IBM CEO Survey: Decide When You Know Enough, Not Everything

Last Updated May 18, 2010 9:42 AM EDT

Business leaders are concerned about their ability to cope with the pace of change in the commercial landscape and they expect their roles to become faster and looser.

According to the latest IBM CEO survey of 1,500 business leaders around the world, over half feel there is a widening gap between the volatility of the business environment expected to take place and their ability to deal with them.

The research released today points to three leadership skills that respondents identified as the most important in weathering the increasing complexity of the business world, whether it's dealing with new markets, adapting to a changing skill pool or reacting to increased government intervention:

  • Embodying creative leadership
  • Reinventing customer relationships
  • Building operational dexterity
The conclusions the in-house team at IBM has come to are at best opaque and at worst say nothing that anyone, who has kept their ear to the ground, has not heard before. However there are some interesting factors that the research has thrown up which haven't been discussed to death:
  1. Quick decision-making: the research identified the need for leaders to react quickly to changes in the market and this may preclude all the information coming in before a decision has to be made. Acting on a partial picture may be necessary. Go when you think you know enough.
  2. Embrace ambiguity: Again, leaders need to accept that from now on, the way ahead isn't always clear and decisions need to be taken without a definitive roadmap. Course-correct when you need to.
  3. Leapfrog the tried and tested: With no clear path in the future, established management styles and strategies have less value. Now is the time to disrupt the corporate culture and innovate new ways of doing business.
  4. Avoid fixed costs: If you aren't sure what is going to happen in the future, being tied into a cost structure could prevent you from reacting to an as yet unseen opportunity or danger. If you can keep your costs fluid, you can scale up to meet opportunities and scale vulnerable operations down without having to throw good money after bad.
  5. Prepare for a flattened management structure: The emphasis the survey's findings have on operational simplicity and quick decision making naturally point to even more links being removed from the chain of command. This will mean business leaders to be more comfortable with people nearer to the coal-face and raises questions about where in-house succession candidates are going to come from.
(Pic: Dan Queiroz cc2.0)