CEOs feel like they are making decisions in a world moving in ‘dog years’

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  • Suzy Welch says the certainty that often defines the C-suite has been replaced by politeness: “Think about how many times a day you say ‘I don’t know’ and how much more of it is accepted. ,” she said during the CNBC Leadership. Exchange virtual events on Wednesdays.
  • Silicon Valley Bank CEO Greg Baker said he expects the decisions they make today will need to be reconsidered in at least three months.
  • “It’s a seismic change, but we don’t know what the end point is,” said National Instruments CEO Eric Starkloff.

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Suzy Welch thought she and other leaders were experiencing decision-making fatigue during the pandemic, but it was something else, something new happening in the C-suite that she thinks will ultimately benefit leaders.

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“It was really learning fatigue, learning new things every day, and there are only so many new things you can process,” the management expert and CNBC contributor said during a CNBC Leadership Exchange on Wednesday with CEOs across a wide range of industries.

“We’ll get out of this a lot better, but it’s a lot,” Welch said.

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Even though many CEOs say business is doing great and that change has gone better than expected during the pandemic, they still feel there is a fog of decision-making, especially during periods of turmoil in the way we do things. When it comes to employees.

Even leaders accustomed to the fast pace of innovation say what is happening now is unlike anything they have experienced in the past. “Things are happening so fast that it’s like living in a world of dog years,” said Greg Baker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank. Baker said that for his firm and many of its clients, “the biggest challenge is how fast things are moving. … it seems like change is happening at seven times the speed.”

“And at the same time seven or seventy times less visibility,” interjected Welch. “Put those two things together, and there you are.”

The need to be more flexible than ever with decisions, including a firm’s return to office strategy, is part of a scenario in which CEOs like Baker expect to quickly and accurately interrogate management options. “Whatever way forward we decide, after three months, we will change it again,” he said.

Some CEOs got their start during the early days of the pandemic, a crash course in the unprecedented, including Eric Starkloff, CEO of National Instruments. His first two tasks were to set up a crisis team and to shut down the engineering company’s operations in China. While business has been good since then, in other ways he said it doesn’t look like the situation has eased much since the worst of Covid. “It is a folly to predict the future with seismic variation of change,” Starkloff said. “It’s hard to manage employees through that uncertainty.”

man and hybrid work

The CEO’s relationship with employees is the focus and new pain point of leaders in an increasingly remote and hybrid work world. “Creating culture on computers is a new thing for many of us,” Welch said.

There are clear benefits, according to Akamai Technologies CEO Tom Leighton, who said “many” of his firm’s employees will work from home “forever”. And he added that “it’s healthier to spend time on the treadmill than commuting.”

Company leaders recently indicated to CNBC that they are “at their wit’s end” in an effort to bring workers back, and the CEO of the CNBC Leadership Exchange said voluntary returns for vaccinated workers have begun, returning The number of people is less. The new work structures are here to stay, but they are concerned about the toll the nearly two years of working from home take on individual employees and the organizational culture.

Tony Coles, president and CEO of Cerevel Therapeutics, a neuroscience firm that took two companies public during the pandemic, said challenges in the life sciences sector include blocking and tackling, from ensuring that clinical trials are conducted. Keeping FDA on track is tamed in conversations, but the “hard part,” Coles said, “is the loss of human touch.” While Cerevel’s essential lab workers were back in the office early, the office workers still haven’t returned and Coles said, “We’re seeing the loss of human contact … and are beginning to see signs of wear and tear. It worries me a lot.”

Utility Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph Izzo said his company learned during the pandemic that focusing on employees reporting to work and how to keep them safe has resulted in not enough attention being paid to workers at home. could. “There is tremendous emotional exhaustion for the stay-at-home staff,” he said. “You have to be a good spouse, parent, teacher, and it’s impossible to do everything at the same time. To do well is hard enough.”

Dan Amos, the CEO of Aflac for 31 years, said he is writing more handwritten notes to employees than “ever in my life.”

“The quarter ended up for sale and I wrote 80 notes, just very small notes… trying to connect with people to let them know they were important,” Amos said. “And it’s something I really had to work on.”

