February 22, 2021
Get Ready for Some Bumps Down the Road
A bumpy road was one of the major responses coming out of the 11th annual Business Leaders Outlook survey of more than a thousand executives from mid-market U.S. companies ($20 million to $500 million annual revenues) conducted from November to December 2020. In spite of that, most also felt cautiously optimistic about the economic outlook in 2021.
The difference they reported in the most recent survey is not just in surviving the challenges of the 2020 pandemic, but also on what’s changed. Paramount in the change they cited and what they said they’ll be focusing on are causes important to their communities, their employees, and their stakeholders.
The biggest potential bump on the road remains economic uncertainty for 2021. Reports of various COVID-19 mutations have added to that insecurity and anxiety. But at the time of the latest survey, respondents’ outlook nearly mirrored that of 2020. 77% said they were optimistic about 2021 with 18% saying they were neutral and 5% identifying as pessimistic. In spite of the optimism, they believed sales and profits would remain flat this year. 76% of the pre-pandemic respondents were optimistic about 2020 with 19% neutral and 5% pessimistic.
Most of the respondents said they expected employees to return to work by July. Some told Business Leaders Outlook that the success of remote work during COVID-a9 has caused them to consider making that permanent for some employees.
If any good came out of the pandemic, they cited opportunities to re-evaluate the culture within their own workplaces. Also identified was the adoption and embracing of new technologies.
A major topic covered in the survey was corporate responsibility. When asked what issues were heading the top of their lists, the most common response among 60% was employee physical safety and security along with mental health and well-being (39%).
Another 48% cited building “tomorrow’s workforce” and diversity and inclusion by 31%. Three-fourths said they developed one or more action plans to tackle and focus on issues of concern and importance to employees.
A 2020 survey by the Association for Financials Professionals Payments Fraud and Control reported 81% of companies being targets of payment fraud last year. This prompted surveyors to ask what these mid-market companies were doing to stay ahead of online vulnerabilities. 71% said they were educating and training employees to protect against cyberattacks. Other actions included developing counteractive measures like the deployment of technology (55%), purchasing cyber insurance (53%), and designating an in-house person or team to identify the threats. 39% said they were also creating a contingency plan as well as hiring a consultant to identify the threats and opportunities.
Five cyber concerns were identified. 39% cited malware, including ransomware and 17% payment fraud. Business email compromise was a new addition and mentioned by 15%. The last two were the security of data causing integrity concerns (9%) and theft of intellectual property or confidential data, including customer data (7%).
The bottom line to all these results is that brands should have contingency plans in place in the event of another unanticipated future crisis while embracing technology and being both vigilant and agile to other possible changes.