In the latest KPMG CEO Outlook report, 80% of leaders said they have witnessed the acceleration of digital transformation in their businesses throughout the coronavirus pandemic with the digital progress putting 30% of them years ahead of where they expected to be.
Two-thirds (67%) of respondents said that they were more likely to invest in technology than people, a figure that has remained constant since January this year.
Bill Thomas, global chairman and CEO at KPMG, said: “The significant change in CEOs' priorities over the past six months is a clear indication that businesses have had to pivot at breakneck speed to deal with the challenges of the pandemic.
“This crisis has accelerated strategies that were already in place around digital transformation and social responsibility. However, in other areas planning for the future is a lot harder, particularly around future ways of working and problem solving. So it’s perhaps no surprise that CEOs are focused on the importance of talent to sustain and grow any future business.”
For many businesses, increased reliance on technology has been critical to an ability to adapt and enable a vast majority of their workforces to continue working remotely.
In the UK technological innovation has also been found to be a contributing factor to the survival of SMEs.
Yet an analysis of the factors that helped companies survive the last recession caused by the financial crisis of 2008 found that business’ investment could be best placed in developing comprehensive human resource management (HRM) practices and union relationships.
For July and August, talent risk outranked supply chain and environmental risk in CEOs’ business concerns, yet a renewed focus on purpose has kept environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) high on the agenda.
Sixty-three per cent of respondents said that they had shifted their focus toward the social aspect of ESG during the crisis.
The pandemic has also pushed the majority (79%) of executives to reassess company purpose, with the same group also saying they feel a stronger emotional connection to company purpose since the pandemic began.
Thomas added: “The COVID-19 crisis is redefining what good business leadership looks like. It is making demands of CEOs that few people could have imagined just months ago.
“CEOs are more connected to their organisation’s purpose, their reason for being, and are using it to guide their business decisions through continuing unpredictable times.”
Reflecting on growth prospects over the next three years, 32% of CEOs said they were less confident of their presence in the global economy now than they were at the start of the year. Yet confidence in their own business growth over the coming three years increased.
This adds to other recent data from The Institute of Leadership & Management that found that the majority of business leaders said that they were confident of their organisations’ survival post-pandemic, with only 1% saying that they thought they would go out of business as a result of the crisis.
The KPMG 2020 CEO Outlook COVID-19 Special Edition is based on an initial survey of 1,300 CEOs in January and February this year followed by a pulse survey of 315 CEOs from July to August.