I was sent an article this week that showed how executive priorities had shifted over a three month period. In a chart with the title, Crisis Management, it depicted the results of a survey of global executives conducted the Conference Board in July/August and October 2008. They were as follows:
It was certainly noteworthy to see how executive priorities have changed as a result of the credit crunch and the downturn in the economy. Even more interesting, though, was the headline, “Executives Shift to Survival Mode: Workforce Issues Move to Back Burner as Financial Worries Take Precedence.”
Although the piece I was sent wasn’t from the Wall Street Journal itself, I was intrigued to see that this headline was attributed to that august newspaper, so somewhat sceptically I checked on the web. Sure enough, the extract was taken verbatim from a Wall Street Journal article written by Cari Tuna dated 20th November. However, I want to know if I am the only one who smells anything fishy here. (Sorry – I couldn’t resist the pun!)
Seriously though, is it just me, or does this article – by one of the world’s most reputable newspapers – not point to a major flaw in either our perception of business leadership, or a poor understanding of their responsibilities by business leaders, or both?
Firstly, I would have said that the top three October challenges are all people management (i.e. workforce) issues, for surely no organisation can meet any of those criteria without engaged employees or the strategic alignment of an organisation in which everyone is “singing off the same song sheet.” So how then could anyone in their right mind justify the headline about workforce issues moving to the “back burner”?
Secondly, are these three challenges not the perennial challenges which face any executive and, if so, why have they only now come to the top of the priority list? I find it incredible that creating a more responsive organisation was only 7th in the priorities in July when we keep hearing so much about the pace of change and the need to be more responsive in order to remain competitive in a global market. Indeed that has been the justification for so much reorganising and right-sizing over the last decade or more, one cannot be anything other than amazed.
Yet perhaps this explains why more than 60% of all change initiatives fail and it would thus seem I am right to say that executives fail to understand that effective people management is the key to organisational success. Is that not the real cause of the crisis or am I the one who is missing the point?