The Year Ahead: Our Expert Guide for Executives in 2023

Key Actions to Ignite
Strategic Transformation in 2023

Welcome to Transcend’s annual insights for ‘the year ahead’, illuminating critical opportunities for leaders to drive performance ahead of the trends in business. In past editions, we have challenged leaders to reimagine agility, play offense during the pandemic, and elevate enterprise transparency.

This year, we are recognizing the impact that the events of the last few years have had on businesses globally. The year 2022 has brought with it a new economic era, rife with volatility and change. These realities, paired with the arrival of a long-term hybrid workforce, have made it clear that businesses have no choice but to evolve with the times or risk falling behind. With these challenges in mind, the theme of strategic transformation seems particularly important as we focus on planning for the year ahead.

Shaping strategic transformation around the modern business environment will give companies a leading edge over the competition in performance, cultural cohesion, and scalable growth. Employees are craving stability, and the leaders who invest in creating an environment that generates it will see their returns multiplied in growth and talent. However, those who remain defensive, reactive, or decide to wait for a “return to normal” will surely falter in the year ahead.

To help you thrive in 2023, the Transcend team has curated a list of key actions you can take to guide strategic transformation in the new year and well beyond.

2023 is the year to make employee well-being a top component of your organization’s culture. A study done by Limeade/Quantum Workplace shows that employee engagement increases by 38% when employers — starting with the C-Suite — exhibit genuine care for the health and well-being of their people. The study shows that time off work to rejuvenate also significantly increases engagement; however, equally important is the continual incorporation of rejuvenation and well-being conversations in the workplace. So, in addition to providing more opportunities for “me time” outside the office, let’s explore a few strategies that will heighten the well-being of both you and your employees.

  • Team well-being conversations: Have ongoing group discussions about the importance of energy renewal. Ask each person to identify their go-to energizing activities and the benefits those bring to their life. For some, it might be exercise or playing with the kids, others may enjoy meditation or yoga. Encourage your team to schedule their chosen rejuvenators regularly in their calendar, making them a top priority. Then, create a process around accountability within the team, identifying ways people can support one another in their recharge routine.

  • Individual well-being conversations: Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement survey includes a question that states: “My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.” The most successful leaders get to know their team members as individuals, developing the bonds of trust that are necessary to have well-being discussions. Take the time to check in on your team members in one-on-one conversations. Not sure where to start? You might ask, “How are you doing?” but digging deeper with more open-ended questions and listening intently to truly understand what’s happening in their lives, both inside and outside of work, will create stronger connections and a sense of belonging. These conversations should, of course, remain confidential and appropriate.

  • Don’t forget about your own well-being! To fully support your team, you also need to be energized, so explore your own rejuvenation practices. Identify those activities that help you bring your A-game every day. Schedule time into your calendar and prioritize your own rejuvenation, leading by example. If you need some ideas, read this article written by my Transcend colleague, Jaci Reed, on How Executives Can Prioritize Rejuvenation.

There is a hidden benefit to these ongoing well-being conversations and focus on rejuvenation. In your team and individual discussions, you’ll identify common interests, hobbies, and practices. These commonalities help drive further conversations and connections, develop stronger bonds of trust, and solidify relationships that build a truly high-performing team.

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2023 is the year to double down on innovation and find ways to capture, organize and scale ideas that deliver growth. One of Peter Drucker’s famous quotes is, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” No single idea will be as powerful or strong as creating a culture of innovation. The fundamentals of building such a culture involve implementing a customer-centric approach and creating a community of innovation.

Build a consumer-centric approach.
Consumers recognize innovation when they see it and even more when they feel it. A growing channel of successful innovation involves putting the customer at the center of the process. While this approach is customer-focused, it is not meant to be customer-led. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the company to make changes, add value, and bring solutions that create a superior brand experience for everyone involved. You can begin with the following:

  • Standardize and scale the various ways that you will gain feedback from your customer. Rather than starting with a pre-determined solution, create questions, interviews, surveys, etc., based on the customer’s experience and desired outcome.
  • Capture and organize those desired outcomes and experiences into themes so you can understand the total customer journey and implement innovation and value where it is needed most.
  • Set filters and guardrails on what kind of new ideas the company will or will not embrace based on your strategy and values.

Unleash the collective genius to create communities of innovation. Harvard Business School Professor Dr. Linda Hill outlines successful leadership behaviors that support change and set the stage for innovation. Her research revealed that “leading innovation is not about getting people to follow you to the future; it is about getting people to co-create with you.” Successful leaders of innovation create communities of innovation, where others are willing and able to engage in discovery, share ideas, and take part in a collaborative problem-solving process. Here are a few ways you can cultivate communities of innovation in your business.

