The COVID pandemic has upended business in virtually every way, and new research from the Worldcom Public Relations Group reveals how it has significantly shifted executive attention and confidence for various issues. The stand-out change over the nine months from when COVID-19 became a global pandemic is the significant increase in business leaders’ engagement with employee-related issues.
In fact, of the seven topics that saw increases in attention in the latest Worldcom Confidence Index (WCI), four are people related. Upskilling and reskilling is now the topic that the 54,000 leaders in the ongoing WCI study engage with most in the online content they post (up 160 percent). Upskilling is the #1 topic in every region of the world except LATAM, where the impact and role of the media has most attention.
Increased leadership attention did not translate to increased confidence in the ability to upskill their employees. In fact, this topic has the biggest decrease in confidence since April—down 7.3 percent. The size of the challenge is highlighted by the World Economic Forum’s latest Future of Jobs Report, which identifies that half of all employees around the world will need reskilling by 2025.
Retaining talent, the #2 topic for leader attention, has the second largest increase, up 124 percent. This shows that leaders are focused on retaining their best talent at a time when many people have reassessed what they want from their work life. Like reskilling, increased attention did not translate to increased leader confidence, which fell 3.2 percent.
“As December 2020 was the first month when viable vaccines seemed to offer a light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we wanted to examine how the pandemic had impacted the priorities for global leader attention,” said Roger Hurni, chair of Worldcom, in a news release. “Our WCI living survey shows that leaders have identified that future success will be based on an employee base that has the skills to work effectively in the post-pandemic world.”
In April 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic really began to take hold everywhere in the world. So, this month’s Worldcom Confidence Index insight, compares how nine months of the global pandemic has impacted on what global leaders are thinking and their confidence levels in dealing with the topics getting their attention.
The attention on environmental and sustainability issues more than doubles
The decision by the Biden administration to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate change seems to be in sync with the attention global leaders are giving to environmental and sustainability issues. Reducing plastics and other sustainability issues increased 104 percent in engagement (#4 on engagement list). However, confidence in the topic had the second largest fall since April, down 4.5 percent. As predicted by Worldcom’s experts, sustainability will be of greater importance in 2021 and leaders will need to ensure they have a clear strategy for communicating their approach.
Engagement with the impact and role of the media doubles
Although the impact and role of the media fell from #1 to #3 on the leaders’ engagement list, leaders’ engagement with the topic has doubled since April—up exactly 100 percent. Confidence in handling the media fell by 3 percent over the period—the fifth largest confidence fall.
“As media attention shifts from how governments are responding to the pandemic, it is vital that business leaders are prepared for increased levels of scrutiny by the media,” said Todd Lynch, managing director of Worldcom, in the release. “This will present opportunities to demonstrate leadership and a progressive approach to the recovery.”
Influencers see surge in leader attention but a slump in leader confidence
Working out which audiences to give attention to has been a key question for leaders during the pandemic. And the conclusions they drew are unequivocal. The attention levels for influencers, customers and employees all increased since April.
Influencers saw the biggest increase (up 42.2 percent). But leaders’ confidence in dealing with them fell by 10.6 percent. Leaders also increased their focus on customers—up 29.3 percent since April. Confidence in meeting changing customer needs and expectations fell by 6.3 percent.
Getting communications right for both groups will be critical to an effective recovery. Worldcom’s experts made a number of predictions about which approaches would be critical to success in 2021. These embrace a variety of techniques from experiential marketing to direct to consumer and digital communications. They also highlight the increased need to ensure communication is thoughtful, sensitive and human.
Nine months of remote working has built confidence in the ability to use technology to advantage
The pandemic has proven the proverb: necessity is the mother of invention. In April, leader confidence in the use of technology to innovate and collaborate sat at #18 on the Worldcom Confidence Index. By December this topic had risen to #1 on the WCI.
“The overnight shift to remote working, and the way organizations were able to rely on technology to do so, perhaps proves the resilience and agility of the global workforce,” said Hurni. “The recovery from the pandemic will require a similarly agile approach. Worldcom’s experts recommend organizations use employee innovation to satisfy new needs. This free survey enables organizations to assess the effectiveness and agility of its employee innovation processes”.
European leaders see biggest relative decline in confidence
Although global confidence levels recovered slightly between April and December (up 1.7 percent), the confidence of leaders in Europe saw the biggest decline relative to their peers in other regions. In fact, the confidence of leaders in three of Europe’s members of the G7 (France, Germany, Italy) all declined. Confidence in the UK was static. As a result, Europe dropped from being the world’s most confident region in April to the #4 region in December, behind North America, Asia and Australasia.
The study was able to operate at this scale, and in nine different languages, because the data was captured using a breakthrough approach powered by artificial intelligence.