Forward Thinking: Fall 2014

October 16, 2014

[ikon images/corbis]
[ikon images/corbis]

Amid Slow Recovery, New C-Level Position Created to Pursue Growth

As companies struggle to increase revenue in a slow global economy, more CEOs are appointing “chief growth officers” to focus on growth initiatives, said an Aug. 15 post on ChiefExecutive.net. Psychological and capital constraints continue to hold consumers and companies back, creating a tougher environment for generating revenue than during other economic recoveries and compelling businesses to try new ideas for boosting the bottom line. Some executive roles, such as senior vice president of communications, are now reporting directly to a chief growth officer.

At Mondelez International, a confectionary, food and beverage company spun off from Kraft Foods a couple of years ago, the new position “ensures that growth remains at the forefront of our company strategy,” CEO Irene Rosenfeld said about promoting 18-year Kraft veteran Mark Clouse to the role.

The title of chief growth officer first caught on in the advertising world, where agencies tend to press the creative edge and digital media are producing opportunities that might otherwise go unseen in the day-to-day routine of growing a business.

After the Great Recession beat up the ad industry, the idea took root to charge a single C-level officer with sparking and overseeing all growth initiatives. Lowe and Partners, an international advertising agency headquartered in London, recently created the role of chief growth officer and filled it with Naomi Troni, who had spent 10 years at Havas Worldwide.

Why Organizations Wait to Hire More Female Executives

Some organizations seem to wait until they’re embroiled in a crisis before hiring women for top leadership positions — perhaps owing to the stereotype that women don’t take the risks that might benefit an organization, with the result that men are left to run things until a crisis erupts that a woman leader can then manage calmly and effectively, said a Sept. 17 post on Fortune.com.

The NFL has been mired in scandal since revelations that former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator. Rice was initially suspended for only two games. Over the past two years, at least 14 NFL players have been arrested for violence against women, Fortune.com reported. On Sept. 15, league commissioner Roger Goodell announced he had hired three women with experience in the field of domestic-violence prevention and education — Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith — to “help lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.”

In July, American Apparel appointed the first two women to its board after the high-profile ouster of company founder and CEO Dov Charney amid allegations of sexual harassment. (Charney has stayed on as a consultant.) “No matter what companies assume about women, you will often see women lead with courage in crisis,” Kate Bensen, president and CEO of the Chicago Network, an organization for professional women, was quoted as saying. “Even if they think they are getting someone ‘safe,’ they might get someone who takes risks that are good for everybody.”

Keeping Workers Engaged Helps Companies Stay Productive, Save Money

Employees are demanding more input and opportunity in the workplace, and giving less in return when those things aren’t provided, human-resources experts say. As Mashable reported on Aug. 13, disengaged employees undercut productivity and cost corporations money.

In a recent Gallup poll, only 30 percent of workers said they felt engaged by their jobs. A report from the company ADP found that employees who are bored, dissatisfied or uninspired can each cause their employers more than $2,000 in annual losses. When disengaged employees quit, the cost of training replacements can represent up to 61 percent of the position’s salary, the study found.

But when employees “see opportunities for advancement and recognition, they become dedicated to their employer and enthusiastic about their work,” said Steven Glaser, CEO of ICC, a company that provides technology solutions for business.

To re-engage employees, give them opportunities to learn and hone their skills. Make workers feel respected by creating an environment of openness, honesty and sensitivity to their needs.

Feeling Sluggish? Take a Walk

Americans suffer from a physical, emotional and mental epidemic that scientists call “sitting disease,” a malady that can be cured by the simple act of taking a walk, said an Aug. 29 Fast Company article. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say taking walks through green spaces can lessen brain fatigue, and scientists have long found that exposure to the sun helps alleviate feelings of sluggishness and boost productivity. Fast Company challenged its staff and readers to take either a 20-minute lunchtime walk or two 15-minute walks each day. Despite inevitable distractions, several managed to take the walks and report the results.

“A quick jaunt around the office allowed me to let my mind wander and invigorated my focus,” said Kathleen Davis, the magazine’s leadership editor. Compared with sitting, scientists say, walking can increase creative thinking by 60 percent. Davis said that during her walks, she mostly thought of things she needed to do, but she still felt refreshed when she returned to her desk.

Morning walks are “when some of my best creative thinking happens,” said editor Noah Robischon. “I was able to come up with different angles for stories, better headlines,” and solutions to work-life problems.

The Future of Leadership?

What will leadership look like 20 years from now? In an Aug. 25 post, Forbes.com predicted that as technological advances make answers easy to find, companies will reward leaders who ask the right questions. Fast, market-based decisions will trump top-down leadership hierarchies, with decision-making authority extending to the edges of the organization, where employees are closest to customers and work directly in partnership with them. The most effective leaders will embrace employee empowerment while still effectively managing quality and risk.

Amid this “employee pull,” a simultaneous “customer pull” will also advance, as technology allows consumers to personalize their purchases and experiences. 3-D printing will let customers “materialize” what they consume. In this new marketplace, the best leaders will set up and manage the systems that allow customers to interact and create. Most activities now labeled “operations” will be done by computers and robots.

“Chaos Learning” will become an integral part of leadership, Forbes.com wrote. During the past 20 years, companies have tried to impose order and eliminate variance through “best practices” and policies that limit behavior choices. But as constant change becomes the new norm, planning will be replaced by intelligent reaction. Leaders will have to be comfortable with ambiguity, and to agilely anticipate and react to a continually changing marketplace. Competitive advantage will accrue with companies that can consistently invent and commercialize new products and businesses, and leaders who excel will understand and reward the skills and behaviors that create growth and innovation.

Are Conference Calls a Waste of Time?

Many people aren’t paying attention during work-related conference calls, a recent survey shows. As The Atlantic reported on Aug. 21, in the survey from Intercall, an international conference call company, 65 percent of respondents said they’ve done other work during such calls, while 63 percent admitted to sending email, 55 percent to eating or making food and 47 percent to going to the bathroom. Forty-four percent of respondents said they’ve texted during conference calls, while 43 percent confessed to checking social media, 25 percent to playing video games, 21 percent to shopping online, 9 percent to exercising and 6 percent to taking other calls.

Conference calls might be dull, but they still represent a positive development in the workplace. At many large corporations today, decision making is democratized to include lower- and midlevel employees, and conference calls are a way to communicate with people and teams across the country or around the world.

But are the group calls productive, even when the people involved are paying attention? A 1982 study called “Are N + 1 Heads Better Than One?” found that “group performance was generally qualitatively and quantitatively superior to the performance of the average individual.” On the other hand, wrote Washington University psychologist Keith Sawyer, “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

Greg Beaubien

Greg Beaubien is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s publications.

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