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Acting With Agility: The New Business Currency

U.S. CEOs on building resilient organizations amid rapid change


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Today the speed of change seems only to increase, and I think any business leader would agree with that simple observation. The effects of advancing technology, increasing globalization and evolving customer expectations mean that standing still is not an option.

When I meet with CEOs and other business leaders in Denver, Boulder and across the country, I hear lots of concerns about the ever-changing business landscape. They worry about their businesses being disrupted, about how to approach a major transformation, what sort of new technology to adopt and whether their systems are truly secure from cyber intruders.

But I also hear some inspiring talk of how they plan to become more agile and move more quickly in order to fend off competition and continue to grow. Most are bullish on their prospects. My conversations in many ways reflect what 400 CEOs nationally have told us in the KPMG U.S. CEO Outlook 2019 report, which included CEO perspectives on the business landscape over the next three years.

Notably, two-thirds told us that acting with agility is the new currency of business and that being too slow can lead to obsolescence. Surprisingly just 14 percent thought so last year.

KPMG also found that amid constant disruption and change, proactive leaders are executing agile, multi-faceted growth strategies that include M&A, alliances with third parties, investment in emerging markets and accelerating innovation and collaboration within their organizations.

What I found most interesting was how these CEOs plan to deal with disruption and build more resilient organizations. I think these findings are relevant to business leaders here in Colorado.

The findings point to four areas of focus for CEOs looking to build a more resilient organization.

Strive for Resilient Growth

To thrive and not just survive, it is crucial for organizations to focus on attaining resilient growth by incorporating sustainable growth goals in business strategies. Such resilience can also be achieved by:

  • Creating value in the communities they operate in and in the markets they serve.
  • Continuing to focus on internal innovation and R&D investments.‚Äč
  • Ensuring that the partnerships they form with other organizations will succeed by aligning market opportunities and shared strategy and assessing the ability to unite corporate cultures.

Make Agility a Top Priority

Being too slow in business can lead to irrelevance. CEOs acknowledge that their organizations’ growth relies on their ability to challenge and disrupt any business model, but they are less inclined to do so compared to a year ago.  To achieve resilience, CEOs need to first redefine it by making agility – defined as a set of mature innovation processes – a top capability that helps ensure companies can respond to new market disruption as part of normal business activity and keep the pace inside the company at least on par with the external pace of change. This can also be achieved by:

  • Adopting a broad view of agility that includes integration of the innovation process with funding and outcomes tracking.
  • Creating an innovation process that is repeatable, scalable and pervasive.
  • Focusing on improving innovation structures and creating formal innovation frameworks that incorporate the latest technologies.

Balance Technology Risks and Opportunities

Technology is a key driver of disruption and it is also the top risk. To stay competitive and build the trust of stakeholders, CEOs need to balance technology risks and opportunities by:

  • Recognizing that advanced technology implementations are a multi-step process, and the complexity, scope and timing of such projects can be a moving target, especially with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). Organizations that gain this advantage will likely find themselves in a much better position to expand their business.
  • Embedding cyber security in change programs so that it is more aligned with enterprise risk and not viewed as a standalone solution, but rather a competitive advantage to gain stakeholder trust.

Take a “People First” Approach

CEOs recognize that in this technology-driven era, it all comes down to people. Creating shareholder value starts with creating value for all stakeholders. This “people first” approach should include:

  • Ensuring continued modernization of the workforce includes strategic hiring and skills development.
  • Up-skilling and re-skilling the current workforce to deal with outmoded technologies.
  • Creating a purpose-driven culture where employees are highly engaged and rewarded for creativity.

Agility or irrelevance – that’s the choice that today’s CEOs must make to continue to stay competitive and grow. To build a more resilient organization, CEOs need to focus on internal innovation and R& D investments; embed cyber security in change programs; balance technology risks and opportunities; and take a “people first” approach that modernizes the workforce and creates value for all stakeholders.  

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Mike Bearup

Mike Bearup is the office managing partner at KPMG LLP. With more than 30 years of experience in the Colorado marketplace, he provides audit and business advisory services to the technology, biotech, software, manufacturing, medical device and venture capital industries. Bearup works with a number of audit committee members on corporate governance matters.

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