Every two years, IBM interviews CEOs from all over the world to gain their perspective on emerging trends and issues. This year's study, Leading through Connections, based on face to face conversations with 1700 CEOs from 64 countries, seeks to glean insight into how CEOs are responding to the complexity of increasingly interconnected organizations, markets, societies and governments. The study's findings suggest that our techno-induced, hyper-connected marketplace is forcing organizations to be more open and accepting of change. To succeed, CEOs must foster employee collaboration, pay attention to customer insight, increase partnerships, and encourage disruptive innovation.
In other words, they must encourage their employees to act like children.
The principle insights from IBM's 2012 CEO study reflect four traits most parents try to engender in their children: play well together, listen, share, and use your imagination.
PLAY WELL TOGETHER
We all teach our children to play well with others. The 2012 corporate analog is the mantra of open collaboration. Collaboration is the number-one trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75 percent of CEOs calling it critical.¹
What does this collaboration look like?
Open - In an era of rapid change, employees must collaborate as a team to stay ahead of the competition. As the CEO of a U.K. insurance firm proposed, "We have a much more connected economy, so we need a much more connected workforce."¹
Non-Hierarchical - In a fast-changing business environment, organizations need to support non-hierarchical communication between all employees. An insurance CEO from the Caribbean put it more bluntly, "We need to blow up the hierarchy so ideas can flow up more easily."¹
Social - Many companies are now using social media technologies in an intra-organizational sense, i.e. as a way for employees spread out over large geographical areas to communicate and collaborate in real time. Intra-organizational social sites can act as searchable repositories of companywide knowledge and information, tapping into the group's collective intelligence. Beyond encouraging collaboration, this kind of social sharing brings to light great ideas and their authors, naturally leveling hierarchies and re-focusing energies away from politicking and into creating.
BE A GOOD LISTENER
My father used to tell me that we only learn by listening. As technology continues to shift power from producers to consumers, brands are realizing that they must stop talking at consumers and start listening to them. IBM' study found that more than 70 percent of CEOs are seeking a better understanding of individual customer needs. In fact, CEOs are prioritizing customer insight over all other organizational decision. As Thomas Kalaris, CEO of Barclays Wealth and Investment Management noted, "Fundamentally, the only competitive advantage one has is client knowledge."¹
How are CEOs planning on gaining this precious customer insight?
Social Media - Currently, social media is the least utilized of all customer interaction methods. However, CEOs predict it will push past websites, call centers and channel partners, and become the number-two way to engage customers within the next five years (behind good old fashioned face to face communication).¹
User-Generated Content- Customers are increasingly reliant on peer reviews when making any purchase decision. This fact is not lost on the CEOs in IBM's study, who see in user-generated content an opportunity to understand and respond to the pain points of each individual consumer, creating deeper connections that build loyalty and advocacy.
Mobile/Local Interaction - CEOs are waking up to the many implications of consumers' mass adoption of mobile devices, looking beyond mobile web optimization to location and context-based ecommerce services. As an example, some companies are implementing virtual pop-up stores that "appear" while customers are at certain locations, such as an arena or shopping mall.¹ This seamless blending of the physical and digital worlds represents the future of mobile marketing.
SHARE WITH OTHERS
Trying to get a kid to share is often harder than it may seem. Not so with the CEOs in IBM's study. As global competition increases the pressure to innovate, more than half of all CEOs are partnering extensively to drive new ideas. For many, these partnerships lead to the creation of disruptive technologies in other industries, or new industries altogether.
With the growing complexity and specialization inherent in many industry segments, companies are finding it more efficient to outsource key functions to partners who specialize in one or a few areas. In 2008's IBM study, only 55% of CEOs planned to partner extensively; now 68% plan to do so.¹
USE YOUR IMAGINATION
When I was a kid, the parental response to "I'm bored with my toys" was often "just use your imagination." Once an outlier, now imagination (i.e. "disruptive innovation") is encouraged, if not demanded, of employees. Efficiency is out, creativity is in: Rather than mere efficiency, CEOs now see technology as a means to creativity. Experiential learning is the new mantra, as organizations seek to broaden the range of situations and experiences that employees are exposed to in their job.
In short, today's CEOs are thinking more like entrepreneurs.
TODAY'S CEO (Chief Entrepreneurial Officer)
The CEO's interviewed in the study understand that the new reality for business is change-constant, enduring, grinding change. Companies that accept this new reality tend to embrace change, seeing it as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Even when business is going well, today's CEOs are thinking about the next big thing, always questioning the status quo. They're seeking stimulation from outside actors- customers, new partners, experts- anyone from outside the bubble who can "disrupt" long-held conventional wisdom.
This kind of rolling-stone-gathers-no-moss thinking is essentially entrepreneurial.
What else would you expect from today's chief entrepreneurial officers?
¹ IBM CEO Study, "Leading Through Connections"
Images courtsey of IBM CEO Study