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news: CEO Outlook for 2024
January 12, 2024

CEO Outlook for 2024

Talent. Tech. Tomorrow.

Headed into 2024, CEOs around the world are confronted with paradoxes at every corner. Case in point: 80% of Canadian CEOs and 88% of Canadian SMB leaders are optimistic about their three-year growth prospects, but 40% of global CEOs predict their organization will no longer be economically viable within 10 years.

So business is both booming. And dying.

Meanwhile, generative AI is predicted to replace 300,000,000 jobs worldwide and grow the global GDP by 7%, but 88% of Canadian CEOs are aiming to increase recruitment of flesh-and-blood humans in the next three years.

So skilled humans are apparently obsolete. But also incredibly in demand. 

How best to navigate this world of contradictions? Do you plan for prosperity, or budget for recession? Do you hit the big red button, eject the humans, and go full Skynet, or conversely embrace Luddism, banish calculators, and bring back the abacus? 

So many paradoxes, so little time… 

At WJ, we've been keeping our ears and our eyes open throughout 2023. From attending industry summits like The Gathering, analyzing end-of-year CEO outlooks from the 'Big Four' of Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG, to conversing with our clients, friends, and partners, it's clear that every Canadian business will be faced with bold challenges in the years to come – ourselves included.  

In our 20+ years of operation, our agency has been based around three core pillars of strategy, creative, and technology. Each one of these pillars contributes to our operations in unique ways, completing functions the others cannot. But take one of them away, and the other two fall. Creative without strategic guidance is wild and erratic. Strategy without technology to power it is limited in ability. And technology without creative is dull and lifeless. This mix of independence and interconnection has powered us through recessions and turbulence before.  

Looking ahead into the near future, we see a similar trend that savvy CEOs CFOs, COOs, or leading voices at a company can harness for their benefit.

Our advice? In 2024 and beyond, look to the 'Three Ts' of Talent, Tech, and Tomorrow – and, crucially, how each one fuels the other.

1. Talent

Good work doesn't happen without good people. In fact, in a world of AI-generated "okay except for the seven-fingered hand" imagery and regurgitated (if not outright hallucinated) writing, we would argue that unique human insight and ingenuity are now more important than ever for a company to stand out from the crowd. Much as a rising tide lifts all boats, securing the right talent boosts your company on almost every level imaginable, and should be placed as a very high priority.

Yet, in the aftermath of the Great Resignation, attracting and retaining top talent continues to be an ongoing hurdle to success for Canadian companies. It's definitely not because of a labour shortage – a study conducted by Statistics Canada in May, 2023, unequivocally concluded that the number of unemployed individuals with a bachelor's degree or higher exceeded the number of job vacancies requiring such an education in virtually all sizable economic regions

So why the scarcity? It seems that these educated Canadians - along with educated immigrants or remote workers - are either: 

  1. Looking abroad for higher-paying remote work; or, 

  1. Completely disillusioned with their careers and abandoning them.

Our Advice: Answering problem number one is easy: bite the bullet and pay more. It may seemingly hurt your bottom line at first – but at least you will still have a bottom line, and it will pay off in the long run.  

Answering number two is harder, but it's where we believe your company's culture and by extension your brand plays a significant role. People want purpose in their work, and working for your company should give it to them. So, you need to ask yourself this question: why should your employees get out of bed in the morning and come into work for you?  

If your answer is some variant of 'because they have mortgages to pay', then it's time to rethink the way you do things. 

Your brand is essential to this. In 2024, a brand is much more than creating a new logo and a catchy slogan. It's many things, but important in this context is that it is an authentic internal culture lived at every level from your executive office down to your entry-level workers. It's a living, human thing that offers tangible purpose, able to overcome cynicism and inspire the disillusioned to believe again. 

Of course, the process of developing a brand, implementing it, and ensuring genuine uptake will take time, resources, and likely the creation of positions dedicated to upholding this culture. We know, because we create brands from the ground up, and also have a dedicated Director of People and Administration specifically to fulfil this role. But, as we said above, talent fuels everything else your company does. You need to make this investment – offering competitive compensation packages, having a culture budget, and prioritizing (and we mean prioritizing, not just ‘saying you prioritize’) work/life balance, are great places to start.

2. Tech

Generative AI continues to reshape the working world. If 2023 was the year when the world was introduced to generative AI, 2024 is the year when it will really begin to use it. According to Deloitte, four out of 10 companies worldwide estimate that AI will be critically important to their business within two years, but an alarming 71% of Canadian companies haven't even begun to experiment with AI at all (p4, p6). In particular, industries such as accounting, construction, and the legal profession are skeptical of the need for AI in their workplaces.  

