Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Uncertainty heads key concerns of CEOs

Research released by Australian technology company Pronto Software in partnership with The CEO Institute reveals the key concerns facing Australian CEOs in 2017.

The survey was completed in January 2017 by more than 185 CEOs from various industries, including the resources, manufacturing, retail and imports sectors. This research follows a similar studies undertaken by the partners in 2015 and 2016.

A comprehensive analysis of the 2017 survey showed five top concerns for CEOs, which are resulting from both industry and economic pressures.

Current economic and political environment

Twenty-eight per cent of the CEO respondents are finding it hard to plan for the future amid 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 President Trump in the US 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

Another major concern – for one-fifth of the group – is their organisations’ ability to keep up with technological advances. This issue may have been demoted from the top spot it held in the 2016 survey, but the topic remains an important – and somewhat polarising – preoccupation for CEOs. Interestingly, 48 per cent of the 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 per cent of the CEOs. They say change calls for the transformation of operational processes and adaptation of organisational strategies and 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: “In order 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 per cent of respondents, a key concern for the rest of the year will be to “find growth in a low growth economic environment,” as one CEO puts 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,” says another CEO. “Developing niche products for niche markets will buy us some time while things stabilise,” adds another.”

Managing and retaining staff

In 2015, hiring and retaining staff was the leading concern of CEOs and in 2016 they placed it second. Today, it is only an issue for 11 per cent, 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,” says one respondent. “It’s more about finding competent people who have the right skill and specialty we need at a specific moment in time.”

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