ThoughtWorks, a software consultancy, released a report, “The Next Big Disruption: Courageous Executives”, revealing what sets top business leaders apart from their competition. The report profiles an elite segment of C-Suite leaders referred to as “Courageous Executives” in the US, the UK, Australia and India and the findings underscore the critical role technology plays in business strategy, from navigating the chaos of digital transformation to how they’re setting their business up for future success. The report also sheds light on the leadership styles of Courageous Executives including their tolerance for risk and failure, their use of customer insights and the ways leaders in all four countries are preparing for the future of work.
This report, developed by ThoughtWorks in partnership with research agency Northstar, features insight from Fortune 100 C-Suite executives who are: advocates for digital transformation; have an active role in directing how technology enables their business; have seen their company’s revenue or profit increase significantly due to a recent technology change; and 85 percent of which self-identified as risk takers.
“As companies across all industries embrace the changes of our increasingly digital world, we’re seeing leaders at the helm of these companies dive deeper into how technology is implemented and how it works,” said ThoughtWorks President and CEO, Guo Xiao. “I began my time in the industry as a developer, giving me the tools I needed to approach business with a technology first perspective. Executives across the globe are learning that a strong grasp of technology matters and they’re finding ways to adapt. Our findings show that 54 percent of Courageous Executives have developed a deep understanding of technology with a remarkable 57 percent of these leaders reporting having written code,” noted Xiao. "A tenacious commitment to embrace technology is what today sets apart truly Courageous Executives."
On this brand of executives, Sudhir Tiwari, Managing Director, ThoughtWorks, India has this to say, “The Post Digital world, characterized by rapidly shifting competitive forces, in whatever industry we are in, needs courageous leaders. Courageous Executives are those who recognize the world as an amorphous rather than a monolithic crystalline place, needing relentless effort in pulling together, alignment and competencies from previously unthought places. Given little history, the Courageous Executive is a sum-product of Risk, Ambition and Adaptability.”
According to the report, notable themes uniting Courageous Executives include:
Proactive Approach to Technology Changes
According to the report, to keep pace and anticipate future technology shifts, Courageous Executives conduct research, analyze their competitors, troubleshoot tech challenges and hire subject matter experts. A majority of Courageous Executives (65 percent) say that digitizing and adapting to new technology is a top business priority followed by growth.
Research – 63 percent of leaders do their own research to stay ahead of technology changes. Top trends they’re exploring include security threats; human and machine interaction; new hardware, software and operational platforms; machine learning and artificial intelligence; virtual reality and augmented reality.
Competitor Analysis – In all four countries, big tech decisions are most often fueled by competition. Asked to identify the largest driver motivating change, 47 percent pointed to their competitors.
Tolerance for Risk and Willingness to Fail
Understanding risks and its impact on ongoing business success is an important characteristic of a Courageous Executive along with the ability to rebound after a perceived failure.
Appetite for Risk - In fact, 87 percent of all executives agree that taking risks is necessary to achieve goals and maintain a strong competitive advantage with 62 percent pointing to their willingness to take risks their competitors won’t as a key differentiator.
Failing Well - Courageous Executives reported their most common reaction to these setbacks was to focus on what went right with the second being to stay as positive as possible. When asked how failure affected their employees, 54 percent globally said that they believed failure made them even more motivated to succeed.
Use of Customer Insights
Throughout the world, courageous leaders recognize the necessity of maintaining a close connection to their customers. 91 percent report that customer input directly informs their strategic decision-making. While there is some agreement as to the best methods for gathering that customer input, there’s still a lack of consensus among executives when it comes to what data they’re collecting and who is assessing the insights.
Data Source - Overall, the most common source of insight is customer research, followed by social feeds which are monitored by 68 percent of Australian, 60 percent of UK and Indian and only 38 percent of US leaders. Other ways executives gather information includes using analytics from a content management system or implementing a designated customer insights task force.
Customer Engagement - Gathering data from multiple sources is universally valued, but 87 percent of executives report having an internal team dedicated to their customers. Additionally, 58 percent of US and 48 percent of Australian executives say they speak to their customers themselves, which is far more than 32 percent in India and 22 percent in the UK.
The Future of Work
Across continents, nearly half of all courageous leaders describe their company culture as “team-first,” meaning they hire primarily for cultural fit, with skills and experience the second consideration. A third define their company as having an “elite” culture, described as hiring only the best to change the world by untested means.
Subject Matter Experts - An overwhelming majority of Courageous Executives (90 percent) emphasized the importance of key hires, stating that discovering subject matter experts and new talents helps their context and credibility and is crucial to success.
Tech’s Impact - 70 percent believe that replacing white-collar workers with technology is a natural progression and to be expected. To prepare for the potential impact of technology on the workforce, 87 percent of leaders admit to researching new technologies that may help them save on staff costs. 83 percent also agree that they’re preparing for the impact of technology replacing their workers by limiting new hires to reduce ongoing overhead.