Tuesday 9 April 2019 10:41 am

Technology, leadership, and change – business leaders must prepare for their next act

"Everything flows, nothing stands still” (Heraclitus, 501 BC). Quite a lot has changed in 2,500 years, but that quote still rings true. We are surrounded by a flow of constant and accelerated change. And in such times of change, the art of decision-making is more significant than ever.

While this added weight of responsibility might in some ways feel overbearing, it should also be seen as a real opportunity. So how are UK business leaders looking to navigate change, and how do they envision their company’s “next act”?

A sense of urgency

Cisco surveyed 1,000 UK business leaders to answer these questions and work out what they believe will be essential for survival now and in the future.

What became clear during these conversations was the real sense of urgency from respondents; over 80 per cent have already set themselves a deadline of 2020 to make significant changes to their business. Whatever they plan to do, they plan to do it quickly, and with a focus on partnerships, people, and purpose.

From a technology perspective, navigating change was seen to be a battle best won with the support of intelligent tech, powered by the likes of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Just under 80 per cent believe that the ability to automate will be crucial to their business progression – especially when it comes to supporting their decision-making. Meanwhile, 71 per cent of leaders state that they themselves should be responsible for making changes to their business due to new technologies.

With this desire from businesses to implement new intelligent tech has come a serious demand for the skills required to make best use of them.

Talk of a skills gap is not new, but what this also means is that there is a much sharper focus on retainment and the continual development of skill sets – 74 per cent of those surveyed indicated that they are already actively trying to increase access to new skills for their existing employees.

We can expect more businesses to ensure that they have measures in place which enable employees to develop and retain skills that not only help realise the company’s strategy, but their staff’s own long-term ambitions.

Keeping seats filled

While themes of social responsibility and trust wouldn’t be unfamiliar talking points in the company boardroom, they have grown in their importance. In fact, 69 per cent of leaders now agree that what their business undertakes must bring wider benefits to society.

What is likely spurring these top-level conversations is the realisation that both employees and consumers alike are far more likely to retain loyalty to businesses that care about this wider impact. We found that 70 per cent of consumers and 60 per cent of employees share this view, with 43 per cent of employees stating that they believe that working for a business that exudes these values is far more important than an increase to their salary.

Expect more firms to try and hold employee loyalty with stronger demonstrations of purpose before 2020.

Actions speak louder

Whichever direction that UK business leaders decide to take, their “next act” will greatly impact how individuals work, and who they decide to work for.

Their instincts and sense of direction for the year ahead do seem promising. But the wider workforce must see these beliefs on training, intelligent technologies, and trust converted into actions. These will be critical for winning the hearts and minds of both customers and employees alike.

They will also prove crucial for continuing to support a thriving UK digital economy – something we all want to continue to see.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.