Industry 4.0: Execs are embracing a responsibility beyond profit—4 key areas of focus

by | Jan 27, 2020 | Public Relations

Corporate social responsibility was a central issue at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos earlier this month. Business leaders around the world are increasingly embracing a new form of capitalism, moving from one focused primarily on shareholder value to one focused on serving the broader world, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution—also known as Industry 4.0—rewrites the role of business in society.

Engaging new research from Deloitte identifies an evolving form of capitalism in which business leaders and organizations are starting to prioritize their responsibilities to societal stakeholders alongside profitability. The firm’s latest Readiness Report, The Fourth Industrial Revolution: At the intersection of readiness and responsibility, affirms recent statements issued by the Business Roundtable and WEF, both of which stress that business should serve customers, employees, suppliers, and communities—not just shareholders.

The new survey found evidence that most businesses are striving to find a balance between purpose and profit—nearly six in 10 executives said increasing their companies’ positive impact on society was among their Top 5 desired outcomes for Industry 4.0. By comparison, two years ago, just 35 percent of CXOs believed that the leading companies of the future needed to spend more time preparing for how new solutions will impact society.

Industry 4.0: Execs are embracing a responsibility beyond profit—4 key areas of focus

Industry 4.0: Execs are embracing a responsibility beyond profit—4 key areas of focus

Execs’ growing attention to purpose may largely be attributed to increased pressure from internal and external stakeholders

After “generate revenue,” the top two reasons executives claim they focus on societal issues are “external stakeholders’ priority” (40 percent) and “employee pressure” (20 percent).

“We’re seeing a significant shift in executive outlook as they accept the realities of Industry 4.0,” said Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO, in a news release. “We’re in a new era where shifting societal attitudes have made it an imperative for businesses to place societal responsibility at the heart of their strategies. Business readiness now demands leaders understand this expanded responsibility and deliver solutions not just for business growth, but also for societal progression.”

Industry 4.0: Execs are embracing a responsibility beyond profit—4 key areas of focus

As companies face these new realities, leaders are re-evaluating their approaches to four key areas critical to Industry 4.0: strategy, societal impact, talent, and technology. Below are some of the report’s major findings and insights.

Heightened concern and focus on addressing climate change

In a notable contrast from two years ago, the issues of climate change and environmental sustainability have risen in importance for executives. Almost 90 percent agreed the impacts of climate change will negatively affect their organizations and 59 percent claimed to have internal sustainability initiatives in place—from reducing travel to eliminating plastics, and more. From a broader societal perspective, 48 percent believe tackling climate change is a top responsibility for the current generation of leaders, and 54 percent said they are focused on and/or have external societal programs in place to address it. Two years ago, only 10 percent of executives believed their companies could influence environmental sustainability to a significant degree.

Industry 4.0: Execs are embracing a responsibility beyond profit—4 key areas of focus

“With an increasing number of catastrophic, climate-related events affecting populations and geographies, we’re seeing business leaders increasing their focus and attention on climate and environmental sustainability,” said Sharon Thorne, Deloitte Global board chair, in the release. “Executives are beginning to acknowledge the business imperative of climate change. And, they are beginning to act as they feel mounting pressure from stakeholders and threats to their own business.”

Executives double down on training and development

Preparing workers to meet the demands of Industry 4.0 continues to be a fundamental business challenge, and leaders lack confidence in how their organizations are faring. Only 10 percent of executives said they have made a great deal of progress in understanding what skills will be needed in the future, and only one-fifth completely agreed their organizations are ready.

In response, executives are focusing energy and resources on training talent, and they increasingly consider workforce development their responsibility. Two years ago, only 12 percent of respondents said their organizations could influence education, training, and lifelong learning for their employees to a significant degree. Now, three-quarters of leaders said training and employee development are the Industry 4.0 priorities in which they will be investing most. Because digital technologies will accelerate the changing nature of work, more than 80 percent of CXOs said they either have created or are creating a corporate culture of lifelong learning, with another 17 percent planning to do so.

“The companies that will succeed in the era of Industry 4.0 are the ones that understand the importance of creating an agile work environment and a modernized workplace culture in which everyone can thrive, be themselves, and balance successful careers alongside life outside work,” said Michele Parmelee, Deloitte Global chief people and purpose officer, in the release. “To attract top talent, including younger workers who are looking for continuous development opportunities, leaders must support a culture of lifelong learning and shift from hiring skill sets to hiring those with nimble and inquisitive mindsets.”

Industry 4.0: Execs are embracing a responsibility beyond profit—4 key areas of focus

Leaders still struggle to overcome strategic “short termism”

The fast pace of disruption in Industry 4.0 makes it critical for organizations to maintain holistic, integrated strategies and seek long-term growth opportunities. However, the survey suggests leaders have a long way to go. Two-thirds said they have no formal strategy to address Industry 4.0, and only 10 percent overall said they have comprehensive strategies that integrate a focus on Industry 4.0 throughout their organizations.

That may be short-sighted because the survey data suggests that businesses with comprehensive Industry 4.0 strategies believe they are far more successful across multiple dimensions, including measures related to financial performance, societal impact, talent, and technology investment. For example, around 90 percent of those with comprehensive strategies generated 5 percent annual growth in the past year; in comparison, only 72 percent of organizations who had ad-hoc or no strategies, or were just beginning to develop broader strategies, could claim at least 5 percent growth.

Moreover, those with comprehensive strategies are more confident about their current abilities to lead and their workforces’ preparedness for the future. For example, nearly three quarters of CXOs who said they have holistic strategies for integrating Industry 4.0 technologies also said they feel ready to lead their organizations in capitalizing on the opportunities associated with Industry 4.0. Only 27 percent of those with no strategies or ad-hoc approaches expressed the same confidence. These results indicate Industry 4.0 strategies and investments promote both near-term profitability while preparing companies for future uncertainties.

A retreat from disruption highlights importance of innovation

Industry 4.0 technologies are capable of radically altering entire industries, but executives are not fully embracing a disruptive mindset. Only 17 percent of executives said making effective Industry 4.0 technology investments was an organizational priority, ranking lowest among 12 other priorities.

While they often see the value of these technologies—for example, CXOs believe the internet of things and artificial intelligence will have the most profound impacts on their organizations—only 5 percent of leaders have made progress implementing technology in a connected, integrated way across their organizations.

Given organizations’ increased focus on positive societal impact, it might follow that executives would explore how Industry 4.0 technologies could help propel these initiatives forward. However, few executives seem to recognize or embrace the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies to advance societal and environmental initiatives; only one in five leaders said they are prioritizing investing in advanced technologies that have a positive societal impact.

Download the full report here.

This research is based on a survey of 2,029 global executives and public-sector leaders conducted by KS&R Inc., in July–September 2019. Survey respondents represented 19 countries from the Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe/South Africa and came from all major industry sectors. Survey respondents were C-level executives and senior public-sector leaders, including CEOs/presidents, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, CIOs, and CTOs.

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Richard Carufel

Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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