Uncertainty shaping CEO priorities

Published on the 21/03/2017 | Written by Newsdesk

uncertainty facing CEOs

Heisenberg issues plague the minds of senior execs…

A survey completed in January 2017 showed that the five top concerns for Australian CEOs can be summed up in one word – uncertainty.

The study was completed by ‘more than 185 CEOs’ (does that mean 186?) from various industries, including the resources, manufacturing, retail and imports sectors and follows similar research undertaken by Pronto Software and The CEO Institute in 2015 and 2016.

Those five concerns are:

  • Current economic and political environment: Largely shared by almost one-third of respondents, 28 percent of CEOs are finding it hard to plan amongst the uncertainty of the current economic and political environment. Unfathomable just a year ago, Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the election of the 45th President of the United States took even the most knowledgeable analysts by surprise. One respondent stated, “Donald Trump is creating havoc. Between him and Brexit, it’s hard to know where anything stands anymore.”
  • Mastering disruptive technology: One-fifth of the group (21 percent) worry about their organisations’ ability to keep up with technological advances. The issue was top in the 2016 survey, but the topic remains an important – and somewhat polarising – preoccupation for CEOs. Interestingly, almost half (48 percent) of CEOs know that technology will make or break their organisations’ ability to grow in the future, but they are unsure about which technology will do so.
  • Adapting to change: Managing change is an important concern for 12 percent of CEOs. Change calls for the transformation of operational processes and adaptation of organisational strategies. It is a direct result of the uncertain environment and technological disruption that are destabilising corporate assumptions and expectations. CEOs also frame the need for change management as a condition for survival: “To stay relevant, we need to expand,” said one CEO. “Whether it’s in Asia or the Middle East, this expansion requires that our staff, infrastructure and processes are able to handle the extra push.”
  • Handling growth: Since the start of 2017, the Australian economy appears to be gaining confidence, but business leaders remain cautious. For 11 percent of respondents, a key concern is to “find growth in a low growth economic environment”, as one CEO put it. How do CEOs plan to sustain growth and revenues despite the seemingly unfavourable global conditions? One approach is to innovate in as many ways as possible: “If we want to keep growing the business, we have to develop new products and find new markets and consumers to sell them to,” said one. “Developing niche products for niche markets will buy us some time while things stabilise,” added another.
  • Managing and retaining staff: In 2015, hiring and retaining staff was the leading concern of CEOs and in 2016 it placed second. Today, this is only an issue for 11 percent, putting it on equal footing with the need to sustain growth and revenues. This change does not necessarily indicate that finding skilled talent is no longer an issue, but it does show how leaders’ priorities have shifted. “It’s not so much about finding competent people anymore,” said one CEO. “It’s more about finding competent people who have the right skill and specialty we need at a specific moment in time.”

Unsurprisingly, these themes above also ranked highly in the 2015 and 2016 survey results. By definition, CEOs must have an eye on all of the different moving parts that are likely to affect their organisation’s performance. The key difference is that this year, economic and political uncertainties have taken centre stage.

In a statement, Chad Gates, Pronto Software MD said: “In my ongoing discussions with CEOs, technology is one element that can create consistency and accuracy in what many are finding an uncertain landscape.”

He added that by implementing a strong technological solution and embracing disruptive technology that’s flexible and reliable, CEOs and their teams can gain clarity regarding how their business is performing, and empower their teams to make better decisions.

And, at the recent Tech Leader’s Forum held in Sydney, Gates explained how a local vendor can differentiate itself in the competitive, globalised environment – and it relates to uncertainty: “There is an inherent mistrust of vendors at this end of the market and with the question of [personal] liability looming over them. These customers want vendors which can move quickly, demonstrate value quickly and be where they want to be.”

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