Executive themes for 2024

Executive themes for 2024

Filter tag: AI and Digitisation, Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Culture & Organisational Effectiveness, digital transformation, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth

“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Peter Drucker (a founding father of modern management theory)

If death and taxes are the only certainties upon which we can rely, the best we can do is consider and interrogate the likely developments of the near future and prepare our business models and personal career growth plans accordingly.

Here are some of the major themes that the Rialto team believe will influence the economy and global executive job markets in 2024.

1: Optimising AI.  

If 2023 was the year that early adopters got ahead and most doubters came round to the reality that generative AI is here to disrupt every part of our lives and many occupations, 2024 will see a more mature, pragmatic and strategic integration of frontier technologies into all aspects of work automation priorities.

It is imperative that executives prioritise the need to ensure senior leadership are bringing in the talent or hiring expertise to identify the most appropriate applications and introduce them across the business as seamlessly and effectively as possible.  By the end of 2024, the gulf between believers and dinosaurs will become increasingly evident.  The influence of generative AI is developing exponentially. Looking back at the pace of acceleration of adoption in 2023, it is almost impossible to imagine the disruptive force it could generate over the coming 12 months.

As McKinsey succinctly stated in its recent report, “What matters most? Eight CEO priorities for 2024”,  executives need to ask: “which parts of the business can benefit? how can applications be scaled from one to many? and how will new tools reshape their industry?”.

This is not just a paradigm shift, it is a revolution, with accelerated change now a constant; business models and mindsets need to adapt to be able to respond in real time to stay ahead of the competition.

Rialto can help you benchmark your personal readiness for the future of work and identify any skills gaps. We also offer a programme of live online events presented by experts in specific fields around the frontier technologies and their application in various functions and sectors.


2: Another year of economic uncertainty.

2023 proved to be a year of economic contradictions and we go into 2024 with the same equivocation. Despite all of the crosswinds which threatened to push the UK and major global markets into recession, including conflict in the Ukraine and the Middle East, double-digit inflation, record energy costs, high interest rates and the legacy of Covid driving a cost-of-living crisis, markets ended the year buoyant with the US indices reaching record highs.

With inflation falling rapidly, interest rates likely to follow later in the year, wages rising faster than prices, and promised tax cuts in the Spring, many forecasters are now predicting a grey market up to the UK national election, with stagnation rather than recession.

In the background, the risk of conflict spreading and causing energy prices to spike will continue to prompt caution among investors.

Executives and board members across most sectors will be emphasising the need for resilience, efficiency and frugality. Spending is likely to be targeted on processes, technologies and strategic priorities that will focus on savings to build up reserves and create agile business models to adapt to the fast pace of AI-driven change; leaders will look for creative, low risk ways to promote growth in an otherwise stale UK economy which continues to lag behind other G7 countries.

That could offer little in the way of relief to the lean executive job market which Rialto highlighted with exclusive data at the end of 2023. It showed a dramatic fall in publicly-advertised executive level vacancies on the year, highlighting the increasingly critical need for the most senior level job seekers to be able to access the hidden market, identify the opportunities meeting their requirements and upskill or retrain if necessary. Pivoting towards new roles created by the technological revolution could open further pathways to successful career transitions.  The focus is on creating a brand and skillset which are more relevant than ever to the new market demand curve for leadership talent.


3: Elections.

2024 is a year of elections, local, national and global.

Will it be a 1992 – the year Labour leader Neil Kinnock snatched defeat from the jaws of victory after taking a tumble on Brighton beach? Or another 1997-style landslide for Keir Starmer’s more centrist Labour party? Markets are always averse to uncertainty. How might that affect the economy?

PM Rishi Sunak has indicated he will call a General Election mid=way through the year.

Will his promised tax cuts fuel increased consumer confidence and prompt a commerce-led recovery? – or spook markets concerned about further increases to record borrowing levels?

The most recent polls put Labour 19% ahead of the Conservatives which would give them the seats they need for an outright majority and a strong mandate for change.

However polls are notoriously inaccurate. Not only did they get it wrong in the last two US elections and our Brexit referendum, they can reduce turnout for the leading party from voters convinced the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Rishi Sunak will betting on an economic turnaround as inflation and interest rates fall globally to carry him over the line but will his immigration all-in on the divisive Rwandan policy see him go bust and bring on a surprise early election?

And what will it mean if Labour do win? Starmer is keeping his cards close to his chest so little detail in his manifesto so far. He and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves are, however, determined to prove Labour can take care of business and keep tight fiscal control with new powers for the Office of Budget Responsibility so don’t expect any big public spending contracts, though the construction industry would see a shot in the arm with a promise to build 300,000 new homes a year for five years.  They have promised is to secure billions in private funding to promote growth in the regions, focusing on the green energy economy for which a massive injection of cash would follow a Labour victory.  Along with AI, it’s the growth sector of the moment. Can Starmer pull a rabbit out of the hat and rejuvenate the former industrial heartlands?

