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CEOs: leadership in and beyond the crisis

Beyond the immediate demands of the crisis, the CEO needs to create and articulate a view for the future that accounts for the varying strength of direction of drivers confronting them. Here we look at just five of the key drivers for future business that have been strengthened and accelerated by the COVID crisis and how CEOs might approach them. These factors remain central in driving CEOs value proposition in both the short and medium terms.




1.) COVID demands digital transformation

70 percent of transformation efforts fail because ‘...the organisation never wins the employees’ hearts and minds...you need to make sure that your workers have the skills and confidence to embrace the change with you[i].’ Working from home does not mean DT has been achieved: a critical aspect is in building an evolving paradigm of change management appropriate not just for the crisis, but for the intelligent age that it will herald. This change requires both news skills/capacities together with an organisational renewal that allows such changes to coalesce and focuses the shift away from silos and towards skills led outcomes as the Chinese conglomerate Haier has proven. All leadership positions will need to shift their roles to contribute to a successful DT. DT is more about changing your culture, processes and propositions than it is purely about technology.

2.) COVID creates new ways of working

We are entering into an era in which core staff, expertise-as-a-service and robots will work side by side on teams that form to address specific initiatives - and dissolve as those needs expire. Since this implies use of third parties, more contract work, professionals need to develop broader business acumen, networking, mindset and professional skills linked with temporary team working, for example. The requisite changes in ways of doing things runs contrary to layers of accumulated and established ways of working, both within management and the day-to-day operations of professionals. 54 percent of executives say that having a corporate culture unable to embrace digital technologies is one of their biggest barriers[ii]. 68 percent of executives say that their organisation needs new leadership to compete in the digital age. The lockdown proved to most naysayers that digital interaction, both within and without of the organisation, actually works.

Digital technologies, such as the IoT, edge computing, advanced analytics, mixed reality and artificial intelligence create an ambient connectivity that in turn redefines the how, where, what and even why of business. Building the infrastructure that enables the continuous flow of information – securely - to sustain and build a consistent consumer and staff experience is a key prerequisite.

3.) Future proofing talent

In total, perhaps only 20 percent of current employees have the skills required for their current and future roles[iii]. Few if any institutions have the capacity to deliver these training requirements without outside collaboration in an era of lowering skill half-lives, necessitating new partnerships, skill learning pathways and accreditation standards. Universities, themselves dealing with significantly dimmed prospects and business model challenges thanks to COVID, may be more amenable to delivering professionally focused education on a continuous or as-needed basis and developing deeper forms of collaboration. This will continue in importance, since close to 66 percent of organisations have not yet considered what proportion of their workforce needs to retrain due to automation[iv].

4.) Preparing for partnership

Platformisation, ecosystem, blurring industry boundaries and the intrusion of the state, either directly or indirectly (including as partners), are likely features of the immediate and mid-term crisis and post-crisis landscape. All feature significant changes to how business works. Even among well travelled routes such as platformisation, it should be acknowledged that significant cultural shift can be required, such as when moving from control to curation. As new forms of partnering, collaborating and working emerge, data systems will increasingly be shared, implying both the need to change organisationally and consider the privacy and legal issues at the outset. Currently, organisations only extend cybersecurity protection to 60 percent of their business ecosystem[v]. This shows that mental models that have underpinned decades of success will need replacing as digital business demands a new approach.

5.) Prioritising innovation

Traditional efforts to innovate in this way are often thwarted. Legacy assets, cultures and previous success all conspire against innovation in many big firms. Yet Gary Hamel of the London Business School notes that while ‘...in a small crisis power moves to the centre, (in a big one) it moves to the periphery[vi].’ This could change the nature of innovation strategies for a prolonged period, which may be no bad thing since only a fifth of execs believe they understand the best ways to achieve agility and innovation[vii]. Building structures and cultures able to channel ideas and practices from the periphery into the mainstream is critical, as is accepting that innovation isn’t best achieved in a silo.

CEOs must now start planning for a different marketplace operating under new assumptions. At CEOforesight - https://www.ceoforesight.com/ - we are here to help CEOs change the way you think about the future with detailed, personalised data, foresight and implications for your organisation.


[i] Source: Accenture, 2019 https://talentorganizationblog.accenture.com/financialservices/the-future-workforce-is-everyones-business [ii] Source: CIO, 2018 https://www.cio.co.nz/article/643851/why-shapeshifting-organisations-future/ [iii] Source: Gartner 2018 https://www.information-age.com/gartner-skills-shortage-123474620/ [iv] Source: Deloitte 2019 https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/technology-and-the-future-of-work/intelligent-automation-technologies-strategies.html [v] Source: CIO Dive, 2020 https://www.ciodive.com/news/data-breach-accenture/571559/ [vi] Source: Economist, 2020 https://www.economist.com/business/2020/04/25/the-pandemic-is-liberating-firms-to-experiment-with-radical-new-ideas [vii] Source: Bain, 2019 https://www.bain.com/insights/change-is-the-new-superpower-forbes/

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