  • Clearly define what innovation means to your company.
  • Identify leaders who can shape the context and be “social architects” for innovation.
  • Make your workplace a safe space to challenge the status quo and embrace creative collaboration.
  • Build the financial framework to fully resource innovation, such as the 70-20-10 model.
  • Engage colleagues with diverse perspectives, experiences, and ideas. A team that brings diversity into the conversation will be more likely to create more effective solutions.

By leading with a culture of innovation, your business will be continually driving growth by taking advantage of the wealth of information and knowledge that your customers and employees can provide.

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2023 is the year to discover how to use the hybrid work environment to optimize performance and growth. Over the last year, we’ve come to understand some of the pain points associated with hybrid work. Difficulty collaborating, communication pitfalls, cultural impact, and coordination woes have caused some executives to question whether hybrid is the right choice for them. However, benefits such as wellness, four-day workweeks, and work-life balance have become essential for top talent, putting hybrid at the center of any successful organization’s growth and culture strategy. Let’s break down solutions for each pain point to ensure your hybrid workplace is one that drives elite performance in the coming year.

  • Pain Point 1 – Collaboration and Connection: If you sense a downshift in collaboration, teamwork, and meaningful connection, you can use simple strategies to get your team back on track. Schedule a cadence of connections via video conference AND in-person on both team and organizational levels. Focus and reflect on enterprise and team values, celebrating wins (big and small), collaborating around strategic initiatives, and creating shared social experiences, such as philanthropic volunteering, outdoor adventuring, paint n’ sip, escape rooms, etc.
  • Pain Point 2 – Communication: To combat micromanaging, set a cadence of one-on-one meetings for remote employees, where clear expectations for performance output are established and followed up on. Set norms around technology (i.e., Teams, Slack, Intranets) to help with regular communication, collaboration, and feedback. Use leadership tools, like this one, with your direct reports to help you stay connected to the decisions that matter most without over or undermanaging. When you have hybrid team meetings, establish best practices like ensuring everyone is at their own computer so all faces can be seen and voices heard even if some of the group is in-person. Tools like Miro can make these interactive, more productive, and fun.
  • Pain Point 3 – Culture: Culture is the result of a set of mindsets and behaviors reinforced by the environment (systems, processes, rewards). People should feel like they are part of this environment whether they’re at the office or WFH. One way to do this is by managing expectations for working hours throughout the organization. Begin by setting hours/days of the week for internal communications, breaks, and lunches. Try mandating no-meeting Fridays, moving to a four-day workweek, or allocating wellness days on top of PTO. Most importantly, ensure DEI best practices are embedded into every part of the employee lifecycle and use a merit-based system for promotions and rewards that is not contingent on working location, resulting in an atmosphere of fairness and balance for all.

  • Pain Point 4 – Coordination: This is your chance to find and build efficiencies within your business that will solve critical performance challenges that come with hybrid work, including process issues, coordinating space, home office setups, and extra cybersecurity measures. Reevaluate manual processes and remove redundancies. Invest in a cybersecurity plan that includes antivirus and multifactor authentication inside and outside the office. Use a service, like Envoy, to help you plan office space for hybrid workers and get the most out of workplace design. Create an onboarding package for WFH employees that is easily accessible and includes all the necessities they’ll need to work successfully from afar.

2023 is the year to connect your teams to future strategy by building your leadership platform around purpose. New York Times bestselling author, Daniel Pink, identifies three essential components for the highest functioning enterprise workspaces: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The last of those, purpose, allows an organization’s people to connect with the “why” of the company and its strategy. The feeling of being connected to a compelling purpose is empowering and motivating. By fusing your teams to a strategic purpose, you’re leveraging your strongest leadership platform and providing the highest levels of motivation for productivity and performance. So, where do you start?

First, think cadence.

  • Once you’ve clearly landed on a strategy, build a cadence with your executive team that positions the purpose at the center of the conversation around the tactical execution of that strategy. Find an appropriate and realistic cadence that will keep the dialogue moving.
  • Next, engage with critical, relevant team members at least once a month, to assess progress and provide resources.
  • Consistently enable strategic planning, so that it becomes part of the fabric of the organization. Ask yourself: is the entire team operating at a good overall cadence to support execution and remove hurdles?

Next, think focus.

