Feb 022014

“We’re driving inefficiencies out of every single facet of life,” AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson told The World Economic Forum’s New Digital Context panel last month.

The CEO panel at the Davos forum, which included Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, Salesforce’s Mac Benioff, Cisco’s John Chambers and Gavin Patterson of BT discussed how corporations of all sizes are being affected by rapid market changes.

“All this bandwidth, all these connected devices, are as disruptive as anything this society has ever seen,” Stephenson said.

“Companies that aren’t moving and driving the new technologies are companies that don’t stay alive.”

Stephenson’s view was supported by Cisco CEO John Chambers, “if you look at big companies only a third of us will exist in a meaningful way in two decades.”

Chambers cited Cisco’s experience from the past two decades to illustrate how business is rapidly changing, “my competitors from fifteen, twenty years ago – none of them exist or they’ve exited. From ten to fifteen years ago only one exists, from five to ten years ago only a few.”

“If you don’t disrupt, you get left behind,” warned Chambers.

Chambers’ advice to managers is that teams have to be empowered and encouraged to take risks and learn from failures, advice endorsed by Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer.

“The best thing you can an executive can do is play defense, not offense. Get out everybody out of the way and set up an evironment where they can really run and make a difference.”

Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer endorsed the change, describing a much flatter organization; “we try and run things really flat, really transparent.”

That flat organisation is really the biggest risk to many executives in staid, safe organisations; it means fewer middle managers as the workplace is increasingly automated.

As businesses adopt new technologies, the need for Executive Vice Presidents or Group General Managers is eliminated – along with the armies of assistants and underlings required to help these folk in their roles.

In the past, those layers of management have isolated senior executives from their customers which Salesforce’s Marc Benioff is a luxury companies can’t afford in the current marketplace, “everything is going faster, companies have to change faster.”

“Today if you’re not listening to your customers more deeply than ever before and not reacting to them more rapidly than every before,then you are probably making a mistake,” warns Benioff.

Most of those in the room at WEF were the world’s top executives and government officials, how many of them take note of how business is changing will become clear in the very near future.

There’s also a warning for those government leaders on how employment and government services are going change in the near future which a lesson that needs to be heeded as policies are developed.

Now’s the time for every manager, business owner or executive to look at the inefficiencies in their workplace and whether it can be eliminated either through technology or business restructuring. It may well save you from being identified as an inefficiency yourself.

Steam train image courtesy of Gabriel77 through sxc.hu

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