Boyden Executive Survey

Talent-led transformation in a post-pandemic world

How can global business leaders deliver on ambitions of growth and reinvention?

Reinventing the concept of ‘growth’

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the relationship between organisation and employee, and further blurred the lines between home and work. Employers have discovered higher levels of trust in their teams as managers and executives have found ways to deliver on customer needs. The ‘acceleration trap’ that dominated the last decade, during which the number and speed of company activities, performance goals and innovation cycles became extreme, has given way to a more patient, considered way of working and interacting with each other.

The result? Our findings from this study confirm an overarching hypothesis that leaders have become more human. Big data, analytics and process had previously taken us down a path dominated by algorithms, KPIs and standardised approaches. Today, leaders increasingly understand the value of being human, as managers find innovative ways of doing things and executives have a different context in which to explore creativity.

Consequently, organisations are better placed to realise a broader, more connected purpose in society. This makes global business not just about talent, leaders and executives but about society, community and people. Through the pandemic, leaders have grown as human beings, not just as leaders, so that at the organisational level, we are all reinventing the concept of ‘growth’.

Confidence is high, with 77% of respondents very confident or confident about their organisation’s growth potential over the next two years.

We asked respondents how they would describe their business approach to 2022. With confidence so high, half of respondents describe it as ‘growth or expansion’ mode and a quarter describe it as a ‘learning or transformation opportunity’.

As leadership and talent advisors, our next question in this bullish scenario was, ‘How confident are you about having the right talent to align with organisational strategy'? The tone significantly changes, with the majority uncertain, replying somewhat confident, unconfident or very unconfident.

How are organisations addressing this? What we begin to see is a strong focus on ‘reinventing’ talent. Nearly three quarters, 74%, will invest in leadership development for high potentials. The next two priorities for investment are hiring new leaders, and redeploying or retraining current leaders.

The theme of reinvention carries over to the board level: 52% think that a different matrix of skills is needed, and 38% are extremely likely or likely to invest in board assessment. In terms of sector, a higher proportion of private equity firms see the need for a different matrix of skills.

Reinvention is a key theme across the business. A number of respondents comment on the need to sustain revenue streams and diversify products and services. Hiring new leaders will therefore focus on sales & marketing as the top priority, followed by technology/cloud/ cybersecurity, and digital leaders (robotics, AI, machine learning).

Did these priorities shift in direct response to the pandemic? To some extent. Commentary reveals that hiring new leaders in these areas was already under consideration, as well as pursuing tech and digital opportunities, and fast-tracked by the impact of the pandemic.

How can organisations attract the best leaders? Two very clear factors stand out: ‘having a strong company reputation,’ and ‘being a purpose-driven organisation’. Those in consumer and industrials also point to ‘product or service innovation’ while social enterprises point to a ‘celebrated workplace culture’.

Once hired, leaders will be subject to different approaches to performance measurement, with more than half of respondents reconsidering this in the disrupted environment. Again, alignment is the key driver here, tying culture and behaviours to business objectives. This is followed by 'incentive targets and other KPIs', and 'enhanced communications'. Geographic variations show that new approaches in North America are focused on ‘the effectiveness of DE&I policies’; in Europe on ‘fostering an innovative environment’; and in Asia-Pacific on the ‘increased use of flexible, competency-based teams’.

What’s on the horizon for talent over the next year? Nearly 70% of respondents expect to see ‘more emphasis on leadership assessment/ development’ and around half expect ‘talent retention challenges’ and ‘talent recruitment challenges’. Companies most alert to leadership development are in healthcare, social enterprises and private family-owned businesses.

An unsupported hypothesis is that virtual working would encourage organisations to seek talent in more remote, international talent pools. This scores only 3.5 out of 10, indicating a low appetite for significant change.

In conclusion, achieving growth and reinvention calls for new ways of thinking, working, networking, communicating, and collaborating with people who are culturally, ethnically, ably, and neurologically diverse; in other words, reinventing the mindset.

We explore these findings further across five core themes: 

  1. A barometer on confidence 
  2. The right talent
  3. Hiring priorities 
  4. Reinventing the board
  5. Talent look ahead 

In addition, throughout the report, under the segment 'A closer look', we highlight the ‘outliers’ – those with significantly different scores – by region, sector and organisation type.

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