  • Block out time in your schedule to think about today’s wins and how they can link to tomorrow’s opportunities. Encourage team members to do the same. Try to connect real-time challenges to the long-term vision and work with your team regularly to apply those insights to the strategy and the “why” around it.
  • Think of the areas where you choose to focus as a model for your team and larger organization to follow. Make sure you are showing up to work with the “why” in mind and set boundaries around potential distractions. What you say “no” to is just as important as what you say “yes” to. Embed processes for transparency and communication that show how you connect all decisions back to your purpose and the overall strategy of the organization.

By leveraging strategy as your leadership platform, and connecting your teams to this purpose, you will maximize talent, elevate performance, and unleash new levels of teamwork in 2023.

2023 is the year to manage change and guide expectations as a core function of your C-Suite team. Managing change and guiding the expectations of both internal and external audiences is like wearing a pair of well-crafted, supportive shoes — they must be utilized simultaneously in a lock-step strategy that’s implemented continually throughout the year. With consistent effort, the rigor and cadence of your C-Suite’s best practices in this pair of disciplines will become a powerful flywheel for growth, stability, and a healthy culture.

Here are three ways to infuse enthusiasm, shore up consistency, and renew commitment to proactive change and expectation management among your C-Suite leaders in the new year.

  • Make under-promising and over-delivering part of the culture. The best organizations anticipate customers’ behavior and manage their expectations to shield the company’s reputation and foster brand love across the entire experience, both internally and externally. Customer happiness, loyalty, and referrals — as well as talent retention — are directly correlated to your employees’ bandwidth for creativity, access to resources, and empowerment to make decisions at the point of execution. Invest in a full-scale review of your brand promise at every stage of the customer journey and be willing to challenge and change outmoded, under-resourced, inaccurate, or underperforming components.
  • Embrace the idea that strategic issues are also brand issues. Organizations of all kinds have one thing in common regardless of industry, markets, technology, or funding — they are all organisms affected by the ecosystems they build and feed. As an organism comprised of people, processes, systems, and cultures, every action has a ripple effect. Use data to guide decision-making based on what is best for the brand as a whole. With access to the right information, your organization will be more likely to stay ahead of the curve, make the right decisions, and communicate with stakeholder audiences in a more timely and effective manner.
  • Set the tone of your brand voice by fostering strategic vision across the company. When your organization’s vision, values, and strategic plan become a daily catalyst in every area of your business, it will reflect in the overall image of your brand. Combine consistent feedback methods with rewards and always come back to the “why,” connecting personal employee goals to that of the company. Think of every area of your business, from customer service to product design, as having its unique mark on your brand and initiate cadences and processes that will intentionally link each of those functions to that of the company’s overall vision and strategy. This will not only fuel a strong, innovative culture, but will stimulate agile thinking and spur accountability for shared commitments.

By implementing these proven strategies and maintaining them consistently, you are better equipped to proactively manage change and stakeholder expectations, retain talent, and keep your customers coming back for more in 2023.

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2023 is the year to bring transparency and data to customers to demonstrate your value. In today’s fast-paced, data-driven environment, companies can no longer rely on traditional, internal data strategies if they expect to grow and remain competitive. Today’s customers stay informed and companies that don’t clearly differentiate their value will lose a competitive advantage. Here are a few ways you can use data to demonstrate your value in the coming year.

  • Design a customer-centric data strategy. Developing a data strategy with the customer front and center will ensure they remain engaged and feel a lasting connection with your brand. Use the information to understand the perspective of the customer, what they need, and how they interact with your business. Listen to their feedback and apply it, then be transparent about what you changed and why. Establishing a base of customer-centric data will guide effective decision-making and ensure your business stays agile in relation to changing consumer interests.
  • Leverage competitor comparisons to provide industry data. Dedicate resources to a competitive analysis that will showcase your differentiators and give your customers a reason to choose you over others in your industry. Proactively sharing this data with your customer base adds value and creates an unparalleled ease of experience by showing that you’re willing to provide them with the market research they need to make a confident decision.
  • Create an online customer community to deliver insights. This is one of the best ways to build a direct, two-way line of communication between a company and its customers. You can start by sharing thought leadership pieces, news, articles, or webinars that will engage customers with content they care about while allowing them to share their thoughts and feedback. As the community grows, it can become the platform that provides an array of resources for customers, as well as a place to solicit feedback. For example, Salesforce’s Trailblazer Community is filled with engaged clients and packed with useful information.
  • Creating interactive, client-facing dashboards. Dashboards can provide a dynamic, visual view for customers to digest data and insights that are relevant to them. They not only foster transparency but can also showcase elements of your business that your clients may not have otherwise been familiar with. These dashboards should comprise the most critical and relevant KPIs and data points to your customers. KPIs will vary across industries and client bases, but some examples of how they can be used include providing data on marketing campaign performance, important timelines, top products sold, insights on cybersecurity trends, geopolitical data impacts, or economic trends.