Traditionally, Canada has lagged behind the rest of the world in technology adoption. With generative AI, this is a mistake we can't afford to make again. Yet at WJ, we've heard several common objections raised against adopting AI: 

  1. A lack of resources to invest in unproven technology;

  2. A lack of AI-specialized workers available for hire; 

  3. Resentment and suspicion of the technology from both the C-Suite and ground-level employees; and 

  4. A general belief that any given company or job is too 'big' or too 'complicated' for an AI to help with.  

Our Advice: In times of great change, you either ride the wave, or you risk being swept away. It bears stating that many of the exact same objections listed above were raised about the internet when it was first introduced in the 90s. Do you know of any companies that don't use the Internet these days? Neither do we. We therefore unequivocally recommend that, no matter your industry, your company should look into incorporating AI in some capacity in the coming 12 months.

This isn't a strict sink-or-swim scenario. Instead, look at it as more of a paddle… THEN swim. Encourage your employees to undergo specific AI training, or permit dedicated time for experimentation into how AI could improve your work environment. This doesn't need to be a net loss, either. One of the exciting and unique properties of generative AI is that it can deliver value even during these times of experimentation.  

At WJ, our creative departments have successfully experimented with using image generation platforms to expand and enhance existing stock photography – improving the quality of our work AND saving our clients from paying for expensive custom photo shoots. Furthermore, ChatGPT was used as a research assistant in the writing of this blog, saving our writer an hour of unpaid work, which they then dedicated to paid client work instead. Small improvements, adding up.

But a word of caution – no matter what you use it for, AI still needs close supervision. Every fact ChatGPT sourced for this article was closely checked by the writer. Why? Because if you don’t, your AI can fabricate 'facts' that make you look like a fool when you submit them in court, or it can go ahead and wish the people of Germany a very happy Kristallnacht, or it can even recommend chlorine gas as a tasty, nutritious meal for humans.

3. Tomorrow

'Tomorrow' concerns sustainability and ESG, and the desire to create a better world. Looking at Canada at a glance in 2023, we saw an unprecedented wildfire season so severe Yellowknife almost burned down, while the Indigenous unemployment rate nationwide remains almost double that of non-Indigenous groups. Each issue on their own is a cause for concern, yet environmental matters and addressing racial inequity are just two of the many, many major factors tied to ESG that good companies are prioritizing and focusing on correcting today.  

Action must be taken, and many companies do talk the talk about how they are trying to make a sustainable future a reality. But how many of them actually make a difference? Very few, it seems. In fact, KPMG reports that a shocking 71% of global CEOs admit their current ESG initiatives wouldn't stand up to any real scrutiny.  

People have noticed: 87% of global investors interviewed by PwC stated they believed any ESG reporting contained greenwashing. This cynicism extends into talent recruitment, too, with an unwillingness to participate in environmentally destructive or socially unjust practices often cited as a reason for an employee opting out of a job or even an entire industry. 

Our Advice: It's time for companies to stop phoning it in when it comes to ESG, both for the sake of the future, and for the sake of your business. In 2024, we recommend you make a genuine, sustained effort to engage in meaningful ESG practices. 

Don't make vague, empty, external promises about solving global warming (although solving global warming is a great goal to have...) Instead, focus on small, achievable goals, and then achieve them. Ask yourself what your company can realistically do to make a fairer world? The UN's 17 Goals for Sustainable Development offer a great framework to focus your efforts.  

  • Can you reduce the amount of energy or waste paper you use?
  • Can you alter your hiring policies to offer opportunities to marginalized groups?
  • Can you donate to philanthropic organizations to support progress around the world?
  • Can you allow your employees paid time off to volunteer at local grassroots endeavours?
  • Do you need to change your business model to accommodate these targets? 

This ties into your brand, too. External messaging with a simple statistic like 'we used 20% less disposable plastic this year' resonates much more powerfully than a ChatGPT world salad about how your company is 'intrinsically motivated to inculcate a culture of true upward efficacy in the worldwide struggle to create a more verdant world for the generations to come.' And, as we mentioned above, people don't want to work for charlatans. Workers sick of large corporate life may find appeal in an independent small- to mid-size business making an actual difference in the world.

Working ESG into your culture, therefore, potentially opens the door to new talent… and, just like we said in 'T' number one, talent powers everything.

Conclusion: The Fourth T is 'Together'

"Never stop thinking about how all this interconnects," says our CEO, Ryan Townend, "Talent believes in tomorrow. Tomorrow depends on talent. Talent is attracted by tech. Tech powers talent. And so it goes on, around and around… By encouraging each sector individually, you promote synergy of the group. Synergy powers progress, and progress carries you through the uncertainty. If we want to survive as businesses, I firmly believe every single aspect of your company needs to step up and be more responsible. Using these 'three Ts' as a foundation can help focus your efforts as a group."

In the coming months, we'll expand further on each point, with Ryan and some of our Directors sharing their thoughts on their individual areas of expertise. Keep your eyes and your ears open both here and on our social channels, and remember – if you have any further questions about how we can use our tech and talent to power your tomorrow, we're only a click away.

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