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At its core, the CEO role is a service function. We all strive for the same thing: to amaze our customers, to empower our employees to do their best work, to deliver results for shareholders. That’s why the best leaders listen and adapt. But the current environment feels like a never-ending high-wire act: pandemic shock waves, geopolitical turmoil, macroeconomic headwinds, social justice controversies and, oh yeah, everyone’s favorite question, “Are we going back to the office or not?”
There are no easy answers, but curling up in a ball is not an option. When you manage people and manage resources, you are the one who makes decisions. You are paid to call.
Command and control is making way for decentralization
I don’t know of any CEOs who describe themselves as “remote-first” or “hybrid,” even though that’s the trend in their organization. There is an increasing amount of talk about ‘getting people back to the office’. The truly forward-thinking leaders have given their employees control over where and when they work, not because CEOs are more in favor of employees getting afternoon workouts or haircuts, but because we’re seeing productivity gains in this tech-enabled post-COVID way of working.
Forward-thinking CEOs also know that it’s not enough to just let employees work from home; employees need to be empowered to make effective decisions, which means they need tools and services to be more productive. This challenge represents the real next step towards the future of work: making every employee the CEO of their domain.
While the idea of remote working isn’t new, the pandemic has accelerated the inevitable. Its widespread adoption today requires more decentralized decision-making than ever before. And it works. Recent momentum research found that 90% of people in organizations operating under decentralized models have seen a positive impact on their team’s overall success. (We rarely see 90% of people agree on anything!)
Command and control organizations are obsolete. We all know that the vast majority of decisions that drive businesses today take place outside of the C-suite. The best companies are those where field workers execute business strategy. Companies are too big and the market too competitive to wait for a top-down decision; a competitor will beat you with speed. So individual contributors in each department make critical business decisions every day. From a marketer fine-tuning an ad campaign based on performance, to a customer service specialist reviewing customer feedback data and uncovering a common pain point that needs to be resolved, to a technician being alerted to a user-reported bug, these are not C-suite solutions. problems, but they are what keeps an organization going. And they are all based on human sentiment.
Empowering employees to make decisions at work
The key is giving these everyday decision makers the autonomy to work where they perform best, with the human sentiment data they need to make data-driven decisions, no matter how far or close their peers are. Of course, collecting operational data is critical to any operation, but focusing only on activity metrics without considering what employees, customers, and prospective customers think and feel will leave a company flat-footed in the complex whirlwind of doing business today.
Think how quickly the macro environment changes: in January 2022, The Great Resignation was in full swing. Just a few months later, employees saw layoffs, hiring freezes, and withdrawn positions. Oh, and remember the words “transient inflation” from 2021? The Fed got a cold dose of reality as inflation turned red hot in 2022. New data is needed to make better decisions faster.
As we continue to reinvent collaboration, business leaders need to go all in and rethink how they connect with all of their stakeholders. Businesses are just as susceptible to the butterfly effect as the weather. Every decision made, no matter how big or small, can have long-lasting consequences for a company’s entire ecosystem. And despite the unprecedented challenges we face, not making decisions is not an option – so why not humanize the process?
Zander Lurie is CEO of Momentive.ai.
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