What Got CEO’s Attention in 2023

by Editorial Team on December 11, 2023


In the 2023 business landscape, defined by change and challenge, we offer a revealing glimpse into the shifting talent priorities of today's top executives. 

As Werq delves into a year's worth of client engagements, a fascinating narrative unfolds. This article not only uncovers the five dominant themes that emerged from our extensive analysis but also serves as a barometer for understanding what leaders have valued, struggled with, and anticipate needing. 

Join us as we dissect these insights from real client projects and stories, and explore their implications for the future of leadership and organizational success.

Setting the Scene. 

Each Year Werq conducts a deep dive of the needs and the impact we have had on our clients. We review changes from the prior year and explore how market conditions may have led to shifts in what leaders are focused on.

Casting our minds back to 2022, it was characterized by businesses getting back to growth after the worst of the pandemic. We saw a pent-up need and demand for engaging employees and the leadership required to do this, made particularly critical by the Great Resignation. Investments in this growth were supported by a booming economic moment - money was “cheap” - meaning everyone from consumers to corporations could borrow and spend more easily than they can now in a season of higher interest rates and a softer economic environment.  

As we entered 2023, two macro trends developed: 1) the need to cool the economy due to high inflation and 2) the Quiet Resignation as employees felt trapped with fewer chances of internal growth and fewer external opportunities. 

This microenvironment set the scene for caution - in spend, in hiring, in business risk-taking. The impact of this caution has had a direct impact on the types of services executives were asking for from leadership and consulting organizations such as Werq. 

In one respect it increased the need for services that helped reduce risk (strategic planning and execution; team performance and productivity, etc), and reduced the desire for what is often seen as discretionary spend (personal and leadership development).

It’s in this context that we saw the following themes emerge during this past year.

The 5 Themes of 2023. 

  1. Strategic Planning and Execution: Continued to be a priority for CEOs and with an even greater emphasis on how to execute the plans effectively.
  2. Enhancing Team Alignment and Cohesion: A noted increase in CEOs wanting to give greater attention to the effectiveness of their leadership teams.
  3. Organizational Change Management: Cost management led to this more often being managed internally but strong year-end signs indicate more interest in engaging external expertise.
  4. Leadership Development: Took a backseat in many organizations due to economic constraints.
  5. Personal and Professional Growth: A continued pro-active engagement in personal development by leaders themselves.

So let’s dive into the common themes that we saw CEOs asked for help with in 2023.

Strategic Planning and Execution

In 2023, the focus for many clients was squarely on strategic planning and execution, aligning their visions with actionable steps and accountability.

The demand for support in strategic planning stayed consistent with previous years, in the number of engagements. The value of these engagements increased over the prior year as a greater emphasis was given to the execution of strategic plans. 

According to research, 48% of leaders spend less than one day per month discussing strategy. And the same percentage fail to meet their strategic targets. (Harvard Business School)

In an environment demanding precision and results, companies needed to give much more attention to aligning their strategies with practical and outcomes-based execution. The key to successful strategic planning and execution lies in bridging the gap between visionary thinking and practical implementation, ensuring that every step taken aligns with the overall organizational goals. Werq saw this focus being ramped up even more than normal amongst our clients.

A few examples of Werq strategy engagements
  • A fintech sector portfolio company, with Werq's assistance, aligned its leadership around a long-term vision and an annual roadmap to achieve this. This led to stakeholder engagement, achieved year-1 objectives, and a successful funding round. 
  • A media company wanted a partner to help them create a multi-year strategic plan. Through multiple strategy sessions, Werq helped them achieve buy-in from key stakeholders and high collaboration from their leadership team. The result was ongoing energy and support from the board, staff, and leadership team.

Enhancing Team Alignment and Cohesion

The corporate landscape of 2023 saw CEOs increasingly focused on team alignment and cohesion, often propelled by the need for teams to be able to deal with the challenges and uncertainty being experienced in the market. Werq projects in this area jumped substantially over the previous year, primarily with Executive / Senior Leadership teams.

Recognizing that aligned and cohesive teams yield faster and higher results, leaders sought to swiftly and effectively integrate new members in order to maintain or grow market share.

A few examples of Werq team engagements

  • A Growth Equity Firm was preparing for the next business phase following a successful round of funding but struggled to align its leadership team on how best to approach this. Through structured and facilitated offsites, they achieved a unified vision with a much more solidified team. This also resulted in the retention of some key partners and significant progress in conflict resolution. 
  • The Executive leadership Team of a large public company were dealing with the implications of their roles, accountabilities, and expectations of each other following the creation of a new 5-year strategy with several significant changes. Werq was able to help them define their purpose as a team, their unique individual contributions to the team, and ultimately how they would show up to each other and to the whole organization.
  • A Healthcare Company was in the midst of integrating three separate companies that had merged and which had very different leadership cultures. Creating a common vision for the team and unpacking what this looked like in practice - how they worked, what they focussed on, and how they interacted with each other - was critical to successfully interesting the entities and meeting their financial targets for the year.  Through facilitated offsites with business agendas that also included teaming aspects, Werq was able to help them get this clarity and alignment of themselves as a team, as well as facilitate them agreeing on strategy execution goals, measures, and accountabilities for the year.

