IBM announced earlier today the results of its largest study ever of chief executives: 1,130 CEOs in 40 countries spanning 32 industries.
If one could characterize the results of the "IBM Global CEO Study" in a single phrase, it might be this: Hungry for change.
The findings are based upon a series of interviews conducted by IBM and The Economist Intelligence Unit in late 2007 and early 2008.
In the study, CEOs reported a surprising level of optimism about change as an opportunity to build new competitive advantage, with 83 percent of them expecting substantial change in the future, an increase of 28 percent in just two years.
The Widening Change Gap
Yet CEOs also reported that their ability to effectively manage change is increasing at a far slower pace, with CEOs rating themselves and their companies' ability to manage change 22 percentage points lower than their expected need for it, a tripling since 2005.
And where do they turn as a primary source of the most important changes they will have to address? Their own customers, out of which two classes of customers emerged: the "information omnivore" and the "socially minded" customer.
Your New Customers: Information Omnivorous, Socially Minded
The "information omnivores" are best characterized by their craving of all types of information and who broadcast their views and expectations worldwide via the Internet (social media devotees, are you listening?).
These customers desire much deeper involvement, whereby "consumers" are becoming "producers," often creating entertainment and advertising content for their peers while demanding flexibility and responsiveness from companies they do business with.
While more demanding, CEOs see these "omnivores" as an opportunity rather than a threat, but ones which require differentiation based on their heightened expectations.
CEOs indicated that they are planning a 22 percent increase in the next three years to serve these more sophisticated and demanding customers.
It's also worth noting that the "omnivores" are driving the need for investment in every major geography.
The other class of customers highlighted in the study are the "socially minded" consumer, with customers here coalescing around organizations whose corporate social responsibility (CSR) profiles meet their rising expectations of brand responsibility, and who are increasingly demanding socially minded products, services, and even supply chains.
Turning Concern Into Action
Though CEOs in the survey indicated that while customers have always cared about societal issues, their concerns are now more frequently turning into action as these socially minded consumers consider an enterprise's CSR profile before making purchasing decisions.
To better understand and reach this emerging class of customer, CEOs indicated that they plan to increase their investments by 25 percent over the next three years, the largest percentage increase of any trend identified in the study.
CEOs also indicated that this CSR reputation becomes a critical tool towards attracting and retaining employees, and recognize that their organizations will increasingly be held to account for the socioeconomic well-being of the regions in which they operate.
Overall, the study provides a fascinating glimpse into the minds of CEOs and the state of the global business environment, as well as specific case studies and other key insights not mentioned here but worthy of your consideration.
Addendum: It's about 8:54AM CST as I post this addendum to let you know there is a press conference where the results of the CEO Study are being formally announced. You can follow @ibmevents on Twitter to get the complete real-time rundown. You can also see a rollup of the Twitter stream on Hashtags here.Addendum to the Addendum: You can read IBM Chairman and and CEO Sam Palmisano's observations about the new CEO study and global business in the Financial Times here.