Unaware Leadership: 58% Of U.K. Bosses Don’t Understand Technology
Blog: Colin Crofts - Business Process Improvement
Britain could be facing an extraordinary dichotomy in the workplace when it comes to technology and business.
On the one hand, evidence continues to suggest that large, publicly listed businesses remain clueless about the implications of technology for their businesses. On the other, latest figures from the U.K. Government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills reveal that there were a record 5.4 million private sector businesses at the start of 2015 – an increase of 146,000 since 2014.
A staggering 62% of the total – or 3.3 million – were sole proprietorships (like me). I couldn’t have done it without digital skills, so I am guessing technology has played a big part in their successful creation. But look at Britain’s leading companies, and you see a different picture.
“We are facing a revolution bigger than the internet and yet leaders are not even aware of it. British bosses must get into technology before they see profitability, brand names and even their jobs disappearing without warning,” says Pat Chapman-Pincher, who has built, run and chaired a number of internet and mobile phone businesses over the past 35 years.
Her recent research among FTSE companies shows that nearly half (47%) of business leaders have not looked at the impact of automation on jobs in their companies and 58% of them admit they do not have skills on their boards to understand or manage technology. More than two-thirds (68%) of boards are making piecemeal investment decisions about technology rather than taking an holistic view of the business and its future, she says.
It is only a short matter of time before poorly managed automation significantly hits profitability, she argues – within the next three to five years. “U.K. businesses are automating parts of their business in isolation – without looking at how it is affecting future jobs and profitability. Intelligent automation (IA) is already being implemented in accountancy and legal firms, retail supply chains, architect design and dozens more of white collar jobs, many of which are senior” she says.
Conversations with nearly 1,000 senior directors of large companies have tested her thinking and resulted in a White Paper – “March of the Robots…Into The Boardroom.” It can be downloaded free from her website.
“A very typical conversation was with a senior partner from an international professional services firm. They explained they were automating vast numbers of routine operations that would traditionally be done by graduates and newly qualified professionals. When I asked how this was impacting their graduate recruitment machine – of around 1,000 graduates a year – there was silence. They hadn’t even looked at this. They hadn’t connected how automation will affect future jobs and recruitment or how it will change the whole structure and profitability of the firm if they have very few junior people and far more senior people,” she says.
Technology is bringing about wholesale changes “even bigger than the internet did 15 years ago,” adds Ms Chapman-Pincher.
Anyone who still sees technology as IT, sitting in a function, is doomed. It seems to me that this could also be a reason for the successful rise in individual businesses, which have, by definition, to see the whole picture, rather than delegate parts to a different function.
At the top of her list of key areas of focus for boardrooms and executive teams is the imperative to create an advisory board with “people who are challenging, dynamic, cutting edge in technology, innovative and creative – and who would probably never fit into any traditional board.”
Now that sounds like much needed fresh thinking for the U.K.’s boardrooms. It could even lead to better gender diversity (read all the way to the end).
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