For CEOs, success in any given year can seem to hinge on only a few key decisions. But in periods of economic uncertainty -- when risks are higher and resources are lower -- one key decision takes on increased significance: what to prioritize in the first place.

Recent research conducted by Vistage captured the top priorities of CEOs for 2019.  The responses had a consistent theme: CEOs are focused on optimizing their businesses to maintain growth, especially in the face of a potential economic slowdown. In particular, the top three decisions CEOs are most focused on can be categorized in three areas; talent (28 percent), customers (21 percent) and financials (21 percent).

What do these decisions look like and, more importantly, how can CEOs ensure they are focused on the right areas? Our analysis of data collected from 1,257 leaders of small and midsize businesses in the Q4 2018 CEO Confidence Index survey revealed the following three key areas of focus. We asked several experts from the Vistage community for their recommendations based on these insights.

Talent decision: Hire for impact.

The survey data clearly showed that although CEOs are cautious about the state of the U.S. economy, they remain firmly committed to hiring. In fact, in open-ended survey responses, CEOs cited hiring salespeople as one of their top decisions tied to growing revenue. They also emphasized the importance of having the right leadership in place, which would in turn support building a strong internal culture in order to attract, retain and motivate top talent.

Focus on the hires that will have the greatest and most immediate impact on your firm, from individual contributors to leaders.

Customer decision: Focus on service.

Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that CEOs are focused on keeping existing clients happy during periods of market uncertainty. What stands out is that many CEOs think that a renewed focus on customer service and customer experience will lead to increased revenues from current clients as well as an increase in new client referrals. In other words, this is not a defensive decision meant to preserve the status quo; it's an offensive one designed to accelerate sales growth.

Elevate your customer service and revenue growth will follow.

Financial decision: Invest in productivity.

The majority of CEOs said they will not increase their spending levels in 2019. However, many CEOs are willing to invest to improve productivity--especially when it comes to information technology that can make operations more efficient.

Investigate whether you can automate certain manual processes or start embarking on a digital transformation journey.

Every decision: Apply a conscious framework

Top-performing companies are led by executives that see decision-making as a core competency in and of itself. They apply a consistent process that is conscious, structured and tailored to them as individuals. At Vistage, we often recommend that CEOs consider our framework for decision-making that integrates instinct, judgement and perspectives.

Having an optimized decision-making process will help you know when to rely on instinct; when to seek out data or case studies; and when to pull in diverse perspectives and expert opinion. It'll also turn a poor decision into a valuable learning opportunity that will help you grow as a CEO -- and potentially grow your business, too.

Published on: Mar 15, 2019
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