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At its core, the CEO role is a service job. We are all striving for the same thing: to wow our customers, to enable our employees to do their best work, to deliver for shareholders. That’s why the best leaders listen and adapt. But the current environment feels like a never-ending high-wire act: pandemic shockwaves, geopolitical unrest, 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. If you manage people and control work resources, you are in the decision-making business. You’re paid to make the call.
Command and control gives way to decentralization
I don’t know any CEOs who describe themselves as “remote-first” or “hybrid,” even if that’s how their organizations are trending. Increasingly, there is a lot of executive chatter about “getting people back into the office.” The truly forward-thinking leaders have given their employees control over where and when they work, not because CEOs are more supportive of employees getting mid-day workouts or haircuts, but because we see productivity gains in this post-COVID, technology-enabled way of working.
Forward-thinking CEOs also know it isn’t enough to simply let employees work from home; employees must be empowered to make effective decisions, which means they need tools and services to be more productive. This challenge represents the true next step into the future of work: Making every employee the CEO of their domain.
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While the idea of remote work is not novel, the pandemic accelerated the inevitable. Its widespread adoption today requires more decentralized decision-making than we’ve ever seen before. And it’s working. Recent Momentive research found that 90% of people in organizations operating under decentralized models have witnessed a positive effect on their team’s overall success. (We rarely see 90% of people agreeing on anything!)
Command-and-control organizations are outdated. We all know the vast majority of decisions driving businesses today occur outside of the C-suite. The best companies are ones where employees in the field are executing on the corporate strategy. Companies are too big and the market is too competitive to wait for a decision from on high; a competitor will beat you with speed. So individual contributors in each department are making critical business decisions every day. From a marketer refining an ad campaign based on performance to a customer support specialist reviewing customer feedback data and surfacing a common pain point to solve to an engineer being alerted to a user-reported bug — these are not C-suite problems, but they are what keep an organization running. And they are all based on human sentiment.
Empowering employees for work decision-making
The key is to empower these everyday decision-makers with 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 near their colleagues are. Of course, collecting operational data is crucial to any operation, but focusing only on activity metrics without accounting for what employees, customers and future customers think and feel will leave a business flat-footed in the complex swirl of doing business today.
Consider how quickly the macro environment is changing: In January 2022, The Great Resignation was in full swing. Just a few short months later, employees saw layoffs, hiring freezes and rescinded job offers. Oh, and remember the words “transitory inflation” from 2021? The Fed got a cold dose of reality when inflation came in smoking-hot in 2022. Fresh data is required to make better decisions faster.
As we continue to reimagine work together, company leaders need to go all-in and rethink how they are connecting with all of their stakeholders. Companies are as prone to the butterfly effect as the weather is. Every decision made — no matter how big or small — can have long-lasting effects on a company’s entire ecosystem. And despite the unprecedented challenges we face, not making decisions is not an option — so why not make the process more human?
Zander Lurie is CEO of Momentive.ai.
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