Putting people over profit a priority for CEOs, finds IBM
For the majority of high-performing company CEOs, those in the top 20% for revenue growth, empowering a remote workforce is a top leadership challenge over the next few years.
That’s according to IBM’s annual CEO study, IBM Institute for Business Value’s 2021 CEO Study, which collates insights from 3,000 CEOs across 26 industries and nearly 50 countries.
The report found that remote work will become a permanent fixture as part of a hybrid workforce that blends in-person employees with virtual colleagues and as such will shift organisational culture and demand new management approaches and upgraded executive capabilities.
Wellbeing is a priority for CEOs
As part of this commitment to remote working support, 77% of outperforming company CEOs report plans to prioritise employee wellbeing even if it affects near-term profitability, reflecting that such organisations are putting people first over profit and prioritising talent.
"The COVID-19 pandemic challenged many leaders to focus on what's essential, like their people," said Mark Foster, senior vice president, IBM Services. "Many employees' expectations of their employers have significantly changed. The 'anywhere' workforce can require leaders to provide agile technology, to adopt more empathetic leadership models that prioritize employee wellbeing and to champion flexible and inclusive cultures."
This finding reinforces data from another IBV study, Accelerating the journey to HR 3.0, which found that CHROs at outperforming organizations reported their companies “support as a core value” the physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing of their employees at rates nearly three times those of underperforming companies.
“The far most important capability is human capability,” says Younus Al Nasser, CEO of Smart Dubai, the government agency that facilitates the city’s digital transformation. “Technology advancements come when you have the right human capabilities.”
What employee wellbeing means to CEOs
This support has to be not just well-intended, but well-received, however. A C-suite focus on employee wellbeing may not be enough if the employees themselves aren’t feeling the love.
In many organisations, employees have felt unenthusiastic about corporate efforts. Another of IBM’s recent reports, Closing The Chasm compared employer perspectives with those of employees and found that while 80% of executives believed they were supporting the physical and emotional health of employees, only 46% of employees felt they were being supported.
Questions therefore emerge about how companies re-engage around collaboration and deliver opportunities for teams to be together again.
IBM recommends that leaders consider carefully the longer-term challenge of a hybrid work environment, including things like providing employees with digital, cloud-enabled tools for collaboration, preventing employee burnout, or sustaining company culture with a focus on diversity and inclusion.
How innovation is transforming government
According to Washington Technology’s Top 100 list, Leidos is the largest IT provider to the government. But as Lieutenant General William J. Bender explains, “that barely scratches the surface” of the company’s portfolio and drive for innovation.
Bender, who spent three and a half decades in the military, including a stint as the U.S. Air Force’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), has seen action in the field and in technology during that time, and it runs in the family. Bender’s son is an F-16 instructor pilot. So it stands to reason Bender Senior intends to ensure a thriving technological base for the U.S. Air Force. “What we’re really doing here is transforming the federal government from the industrial age into the information age and doing it hand-in-hand with industry,” he says.
The significant changes that have taken place in the wider technology world are precisely the capabilities Leidos is trying to pilot the U.S. Air Force through. It boils down to developing cyberspace as a new domain of battle, globally connected and constantly challenged by the threat of cybersecurity attacks.
“We recognize the importance of the U.S. Air Force’s missions,” says Bender, “and making sure they achieve those missions. We sit side-by-side with the air combat command, intelligence surveillance, and reconnaissance infrastructure across the Air Force. There are multiple large programs where the Air Force is partnering with Leidos to ensure their mission is successfully accomplished 24/7/365. In this company, we’re all in on making sure there’s no drop in capability.”
That partnership relies on a shared understanding of delivering successful national security outcomes, really understanding the mission at hand, and Leidos’ long-standing relationship of over 50 years with the federal government.
To look at where technology is going, Bender thinks it is important to look back at the last 10 to 15 years. “What we’ve seen is a complete shift in how technology gets developed,” he says. “It used to be that the government invested aggressively in research and development, and some of those technologies, once they were launched in a military context, would find their way into the commercial space. That has shifted almost a hundred percent now, where the bulk of the research and development dollars and the development of tech-explicit technologies takes place in the commercial sector.”
“There’s a long-standing desire to adopt commercial technology into defense applications, but it’s had a hard time crossing the ‘valley of death’ [government slang for commercial technologies and partnerships that fail to effectively transition into government missions]. Increasingly we’re able to do that. We need to look at open architectures and open systems for a true plug-and-play capability. Instead of buying it now and trying to guess what it’s going to be used for 12 years from now, it should be evolving iteratively.”