Organizational Change Management

Compared to previous years, there was a noticeable decrease in the number of change management projects, with more of this being led internally. The primary factor appeared to be budget constraints, as many companies tightened their belts and reprioritized spending.

There are indications that this trend may be changing with a number of companies exploring change management support in the latter part of the year for 2024, partly due to not having the internal resources or expertise, and partly due to not getting the results needed from their internal efforts. 

An example of a Werq change engagement

  • A large agency partnered with Werq for support on an organization-wide transformation project, as part of their strategy implementation. By combining deep change expertise and sector experience, Werq has been able to help them navigate this journey effectively and stay aligned and true to their strategic intent.

In an era of financial prudence, the ability to manage organizational change with limited resources has become an indispensable skill. 

Leadership Development

In 2023, Leadership Development (proactive investment in leaders and the leadership bench) took a backseat in many organizations due to economic constraints, marking a shift in corporate priorities. The prevailing market conditions led companies to become more cost-conscious. This economic prudence resulted in a decrease in Leadership Development initiatives, as talent management projects were often deferred.

This trend reflects a strategic reprioritization in response to financial pressures.

Despite the overall decline, some notable projects highlighted the value of focused Leadership Development.

A few examples of Werq leadership development engagements

  • A technology company wanted to establish an Executive Program to engage and retain its valuable executives. Werq built a program that included both group and individual development support, over a 6-month period. The program has also resulted in personal development action plans with accountability milestones and enabling support mechanisms to both motivate and evolve leadership behaviors. 
  • A multinational financial services organization engaged Werq to help develop one of their functional leadership teams. The approach has been from two ends of the leadership effectiveness spectrum: engaging directly with the functional team to understand the needs they have from their leaders and what is / isn't working well; and working directly with the leadership team to help them define their leadership roles, competencies and ways to both lead and meet their team needs. 

Personal and Professional Growth

In 2023, the quest for personal and professional growth was a dominant theme among executives, with a focus on dealing with business challenges and enhancing their individual leadership performance.

Much of this work was for the leaders themselves with these decision-makers recognizing their own human limitations and development needs. This encouragingly highlights an unwavering commitment to self-improvement and excellence among successful leaders.

While leaders were investing in their own growth, we noticed a significant reduction in executive coaching work deeper into organizations. When it did happen, it tended to be related to performance concerns or individual engagement challenges. This poses a risk to succession and sustainability, as it appears 2023 may have been a year of underinvestment in building up the next generation of leaders.

Examples of Werq coaching engagements

  • A technology company CEO needed a critical-thinking partner as she was preparing a business exit. 
  • A new CEO for a consulting firm wanted support elevating his leadership skills in the new role. 
  • A new COO wanted a partner in navigating the dynamics of their new company and how best to lead the transformation they had been hired to deliver.
  • A wellness company CEO wanted support in her effectiveness levels in a difficult work environment.
  • A Healthcare leader who wanted to strengthen his relationship with the board.

Predictions for the Future

After reviewing all the data from a year's worth of CEO needs and project scopes; we believe that 2024 will see a continued emphasis on adaptive leadership and strategic agility during challenging market needs. 

While budgets are likely to continue to impact the scope of internal business projects, organizations are aware of the value in developing resilient leaders and effective teams who can navigate complex and rapidly changing environments. And, they are aware that these kinds of investments can only be held off for so long before they begin to impact the long-term success of their organizations. 

With the lessons learned from the challenges of the past year, there may be a greater focus on targeted, efficient, and impactful development programs, especially those that foster innovation, transformation, and sustainability i.e. create the conditions and environment for success through the organization.


As we wrap up our exploration of “What Got CEO’s Attention in 2023", it becomes clear that the year was a testament to adaptive leadership and resilience. 

We’ve all learned that a holistic business approach, combining the three foundational legs: strategy and deliberate execution; true leadership and emotional intelligence; and organization culture, will be crucial for organizations striving to thrive in the dynamic landscape of the future. 


About the Authors

Gavin Pommernelle is the President and Ilana Zivkovich is the CEO & Founder of Werq, an executive and team performance coaching and consulting firm headquartered in Austin, TX. Werq partners with founders, ceo’s, and executive leaders to optimize their influence and results through assessing, building, and developing peak-performing teams.

Gavin and Ilana would like to thank Executive Coach and Consultant Kelly Dwyer for her contribution to the data. 

Topics: Strategy Work