Life would be much easier if you could read your CEO’s mind, wouldn’t it?
While that may not be possible, a new survey does shed light on what CEOs are thinking about every day, providing an insight into what your concerns and priorities should be now and in the future.
The survey by PwC of 1,379 CEOs around the world finds that these top leaders are confident about the prospects for business growth, with 38% of the CEOs responding that they’re optimistic about their company’s bottom line in the next year. Among American CEOs, 55% say that they’re looking for new M&A opportunities this year.
Still, that doesn’t mean CEOs aren’t concerned about remaining competitive, as the increasing globalization of business means they worry about economic uncertainty, overregulation and skills shortages.
One of the ways that CEOs plan to stay competitive is through technology. Edward H. Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc., says that “technology is our lifeblood. That’s our stream of innovation. That’s our R&D.”
Bastian says that because customers want to “be in more control of their experience,” technology is the way to make that happen.
Mark Fields, CEO of Ford Motor Co., agrees that technology is a game-changer for companies.
“I believe that there are a number of technologies that are going to change the way we live and work,” Fields says.
Tamara Ingram, CEO of J. Walter Thompson, says that while technology has “changed everything,” she believes that some things remain unaltered.
“What really remains the same is understanding and connecting human truth to content that engages and motivates people,” Ingram says.
It’s clear from the CEOs interviewed that they want to strike the right balance between technology and human creativity in order to best drive innovation, which nearly of quarter of them consider their top priority.
That’s because without innovation, “companies die over time,” Fields says.
CEOs also report that to drive innovation, a company’s culture needs to support a diverse workforce and underscore the importance of supporting employees who come up with new suggestions.
“Employees are often the ones who come up with the best ideas, and they often have a fresh insight,” says Anya Babbitt, founder and CEO of SPLT. “We encourage our employees to be intrapreneurs and encourage them to take ownership. That way you’re stimulating innovation rather suppressing it.”
Delta’s Bastian says that “innovation is a hallmark to creativity…it’s the key to everything we do. We don’t put rearview mirrors on airplanes.”
Robert Swaak, vice chairman of clients and markets for PwC, says in his analysis that he believes CEO optimism shown in the survey is linked to their investment in innovation and their willingness to find the right partners for projects. For example, the survey shows that 48% of CEOs are turning to strategic alliances or joint ventures to drive growth and profitability, while 28% of CEOs say they are instead looking at collaborating with entrepreneurs or start-ups.
“A keenness to work with disruptors is particularly evident in sectors that are at the forefront of digital transformation, such as technology, media and telecommunications and financial services,”
The survey also reveals that 64% of CEOs believe how their company manages data will be a differentiating factor in the future.
“Companies like us will go from just looking at data and having it provide hindsight – or maybe insight – to turning it into foresight and being able to anticipate people’s wants and needs,” Fields says.
Jennifer Ho, global data and analytics risk assurance leader for PwC, says that as companies move into using more data, they need to ensure that it’s “credible and trustworthy” to make faster and better-informed decisions.
“Data is one of the most valuable assets a company possesses,” Ho explains. “Yet many companies fail to unlock the full value of their data because they manage it in a fragmented fashion. Often, organizations lack a standardized and coordinated approach to data governance, management and analytics.”
Ho says that while many companies are jumping into big data with their current resources or investing more in technology, they first must take the “essential first step” of thinking about their critical business issues. For example, does the business want to focus on optimizing its supply chain? Customer analysis? Workforce alignment?
While big data can mean different things to different people in an organization, the focus of it should be about making “faster, smarter and more confident business decisions,” Ho says.
How do you think CEOs will strike the right balance between technology and human creativity in order to best drive innovation?