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May, 22nd 2012
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Guest Post by: Bridget Van Kralingen, Senior Vice President, IBM Global Business Services

Every two years since 2004, IBM’s consultants have met with CEO and public sector leaders worldwide to understand their perspectives on issues ranging from globalization to talent. And every time, CEOs consistently identified market forces as the biggest driver of change.

That changed this year.

For the first time — and despite the state of large swaths of the global economy – CEOs placed “technology” atop the list of issues they believe will exert the strongest influence on their strategic directions.

We found this surprising. But even more unexpected was technology’s expected impact.

In our conversations, it became apparent that CEOs are looking beyond the well-documented benefits of connected supply chains and more integrated back-office systems. CEOs now see technology as the critical enabler of relationships – connecting customers, employees and partners to each other in new ways.

Their view? Technology, rather than depersonalizing human relationships, has the power to deepen and even reinvent them.

  • From management behavior based on 20th century notions of hierarchy to the centrality of more open organizations and employee collaboration as the surest path to innovation, three-quarters of CEOs view collaboration as the most important trait they seek in employees.
  •  CEOs expect social media to surge from their least preferred means to engage customers today to become second in terms of impact, behind only face to face. Seven out of 10 CEO agree that customers should no longer be constrained to neatly defined segmentations. Each individual expects to be understood and engaged as such.
  • Six out of 10 CEOs have reconsidered the efficacy of do-it-on-your-own innovation, in favor of the power of partnerships.

Their views come with big implications for strategy as well as structure.

Many of the enterprises outperforming their peers are already moving to far more open cultures, partnering more extensively and tackling the most disruptive forms of new innovation. They’re building their analytic muscle to respond with relevance and immediacy to the step-change in customer strategy. And across all organizations, CEOs ranked values, collaboration, and purpose as the top three attributes to attract talent.

Shaun Coffey, CEO of Industrial Research Ltd., aptly expressed the new view of leadership. “As CEOs, we need new ways of running the organization – or more accurately, we need novel ways of letting the organization run.”

If you think about that statement and what it implies – unleashing the talent of your employees and partners to go after the entirely new expectations of customers, it reflects a decidedly optimistic view of the potential for technology to create more social enterprises — and drive progress, not just change.

Download IBM’s 5th CEO study “Leading through Connections” – a perspective from more than 1700 CEOs and public sector leaders worldwide at www.ibm.com/ceostudy.

Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #CEOConnect

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