Canadian CEOs prioritizing talent and technology to emerge stronger

By and Claude Guay | 4 minute read | March 9, 2021

Employee empowerment and well-being critical in hybrid workplace

While the COVID-19 pandemic has not impacted all organizations and industries equally, it has forced all leaders to shift priorities and reassess what is important.

A new IBM Institute for Business Value study of more than 3,000 global and Canadian CEOs reveals how they are navigating this unpredictable time and provides guidance based on where they are focused as they look to the future.

Leaders are prioritizing technology and their employees to position their companies to emerge stronger. They are choosing flexible and scalable technology platforms that enable operation through disruptions and they are supporting the holistic well-being of their people.

Operational agility and flexibility top priority for CEOs

After the uncertainty of the past year, it’s not surprising that CEOs stress organizational agility — the ability to respond quickly and pivot without losing momentum — as a top priority for the next 2-3 years.

As our client, Mark Little from Suncor put it, “We’ll never go back…what’s going to differentiate you is your ability to be agile.” In fact, over half of Canadian CEOs emphasize the need to “aggressively pursue” operational agility and flexibility going forward.

Looking ahead, CEOs recognize like never before the importance of purposefully preparing for changes — whether driven by competition, government, or external events — and having an infrastructure that can adjust rapidly.

They know technology will be the primary enabler of this.

Technology most important external force, with cloud, AI and IoT at the top

The majority of Canadian CEOs surveyed see technological factors as the most important external force that will impact their organizations. Across the board, CEOs said cloud, AI and IoT were the top technologies that they believe can deliver benefits for their business. Together, they will help leaders make processes more efficient and anticipate what’s next, and access the scalability and flexibility of hybrid cloud technology to be more resilient.

Our client, Calin Rovinescu, former CEO, Air Canada, said “We used AI during the pandemic to understand where demand is recovering…to see what hotels are seeing, what car rental companies are seeing, what Airbnb is seeing. We were looking ahead of the curve.”

In Canada, CEOs expect technology infrastructure, regulation, and cyber risk to create the greatest challenges to their organizations. Interestingly, cyber risk concerns were cited at a greater rate than all global top performing CEOs. Canadian leaders identified strengthening data security and privacy as a priority, continuing to reinforce that with technological advancement, strong cybersecurity is key to business success.

And not only does technology enable agility, it is also central to enabling a hybrid workforce.

Empowering and caring for employees critical in the hybrid workplace

CEOs recognize that this new way of driving flexibility and delivering innovation can only be realized with an empowered remote workforce. In fact, 56 percent of Canadian CEOs said this has been very important since the beginning of 2020 and continuing forward.

Companies need a truly sustainable workforce that can thrive in a hybrid workplace and must continue to make this a priority. And this means more than just providing employees with the technology they need to do their jobs from home.

The pandemic has brought a refreshing reinforcement among corporate leaders: the importance of the mental and physical well-being of their people. Notably, 45 percent of Canadian CEOs said they plan to prioritize employee well-being even if it affects near-term profitability and over half recognized the importance of inclusive practices and behaviour being central criteria for strong leadership. By doing this, companies can help ensure that their workforce is engaged, empowered, and productive amid uncertainty from the pandemic and beyond.

For example, IBM helped its global workforce embrace the shift to remote work by creating the “IBM Work From Home COVID-19 Pledge”. Developed through transparent and open dialogue with IBMers, this grassroots initiative took shape to reassure and remind everyone that working remotely requires flexibility, adaptability and compassion. Respecting, for example, when people are not camera-ready on video chats, the need to tend to family commitments, or the need for employees to set aside sufficient time to take care of themselves.

An opportunity for leaders to reset

This is an opportunity for leaders to reset and focus on what may be essential for success: choosing flexible technology platforms like an open hybrid cloud that enables organizational agility and investing in the well-being of their employees.

The role of leaders has become even more complex this past year – financial and business acumen must be paired with human connection. The ‘anywhere’ workforce will require them to provide agile technology, to adopt more empathetic leadership models that prioritize physical and mental health, including championing flexible and inclusive cultures.

To read more about the Canadian CEO IBV study highlights, click here.

Claude Guay, President and General Manager, IBM Canada