In an age of increasing automation and artificial intelligence, new research from management consulting firm A.T. Kearney finds that execs around the world foresee a rapidly evolving operating landscape in the year ahead. Even as technological advances saturate business and workplace practices, these execs are recognizing the differentiating role of non-technical and interpersonal skills such as creativity and leadership—skills that are not only difficult to find but also expected to become even more important.
This perceived skillset scarcity suggests that demand to develop AI endowed with emotional intelligence could intensify. And executives’ growing emphasis on cultivating relationships with consumers and suppliers further indicates that personal interactions are more important than ever to commercial success.
In parallel, consumer preferences for local and sustainable goods and the rising importance of mayors and cities in an era of growing protectionism underpin broader global shifts away from traditional globalization. Although striking technological advances, particularly in the field of AI, are a source of confidence for execs, companies remain worryingly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.
We are entering an era defined by shifting globalization patterns
According to the 2019 Views from the C-Suite report by A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council, Maintaining the Human Connection in an Age of AI, this includes wider application of AI and other emerging technologies—a time during which relationship management is crucial. These and other findings are based on the collective judgment of nearly 450 C-level executives and board members from around the world.
“In an operating environment increasingly defined by multi-localism and decentralized leadership, executives are anticipating a need to increase their role in tackling societal challenges,” said Paul A. Laudicina, founder and chairman of A.T. Kearney’s Global Business Policy Council and co-author of the report, in a news release. “This suggests that the C-suite believes corporate social responsibility is shifting from an optional activity to a central requirement for successful corporate leadership.”
“Executives are showing even greater confidence in their ability to successfully adopt new technologies,” said Erik Peterson, managing director of the Global Business Policy Council and co-author of the study, in the release. “Of the executives who see top opportunities in technology adoption, 80 percent have either completed or started deploying emerging technologies, with artificial intelligence and machine learning leading the way.”
The survey findings point to a range of actions for business leaders to undertake
In the year ahead, executives will need to recalibrate their strategies for multi-localism, respond to changing consumer preferences, clearly define priorities in talent management, set realistic expectations for AI, and manage geopolitical risk. “Companies must adapt to the shifts in consumer preferences as well as those in the broader geopolitical and technological landscape,” says Courtney Rickert McCaffrey, manager of thought leadership for the Global Business Policy Council and co-author of the study. “The most successful companies will set realistic expectations for new technologies in the short term while building a strong workforce that is capable of realizing the full potential of these advances for years to come.”
The new report is organized into four sections: The first asks executives to assess the likelihood of a variety of discrete potential global developments; the second focuses on the external environment, which is defined as the economic, political, social, technological, and other external forces that affect all businesses; the third concentrates on business operations, which is defined as a firm’s internal processes, people, and systems; and concludes with a thematic section relevant to business. This year, prompted by the results of last year’s survey and by discussions with executives at the Global Business Policy Council’s 2018 CEO Retreat, the section focuses on talent management.
In this annual Views from the C-Suite survey, nearly 450 company leaders were asked to assess what they see as the leading opportunities and challenges in the global business operating environment over the next 12 months.