How CEOs can lead their company through disruption

01 February 2023 5 min. read
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With disruption now a new constant, the pressure on CEOs to chart new paths to success is bigger than ever. To deliver on this demanding strategic agenda, CEOs will need to step up their game, says Gabriel Chahine, the Middle East Leader of AlixPartners.

According to the latest Disruption Index by global management consultancy AlixPartners, disruption has firmly nestled itself as the economy’s “new economic order”.

The report, which surveyed 3,000 senior executives from around the world, concludes that every CEO nowadays not only must contend with the challenges of competitors, costs, and customers, but also with sudden shifts in the business environment and with inexorable, long-term trends that are transforming how businesses win – and lose.

Expected rate of business model change

Globally, 98% of respondents told AlixPartners that they expect to change their business models in the next three years, but at the same time, 75% worry that their companies are not adapting fast enough.

In the Middle, the picture is not very different. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, 70% of senior executives believe the frequency of disruptive forces will continue at the same pace or even increase over the next two to three years.

So how can leaders respond to such disruption? One element which becomes clear from the report (and dozens of previous studies on the essence of leadership) is that the role of leadership – and in particular the CEO – is paramount. “Effectively responding to the challenges from disruption requires superb top leadership,” comments Gabriel Chahine, a former Strategy& partner who leads AlixPartners in the Middle East.

Chahine outlines five CEO traits and behaviours which he deems as key to succeed:

Disrupt yourself

Business leaders must be courageous to break away from tried and true but rapidly fraying business models, even when it feels hard. They should challenge all assumptions and make the hard decisions now, as they’ll only get more painful with time.

And they must keep it simple. The ability of individuals and the organization to focus on multiple priorities is limited, so they must paint the vision for disruption – and then disrupt.

Stay digitally fit

Digital is not something CEOs do. The must basically live it. The digital capability will soon underpin every successful company everywhere. Like cell respiration for biological organisms, digital must become part of a company’s metabolism. It cannot be something that exists in a single department or outside of the core organization, but rather the lifeblood of the organization and everyone’s responsibility.

Growth leaders prioritize investment in digital technologies

For businesses to thrive, leaders must focus on the business problem, not the technology. By focusing on the business problem, leaders can determine the necessary technological support and build a manageable and scalable program with a measurable return on investment.

Future proof workforce

Those leading businesses or human capital programs must begin to build the workforce the company needs versus the one it has. And they must think broadly across all staff areas – not just senior executives or elite talent, but all talent. Diverse capabilities will need to be sourced from atypical places with training programs devised for the skills the future company needs.

Many jobs that need to be done aren’t jobs that have ever been done before, so we can’t always expect to find experienced workers to fill the roles.

Top workforce issues

It’s time to draw on the creative strengths of leadership teams while leveraging technology as a collaborator with talent, not a replacement. Future employees will need to be increasingly digital and be given the tools and training to stay on top of their game. A company’s workforce is its biggest asset. Investing in making it thrive will be essential to press through the disruption.

Need for speed

Leaders need to take an action mindset – plan less and do more. A solid plan to respond to the disruption that is implemented with speed and rigor will consistently outperform a perfect plan executed poorly.

Leaders must learn to iterate and evolve plans while gaining experience and knowledge. If something’s not working, they must ask why, then address the issues and reorient.

Where companies are investing to grow

Leading change

Three skills are essential for a leader: resilience, adaptability and emotional intelligence. And this must begin with CEOs – how they lead, the types of leaders they hire and promote and the processes and results they reward. It must then cascade to the executive team and the rest of the organization.

To conclude, the 2020s is a decade filled with promise, but that promise is underpinned by the most disruptive outlook we have ever seen. The winners of disruption will only be those that embrace the new normal and are true disruptors. If leaders do not inspire and guide others along their journey, any transformation will fail.