2023 is the year to utilize curiosity as strategic leverage in your business. Cultivating the values that make up a winning culture is known to boost engagement and retention, but now is the time to get curious about how those values exist in your company’s day-to-day engagements and services. By digging deep to understand your culture, you will gain important insights and effectively pave the way for growth in the year ahead. The processes you put in place for positive change within your organization will often have a trickle-down effect on your customer. Here are a few ways to get started.

  • Collect historical context as well as fresh perspectives. Both your customers and employees have experiences with your business that have the potential to become successful innovations. Tenured employees can provide rich historical context of products and internal systems, while new team members are in a unique position to present original ideas. Open dialogue for team members of all levels to provide feedback, with a process in place to nurture and implement innovative concepts that may present themselves. Try implementing both internal and external surveys where employees and customers alike can provide observations and assessments on services, products, and processes and be prepared to act on those insights.

  • Establish an environment of trust. A culture of transparency within the organization is an excellent starting point for similarly cultivating trust between your brand and the consumer, as your internal values will be reflected externally in products and services. With the advent of the hybrid workplace, it is even more important to build a psychologically safe environment within your organization where everyone is encouraged to speak freely without fear of retribution. Set up regular face-to-face meetings individually and with your team, even if you are in a hybrid or fully remote situation. Implement communication processes that show transparency from the top down, empowering employees to do the same. Frequently recognize employees for their contributions and empower innovation through autonomy.

  • Get curious about your decision-making process. Understand the three major decision-making processes — definitive, collective, and informed — and how you typically use them. Each of these is necessary at one point or another but use one at the wrong time and you can risk alienating team members and damaging engagement. Invest in time to assess your strategy for decision-making and create a clear system for choosing which kind you will need and in what situations. Share this system with your team so they can understand the strategy around it and your intent behind it.
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2023 is the year to create a hiring process that is transparent and authentic for prospective talent. First impressions matter, but certainly not in a “perfect picture” scenario that may have worked in the recent past. Job seekers have reprioritized their non-negotiables, and those that transcend pay are culture-focused and should be highlighted throughout the interview process. Here are some ways you can create a stellar first impression that will put your company ahead of competitors in the battle for top talent.

  • Be upfront about the company and what it stands for, by sharing your mission, vision, and values. Current job seekers want to ensure that the company’s “why” aligns with their own sense of purpose. From their point of view, seeing your transparency early in the process paints the picture of a company that is able and willing to clearly communicate its strategy down the line.
  • Give the potential hire a peek inside your company culture by including individuals in the interview process who work in different areas of the business. Provide an honest description of how your culture plays out in the day-to-day and how the team collaborates. Ask what THEY value in a company’s culture and colleague interactions. Allow them to ask questions specifically about your culture, and even have your hiring team share personal experiences that highlight what you’ve described.
  • Have an intentional growth plan for the position. Job seekers want to know that you have a plan for their development and won’t leave it to chance. What does onboarding look like? What opportunities do you have for mentorship? Do you make investments in continued education through certifications, classes, or seminars? Give these answers proactively, showing you’ve deliberately designed processes for their growth.
  • Leave the door open for follow-up questions after the initial interview. We have all been in a scenario where great thoughts or questions arise after the moment has passed, so give them express permission to send you an email or call you with inquiries if necessary.
  • The next steps should be done with intention and timeliness, and a clear reflection of your overall company culture. If you’re planning on making an offer, ensure your values shine in the way you communicate, engage in negotiations, and the speed with which you interact. If they aren’t the right fit, respect the time and energy they have invested in the interview process and remember they will likely share their impressions with colleagues. Highlight a few of the specific things you value about what they have to offer when you let them know you’ll be going in another direction.

Use these strategies to make first impressions count in your recruiting process for 2023 and you will see how your investment in company culture will be reflected in the quality of the candidates you attract.

Transformation is the process by which profitability and growth are fueled. With the business landscape under a major reconstruction effort, executives can take the opportunity to gain momentum by transforming their strategy to coincide with new and changing times. It’s no longer an option to proceed with business as usual. Executives who fully own the role of focusing and guiding transformation as a differentiator of business performance in the year ahead will have the privilege of leading companies who thrive in the long term. By reinventing work culture, shifting the way they focus their strategy, and proactively embracing change, your organization can be on the cutting edge of a modern era of work, attracting top talent and customers who take note along the way.

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