CEOs are being overwhelmed by polycrisis, says Accenture

23 January 2023 4 min. read
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Life of CEOs is more complex than ever before. The current ‘polycrisis’ sweeping through corporate boardrooms is posing them with an unprecedented number of challenges, according to new joint research by Accenture and the United Nations.

For their study, Accenture and the United Nations asked CEOs to identify what they believe are the largest business challenges for the companies they lead and the sectors they operate in.

The study found that the large majority of CEOs (93%) is multitasking on 10 or more challenges simultaneously. “Businesses are impacted by multiple shocks,” said Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director UN Global Compact, adding that the current ‘polycrisis’ is not just threatening the fortune of companies, but society as a whole.

What level of impact are the following global challenges having on your business today?

Inflation and price volatility are the top two challenges, followed by shortage of talent, and growing pressures on the healthcare system.

The list of top 10 challenges is rounded off by: climate change, trade regulation, lack of relevant skills for the future of work, war and geopolitical conflict, political polarisation, cybercrime, and pollution in air, water, and land.

Notably, the research highlights a shift in risk and threat perception among CEOs. Whereas they historically were mainly concerned with issues that unfolded within their own ranks (for example: profitability, talent, etc), they now face relatively many challenges that lie beyond their span of control.

For such types of factors, key is that CEOs ensure that their company can adapt to changes in the external environment, and not surprisingly then, many CEOs told Accenture and the United Nations that agility in strategy and execution is a top priority in the boardroom.


The 12th edition of the CEO Study places particular attention on sustainability and the ‘E’ of environmental, social, and governance (ESG). According to the respondents, sustainability is one of the most pressing and important long term challenges for business and society, echoing a recent report released by the World Economic Forum last week.

What changes are you making in your business in response to these challenges?

Asked how they integrate sustainability within their operations, CEOs pointed at a large variety of different ways. 63% of the companies for example said that they launch new products and services, 55% said that they aim to improve sustainability across the value chains, and 49% said that they invest in renewable energy sources.

Further reading: Majority of Middle East CEOs now rank sustainability a top priority.

But with just eight years left to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), worryingly nearly half of CEOs globally (43%) say their sustainability efforts have been hampered due to the geopolitical environment, with that number even higher for CEOs from developing countries (51%). “Not meeting the promise of the SDGs is a real concern,” said Peter Lacy, Accenture’s Global Sustainability Services leader.

Lacy said that new waves of technology investments and breakthrough innovation can put the SDGs back within reach – “but only if leaders turn to sustainability for resilience to help create new markets, products and services that can correct the current trajectory and drive growth amid times of disruption.”

Companies who chose investing in renewable energy sources to reduce dependency on fossil fuels as a change they are making in response to global challenges

Ojiambo added: “Despite setbacks, there is room for hope. The CEOs we surveyed increasingly recognize they can build credibility and brand value by committing to the Ten Principles and the Sustainable Development Goals throughout their operations– not only because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it is good business sense.”

For their study, Accenture and the United Nations surveyed more than 2.600 CEO’s from 128 countries, which according to the authors makes it one of the largest surveys among top business leaders in the world.

Previous research from Accenture (released late 2022) found that 9 out of 10 corporates struggle to meet their net zero ambitions.