in frontline jobs, the shift to remote work, and pandemic stimulus checks encouraged workers to rethink their relationships with their jobs. The rise of hybrid offices weakened companies’ cyberdefenses, giving ransomware gangs plenty of easy targets to infiltrate. And Covid-19 outbreaks shut down ports and factories, contributing to the supply chain mess the global economy is still struggling to recover from.

In other words, even if executives aren’t thinking about covid-19 directly, they’ll be spending 2022 grappling with its consequences.