'

What CEOs really want -- and how IT can provide it

New IBM global study of 1,500 CEOs finds longings for greater customer intimacy and less complexity top wish lists.

Intimacy, simplicity and creativity.  Not words you would associate with the pressing business desires of a CEO, but these are qualities that they long for, in a big way. In fact, CEOs that are more adept at instilling these qualities into their organization’s operations are those that are seeing the best results in this crazy world in which we operate. This is the finding of a study released by IBM, summarizing the attitudes and opinions of more than 1,500 decision-makers from across the globe. The study examined the habits of highly effective CEOs — called “standouts” — and found this group was much more likely to embrace qualities such as customer intimacy, simplicity and creativity.

Customer intimacy: Eighty-eight percent of all CEOs said getting closer to the customer as the most important dimension to realize their strategy in the next five years. “The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. They are adopting new channels to engage and stay in tune with customers. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number-one priority.” Among the standout group, CEOs were 18% more likely to be focused on insight and intelligence to achieve strategy.

The key is to be able to capture and analyze the data that is flowing from these channels. IBM parsed out those CEOs and organizations that seemed to be leading the pack, and examined where they stood in regard to customer engagements. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number-one priority.” Among this standout group, CEOs were 18% more likely to be focused on insight and intelligence to achieve strategy. “The emergence of advanced technologies like business analytics can help uncover previously hidden correlations and patterns, and provide greater clarity and certainty when making many business decisions.”

Simplicity: The most acute challenge cited in IBM’s past three global CEO studies was coping with the pace of change. Now, complexity appears to be the greatest headache. The world is interconnected as never before, and technology has been advancing at a breakneck speed. many CEOs expressed the need to simplify their operating strategies in order to better manage complexity.  The survey also found that standouts were 30% more likely than others to be focused on simplification.  This sense of simplification needs to be deeply embedded within the corporate culture, not a special program, the survey report adds. “The CEOs we spoke with expressed a need for simplification that extends beyond lean processes and easier-to-use products to more useful and streamlined interactions with their customers, employees and partners.”

Simplicity leads to dexterity. The survey refined dexterous organizations as those led by CEOs “who recognized the value of fast decisions, an iterative approach to strategy and the ability to execute with speed.”  This group is more likely to adopt a service model approach through outsourcing and partnering, avoiding fixed costs wherever possible, and three-fourths “plan to change their operations to increase cost variability.” Compared to other CEOs, dexterous leaders expect 20% more future revenue to come from new sources, IBM reports.

Creativity: Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs participating in the study. “Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate. Interestingly, the group that leads in dexterity was 19% more likely to view creativity as a top leadership quality.

(Photo credit: Interior of the o2 Hotel, showing the concierge area, by Badudoy, via Wikimedia Commons)