“Hybrid is harder than sending everyone out to work remotely,” said Verizon Business CEO Tammy Irwin. “So that’s what we’re really struggling with, how does what we do instead of where you go.”

If companies return to a world where half the meeting attendees are in person and half are engaging by video, “I guarantee you half will be out of place online,” said Navient CEO Jack Raymondi. “And that will be a really significant challenge as we move into this next phase.”

According to Tiger Thiagarajan, CEO of global consulting firm Genpact, hybrid work models may be “well-organized”, but like many CEOs, he remains concerned about building and maintaining a culture in the new work paradigm. “Many of our youth workers have said they lack apprenticeships and the ability to ‘learn from people like you’.” It’s hard and I don’t know how to solve it, and I think the world is grappling with it. … There is a danger of losing some things. Some of the things we used to have, we need to bring back along with all the things we learned. That’s the hard part of the mix,” he said.

Genpact has established some simple rules for the new work environment, and as more employees look to return to offices on a hybrid basis. Genpact employees are being asked to think of coming into the office as “team sport.”

“It is more important than the persons coming back,” said Thiagarajan. “And don’t come back if it’s all Zoom calls.” He said that the way of working is fine, but the purpose of returning to the office is defeated.

Labor shortage, supply chain bottlenecks

Amid the broader human dimension to decision-making and employer-employee relations, the global economy is grappling with labor shortages and supply chain cracks, testing these leaders in distinctive ways.

While a work world leaning in tech has opened up recruitment opportunities from anywhere, and firms including Cerewell have lifted restrictions on requiring C-suite executives to relocate to their Boston base, labor shortages have hit some organizations hard. is hitting.

Howard University Hospital CEO Anita Jenkins said staffing is a huge issue for her hospital system. “The pandemic created a market that didn’t exist like it did. [Nurses] You can get twice as much money as before, and they’re going for the money,” she said, even if it means traveling long distances. “All hospitals and health care centers vie for the same people. or fewer people,” she said.

The re-evaluation of life and work due to the pandemic is also taking a toll on staffing, Jenkins said, with veteran nurses who had five to seven years of a typical career now saying, “I am done. Going to spend. My family, I’m going to be safe. I’m going to get out of that workplace. … We’re struggling with the employees and ‘we’ are all over the country.”

The “double-edged sword” of the supply chain is being felt in the JM Smucker company, its CEO Mark Smucker said. Business is strong. More people are making breakfast and lunch at home and drinking more coffee, and adopting more pets, and all these pandemic life trends have been good for the company’s business units. But “the supply chain has been tough,” Smucker said. While consumers have felt the pain in grocery stores since the start of the pandemic, he said it has been hard on workers as well. “The time commitment required for the supply chain is exhausting for people, and we need to find ways to give them a break,” he said.

The line between work and life ‘shattered’

Leaders are drawn to guide organizations from Point A to Point B, but in the current world, they are more willing to accept the limits of their knowledge and skills that led them to their leadership positions.

“I wonder if there’s any information left,” Welch said. “It used to be quite endemic in the C-suite, the lack of humility, and you come out with the knowledge that tomorrow you may know absolutely nothing.”

“We all got into these chairs as CEOs because we are really good at working inside organizations, but the past 18 months, in particular, have led us to look to outside organizations and expand our scope, ” said Cole. “I’m primarily a consoler and a main listener and a predominantly black person. There were just so many different roles in responding to the external environment.”

“Whatever the line between work-life and rest of life was completely shattered,” Starkloff said. In the leadership approach, he said, this requires leadership to be more authentic and vulnerable and holistic. “And it’s not going back. It’s a permanent change in the interaction between employer and employee,” he said.

This is an example of an experiment that will need to be continued after the pandemic nadir. “We’re an engineering company and we already said, we can’t predict this, so we’ll take an engineering approach and experiment like crazy and measure,” Starkloff said.

This experiment may not only be about the physical redesign of facilities and the conversion of office space into meeting rooms, but also work criteria for employees. “Start experimenting,” he said. “Come in two days a week, do a hybrid meeting, see how it works. It’s all essentially quick and fast experiments that we can tweak and develop and ‘dog years’ at the pace of change. can learn.” said.


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