“Are you leading fast enough?” – Futurist Jim Carroll
Over the years, I’ve had the chance to hear directly from a lot of global CEOs and senior executives as to what they are worried about.
That’s because a good part of my business skewed away from association events and annual conferences, to hastily organized global corporate events that were focused on a particular issue, challenge or opportunity. Needing someone to set the stage for 2 or 3 days of intensive meetings, they would somehow find me and arrange to bring me in. I’ve got a good overview of this issue in a blog post I wrote for one of my speaker bureau partners, Keep Up with the Speed of Change: Future Trends in the Speaking Industry.
These events range from groups of 10 people around a boardroom table or a senior leadership group of 100 or so executives. I’m usually brought in by a senior executive to provide a talk on the future trends affecting a particular industry; to help them re-frame the concept of innovation; or a combination of these two key themes.
Regardless of the industry and size of the group, the planning for such a talk often involves a long conversation with the CEO or other senior member of the management team in advance. There are issues that are on the table; often, they’re planning to be out of the office for a day to think, strategize and shape their focus, and I play a key role in this big investment of time. We spend time talking about how I can customize my insight, and develop the message that I will deliver.
Over time, a common theme has emerged with these strategic events – the key issue was the ability of the organization to align to the speed of change. It was always suggested that I emphasize this point.
I kept the notes of the discussion with one particular CEO, and this is what he described to me as to what he hoped his organization and team would be able to develop in terms of core innovation competencies:
- excel at seeing opportunity: the organization needs to get better at spotting new emerging opportunities, whether with markets, customers, or products. It’s been very, very inwardly focused, and is starting to lose out on many great opportunities because the team seems to be too busy looking inwards, solving problems and firefighting, rather than looking outward to see ‘what comes next, and what should we do about it?’
- adapt to fast-paced markets: there needs to be a clear recognition that customers are more demanding; that the value proposition of the product line is being subjected to greater pressure than ever before; and that some competitors are moving faster in reinventing the product line. The company is competing more on price than on the value of the product, which is leading to commoditization. They’ve got to get better and ‘speed up’ the process of adapting to all of this change.
- watch for disruption: clearly, there are new organizations, particularly in the technology space, looking at the industry and thinking about ways to change the business model. That’s a significant challenge, and the leadership team needs to understand the potential for disruption and think through opportunities for a strong offense and a good defense to deal with this reality.
- realign innovation pipeline: for years, all R&D has been done internally, yet there’s a realization that the entire process of R&D has changed in almost every industry; the organization needs to be more outward in terms of sourcing external ideas, developing unique innovation partnerships, and seeking to align itself to the ideas of some of the small start-ups that are changing the process of development within the industry.
- ride generational change: there’s a recognition that the next generation of digital natives is now making their presence well known throughout the organization. They’re impatient for change, full of ideas, and ‘chomping at the bit’ to pursue innovative ideas. The senior management team needs to be thinking about how best to utilize their uniqueness as an opportunity, rather than trying to shut down their thinking because they don’t fit the historical norms of the organization
- align to technological velocity: there is a clear understanding that the next wave of technology will not be about streamlining a process or providing efficiencies; instead, it is all about redefining the industry, changing products through pervasive connectivity, and accelerating change in many different ways. The organization needs to learn to ‘innovate at the speed of Apple’ as this fundamental change unfolds
- re-assess skills: there is a big mismatch between what the organization has in terms of skills, and the skills that it really needs to accomplish all of the above. It needs to get better at ‘getting the right skills at the right time for the right purpose.
If you take a close look at this list, prepared from my hastily scribbled-down notes, you’ll get a sense of what keeps a modern-day CEO up at night.
Now add Covid to the list – we’re moving beyond survival mode into a new world of volatility, faster change, and more.