Efficiency, Customer Satisfaction, Faster Decision-Making: 5 Steps for the Midsize CEO
The COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and voluminous ransomware events have put midsize firms and their CEOs to the test. And the challenges continue.
“Midsize companies are facing higher customer expectations and stronger competition, especially based on the economic forces of the past 18 or 19 months,” says Jeff Scariano, SVP of the Revenue Generation Group at NTT DATA.
These forces are speeding the pace of digital transformation, he says, pressuring CEOs of midsize firms to quickly adapt to change.
Organizations are best equipped for rapid change when they are interconnected, according to research from Oxford Economics.
Interconnectedness is the cohesion between and within external and internal organizations. It includes data sharing, close collaboration and communication, and transparency into operations. When your ecosystem – employees, suppliers, customers, vendors, and partners – are connected, decision-making is faster and easier.
Interconnectivity also helps to speed crisis response, provide greater agility, and improve employee and customer satisfaction. Interconnected businesses perform better, according to Oxford Economics:
- 42% report reduced costs and spending as a result of integrated business processes.
- 41% cite better customer experience due to integrating talent and workforce strategies.
- 35% report improved decision-making as a result of integrated data collection and analysis.
Interconnectivity starts with the CEO
Business management has become increasingly complex because of many factors, including the volume of business relationships, COVID-19, and the pace of technology, says Edward Cone, technology practice lead at Oxford Economics.
“The CEO’s role in part depends on having visibility into all these different aspects of the business,” he says. “That means connecting the right functions and partners and ensuring those connections are strong. They can’t stop there, either. They have to filter it down to every employee of the organization.”
Building interconnectivity is not easy, Cone continues. It involves having the right tools, technologies, and process management. Midsize CEOs also must pay attention to the cultural aspect, by modeling behaviors to employees and partners that reflect collaboration and connection.
“It’s a hard target to reach,” Cone says. “But I think the research ultimately tells us that taking that kind of approach can pay off.”
With that in mind, here are five steps midsize CEOs should take to lead their organizations toward interconnectivity.
Step 1: Communicate.
Leaders who are most successful with an interconnected approach are passionate about it, says Scariano.
“They embrace interconnectivity and acknowledge that although they’re not there yet, they must get there,” he explains.
That message “must cascade from the midsize CEO to executive and cross-functional teams to the individuals who make interconnectivity happen,” he says.
For example, Scariano says leaders should demonstrate passion about the company’s three- or five-year strategic plans. “Give individuals and teams responsibility toward meeting goals and demonstrate how their input leads to success for the whole organization.”
Step 2: Integrate data-sharing processes.
It’s critical for the midsize CEO to have real-time access to information about customers, supply chains, employees, finances, security, risks, and the like.
“Running a business is based on facts,” says Bob Atkinson, managing director at In Cloud Solutions. “Midsize CEOs should want as much information as possible at their fingertips and build interconnectedness by sharing that information with employees and partners.”
“It sounds like a massive undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be,” he continues. “Start small and work your way through all parts of the business.”
He suggests starting with the finance department. Connect and automate financial processes and data. Next, pull in information from departments close to finance, such as sales and marketing.
Having the right data at your fingertips can make a significant difference, Atkinson says. When his company was approached for acquisition, he was asked “for in-depth information that had to be supplied in short order. It’s a lesson for any company about the need to have data in real time.”
Step 3: Invest in technology.
To gain real-time access to data, midsize CEOs must invest in technology.
“In his book Thank You For Being Late, Thomas Friedman says that the rate of change in technology is faster than humans can adapt,” Scariano says. “Midsize CEOs who are open to interconnectivity must hug that technology curve in order to manage an ever-changing environment.”
No matter the type of solution – finance, ERP, CRM, collaboration, or supply chain – the CEO doesn’t have to be the person to find potential vendors.
“However, the CEO should be involved in ultimately selecting the solution,” Atkinson says. “I find that many midsize CEOs are also the founders of their company, so they are aware of business processes and how they have evolved. They should have a role in codifying these processes in technology solutions.”
Step 4: Delegate.
Just as it isn’t the CEO’s role to find potential technology solutions, it isn’t their role to lead interconnectivity initiatives.
These projects involve all functions of the business. Consider the strategies that lead to interconnectivity: improve customer service, fill skills gaps, integrate data systems, increase brand recognition, gain visibility into the supply chain, increase cybersecurity, meet sustainability targets.
“The midsize CEO must have an overview of all these, but gaining that overview shouldn’t take up 50% of your calendar spent in meetings,” Atkinson says. “To gain interconnectedness, you must delegate.”
Delegation includes having a role in constructing relevant teams, Atkinson notes. “It’s your job to know individuals’ strengths.”
Step 5: Connect with suppliers and partners.
It’s also the midsize CEO’s job to know the ins and outs of the organization’s supply chain. Interconnectedness shouldn’t be restricted to inside the organization. It should extend out to suppliers and partners.
“It’s important to have an understanding of the supply chain, including the effects of planning and execution and how they impact the business and its partners,” Scariano says.
For example, he thinks it’s a mistake for midsize CEOs to take supply chain technology for granted.
“I think they really need to invest in it,” he says. “Considering the supply chain issues that have occurred in the past year due to COVID-19, having real-time information, a clear forecast, and an understanding of customers’ expectations and needs can potentially prevent business disruptions.”
For example, Scariano’s company works with a midsize firm that manufactures sanitizer. The pandemic spurred an all-hands-on-deck situation, where the CEO and executive team worked the production floor to get product out the door. That was because they had transparency into demand and supply and knew what needed to be done.
“They were successful because they had optimized their global network, including key solutions like ERP and CRM,” Scariano says. “These technologies are interconnected with the company’s suppliers and distributors, so they could focus on the work and know their connections would help them provide this essential product.”
Streamlined processes, integrated systems, transparent operations, and data-sharing communications are part of the interconnectivity puzzle. Yet the midsize CEO’s role is to jump in to make sure they are connected and embraced by everyone in the organization.
“Interconnectedness needs to be dynamic,” Scariano says. “Things will move. Events will occur that you didn’t plan for. But stick to it as much as you can as it relates to your vision.”
Ultimately, midsize CEOs who want to gain efficiencies, improve collaboration, and increase customer satisfaction have the central role in driving interconnectivity.
“The CEO should set the strategy for interconnectedness and then cascade that vision throughout the organization,” Scariano says. “When that message is communicated clearly and everyone is on the same page, then the company is set up for success.”