In contrast, Sunak has backpedalled on renewables in a bid to put fresh air between him and Starmer, so uncertainty over related future financial and economic policies is likely to deter foreign investment at a crucial time for the sector, potentially leaving the UK too far behind to play catch up with China and the US who are going full steam ahead in the race to become the green superpower.

Whatever and whenever the result, executives seeking new positions and career transitions could do worse than to reskill and pivot towards these emerging technologies.

Business leaders also need to keep an eye on regional elections, including the London mayoral election which could have a big impact on the City, and global elections, including US Presidential elections which will have an important bearing on Western relations with the crucial Chinese market.


4: Laser-focused strategic growth.

As leaders and executives seek to navigate stormy waters at the beginning of the year,  laser-focused strategic growth will be more important than ever.

Budgets remain tight, investment in new technological infrastructures will remain a priority; now is a good time to revisit and update McKinsey & Company’s 2022 10 rules for intelligent growth.

  1. Put competitive advantage first. Find your winning formula first then scale up.
  2. Make the trend your friend. Stay on top of emerging markets; recognise when the trend is waning and change.
  3. Don’t be a laggard. If you’re ahead, keep moving to stay ahead, no treading water. Be more Apple, less Blackberry.
  4. Turbocharge your core. How can you build strength into the core that will support new growth? Technology? Product development?
  5. Look beyond the core. Expand organically using natural connections and progression.
  6. Grow where you know. Optimise your local advantage, knowledge, connections etc.
  7. Be a local hero. Win strong loyalty and brand awareness in your locality.
  8. Go global if you can beat local. But be sure your product will transfer to new markets first
  9. Acquire programmatically. Plan organic growth alongside new ventures. Think about the emerging sectors such as AI and green technologies.
  10.  Shrink to grow. Prune dead wood and re-seed for stronger growth,

In this time of uncertainty, it is more important than ever that all leadership teams are constantly looking for opportunities for growth and development with minimal risk, whether micro or macro, into new markets, new sectors or improving on core business performance. Entrepreneurial curiosity needs to be built in to the workforce with strong two-way communications to open opportunities for all employees to contribute ideas to optimise performance at every level.


5: Filling skills gaps.

Technology is disrupting the way we do business at all levels but we need the right people at the wheel to prevent a kamikaze ride into the future.

Generative AI and other frontier technologies are bursting with almost limitless potential but are also fraught with tensions and risks that need a human touch. The most advanced business leaders are starting to recognise that abstract skills such as empathy, curiosity and adaptability are becoming more valuable to the fast-changing, AI-led economic landscape than traditional qualifications such as superior formal education. Emotional intelligence, creativity and strategic thinking are among the skills that cannot (yet) be replaced by technology.

The UK’s education system has been slow to catch on to the need for these skills to power the country’s future economic success. Even young people graduating from universities and sixth forms now have not been prepared for this brave new world.

Senior executives need to demonstrate these skills in their own leadership but also build them into the workforce through strategic recruitment and continuous upskilling and training. HR leaders should be bringing in AI applications to analyse and meet current and future skills requirements particular to the growth strategies of the business.


6: Minding mental health.

As the New Year blows in on the back of grey skies, driving rain and warnings of another gloomy economic 12 months ahead with further job layoffs and a lingering cost-of-living crisis, maintaining a feel good factor in the workplace is a challenge facing leadership in all sectors.

According to Gallop’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 report, almost six in 10 employees considered themselves quiet quitters – psychologically disengaged from work without a sense of meaning or purpose. It claimed that active and psychological disengagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion a year or 9% of global GDP.

By genuinely committing to caring for the wellbeing and welfare of staff, companies could potentially make huge savings with minimal outlay at a time when critical skills shortages and economic uncertainty are threatening to undermine growth in every sector.

Investment in cultivating relational intelligence, empathy and introducing mental health toolkits, evaluation and support will pay dividends. That may mean hiring consultants or using AI programs to deliver focused training, continuous assessments and easily-accessed support services.

Employees who are being made to return to the office after the homeworking of Covid times and adjust to constant technology-driven changes in their daily operations may be at risk of burnout and disillusionment. Open, two-way communication, flexibility and understanding can all help cushion employees and make them feel safe and valued.

The CIPD claims flexible working can reduce staff turnover by up to 87%.

Some companies are going further, offering sensory spaces, menopause support and introducing wearable devices to track mental health, sleep patterns and AI programmes to analyse sentiment around workplace developments. HR directors should be actively analysing workforce engagement and identifying risks to reduce attrition rates and costs and maintain a healthy workforce to boost engagement and drive performance.

On a more personal level, executives and leaders have had to take on more responsibilities and cope with more change than at any time in history. Those in position should be aware of their own stress levels and look for ways of managing competing challenges, whether by re-evaluating leadership teams to maximise opportunities for delegation of duties or building in moments of decompression, rest and mindfulness throughout the working week.

For those seeking a career transition or out of work and actively looking for a new position, share your journey with a trusted relative, friend or consultant. It is too easy to get caught in a cycle of hope and despondency as opportunities come and go. Take time to reflect on any rejections and seek advice from someone who may have a more objective perspective and be able to help turn challenges into positive development.

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