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ATD Blog

Leading Through Connections


Mon Oct 01 2012


 “Leading Through Connections”, IBM’s report on its 2012 survey of global CEOs, reveals a focus on being more open, engaged, and connected, reflecting the intention to come to terms with changes in the workplace wrought by digital, mobile, and social technology.

 “For some time, businesses have been refining and optimizing their networks of suppliers and partners. But something just as meaningful has been happening – the sudden convergence of the digital, social, and mobile spheres – connecting customers, employees and partners in new ways to organizations and to each other.


“In speaking face-to-face with 1,709 CEOs, general managers and senior public sector leaders around the globe, leaders confirmed that our new connected era is changing how people engage. How are CEOs responding to the complexity of increasingly interconnected organizations, markets, societies, and governments? Our key findings center on:

  • Employees: empowering employees through values

  • Customers: engaging customers as individuals

  • Partnering: amplifying innovation with partnerships.”

The report recommends balancing organizational openness with control by emphasizing employee values, collaboration, and the organizational mission. CEOs whom the study classifies as outperformers empower their employees through openness in three ways:

  1. Replace rule books with shared beliefs. Recalibrate controls and build values employees will live out.

  2. Build future-proof employees. Create unconventional teams and empower high-value employee networks.

  3. Provide the means to collaborate at scale. Pursue social collaboration and devise incentives.

A key finding is that CEOs plan to change their organizations through external collaboration and partnerships. More than half – 53 percent -  say their most significant changes will be in the way they partner and collaborate with other organizations, especially to foster innovation. They will be more likely to move into new industries or invent new ones than to simply create new products and to share data and control of the data with partners

To do this, organizations will need better understanding of individual customer’s needs, a task the report says will require “analytical muscle”. And organizations will need to build cultures capable of trusting their partners.

Development needed


Significantly for the learning function, many of these changes require more development of employees and leaders and a new talent mix. The CEOs surveyed cited human capital as the number one source of sustained economic value for their organizations. Hinting at a role for the learning function, the report states “Perhaps most important, organizations must help employees develop traits to excel in this type of {open and collaborative} environment.” The survey found that CEOs regard people skills as the second largest external force driving change – second only to technology.

Leaders especially will need to develop skills for succeeding in an open and collaborative culture where technology is creating new ways to connect and changing the structure and span of control in organizations. The report specifies these leadership traits as critical:

  • Inspirational leadership

  • Customer obsession

  • Leadership teaming across the C suite

“To lead in unfamiliar territory amid constant change, CEOs will need to learn from their own networks. They will need to assemble those networks like portfolios — with generational, geographic, institutional diversity. Then, they’ll need to help their organizations do the same.”

Employees too will need new skills, which the report says don’t exist yet. “Today, it’s virtually impossible for CEOs to find the future skills they will need — because they don’t yet exist. Bombarded by change, most organizations simply cannot envision the functional capabilities needed two or three years from now. Conventional training faces some of the same challenges. By the time courses are designed and delivered, the subject skills are already becoming outdated.

“Instead, CEOs are increasingly focused on finding employees with the ability to constantly reinvent themselves. These employees are comfortable with change; they learn as they go often from others’ experiences.”


As a result, the report says, companies will seek employees who are collaborative, communicative, creative, and flexible. Or they will develop those traits through their talent management efforts. Experiential learning is recommended, especially that which exposes employees to a broad range of experiences and situations and includes external influences such as customers and partners.

The IBM report, “Leading Through Connections”, may be downloaded at http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/en/c-suite/ceostudy2012/

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