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2020 Business Leaders Outlook Pulse Survey

At midyear, most business executives remain hopeful about their outlook, and 1 in 2 predict a full return to pre-pandemic business conditions within 12 months.

At midyear, most executives remained hopeful about their prospects, but predict a full return to pre-pandemic business conditions could take significant time.

Call it a Tale of Two 2020s–the one before mid-March and the one at midyear.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic surfaced, most business leaders were wondering if the longest-running U.S. economic expansion on record was finally coming to a close. By March, they received an abrupt answer as governments forced closure of all but the most essential product and service industries around the world.

By late June, 1 in 2 business leaders (53%) were expecting their companies to return to normal within the next 12 months. However, more than three-fourths (83%) reported they were operating at some level of reduced capacity with more than half (59%) voicing concerns about growing revenue. A third (33%) of respondents said changing consumer habits due to the pandemic was a leading concern for their future.

But in the midst of disruption, a historic story of optimism, adaptability and change was playing out as fast decision-making and smart use of digital capabilities loomed large in these survey results.

By June, more than half of executives (56%) had already made or planned to make permanent changes to their operating model as a result of shifting to working from home. Additionally, more than half (54%) reported that they had shifted or plan to shift their operating model to be more online in the future in response to the continuing pandemic and shifting consumer habits.

It’s been a turbulent start to the year, but business leaders can look to the experiences and insights of their peers to help navigate what’s to come. 


Outlook Overview

Business confidence continues at the company level–but local, national and global forecasts are a different story. 


What leaders see

At midyear 2020, there was one familiar viewpoint common to past annual Business Leaders Outlook surveys–executives still believe in the success of their enterprises above all forecasts for their industries and their local, national and global economies. However, the vast majority of business leaders surveyed described economic uncertainty–both domestically and globally–as the leading challenge facing their business operations.

optimism graphic

Less than half of executives (47%) expect sales and profits to grow and most (71%) have cut back on capital expenditures for the duration of the year or plan to do so.


2020 Business Leaders Outlook Midyear Pulse Survey - Expectations for Next 6 Months

COVID-19 Business Response

Work-from-home and increasing digital dependence are driving new-and possibly permanent—business models.


What leaders are doing now

Pivoting to the COVID-19 pandemic changed business tactics practically overnight–and possibly permanently. Moving top executives and staff to work-from-home status has sparked increased use of digital banking and treasury tools and new thinking about how businesses may focus operations more online in the future.

Significantly, most (82%) executives at midyear said that they were readying their organizations to deal with a potential repeat of early 2020 disruptions.


Time to Recovery

Getting back to “normal” will take time–and big challenges remain.


What leaders see

At midyear, very few executives were operating at pre-COVID capacity, but more than half remained hopeful about a return to normal operations in the next 12 months. Still, most aspects of the business environment remained too unsettled for significant planning.

view to normal

With so much uncertainty, business executives are planning ahead in case disruptions continue. They described their biggest current challenges as uncertain economic conditions (70%), revenue and sales growth (59%) and shifting consumer habits due to COVID-19 (33%).


2020 Strategies

These tactics will be essential for the rest of 2020.


What our experts see

The Business Leaders Outlook Pulse survey offers an intermediate snapshot of top-of-mind issues for companies now and in the months ahead. To help you navigate one of the most turbulent economic years on record, keep these considerations in mind: 

Considerations from our experts

  • Harness the power of workplace technology. COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of remote working, and now is the time for businesses to implement digital tools to enhance productivity. Learn more here.
  • Enhance digital security protocols. Business email compromise (BEC) is among the most serious threats that businesses face–particularly in times of crisis. Learn how to help prevent BEC and other types of fraud here.
  • Proactively prepare for future disruption. Recent events have reinforced that businesses of all sizes and industries must have solid resiliency plans in place before crises happen. Learn more here.


About the Survey


This 2020 Business Leaders Outlook Pulse survey is a snapshot of the current business environment based on the responses of more than 520 executives from U.S. middle market companies with annual revenues from $20 million to $100 million across a range of industries including manufacturing, professional services, technology and disruptive commerce, heavy equipment, agribusiness, beverage and distribution.

The survey was conducted online from June 22-29, 2020.

Results are within statistical parameters for validity; the error rate is plus or minus 4.3% at the 95% confidence level.

who took the survey

company size

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