Surprises from our executive sentiment survey

Executives everywhere are worried. That’s the bottom-line finding of Insigniam’s recent Global Executive Sentiment Survey, which asked 250 senior executives from dozens of diverse companies, including Chevron, Johnson & Johnson, Sony Pictures, JP Morgan Chase, and Air Canada, to rank their major concerns in several key areas of operations.

Conducted by Insigniam, an international management consulting firm, the survey uncovered an undercurrent of concern among executives worldwide when it comes to their companies’ ability to innovate, to get good products to global markets faster and with fewer resources, and to effectively manage existing employees.

Of all executives surveyed, 38 percent say they were worried about their employees’ potential performance over the next 12 months. More surprising, 42 percent of global senior executives say they are frustrated by complacency and cynicism in the workplace.

Employee performance concerns

“Executives are clearly worried about teamwork, leadership impact in driving innovation efforts, and productivity,” says Shideh Sedgh Bina, one of Insigniam’s founding partners.

The concerns over employee performance are particularly worrisome for one key reason — a majority of executives say operational excellence is the biggest single factor that will define the success of their companies. Indeed, 57 percent of executives globally, and 74 percent in the United States told Insigniam that they believe that’s the case, easily outpacing the 13 percent who said they were chiefly concerned with business targets and revenue growth.

Operational excellence, to these executives, means several things. They include improving communication with prospective clients; managing new, worldwide product launches even with fewer resources; executing development plans flawlessly; and deftly dealing with crisis.

Innovation: the competitive advantage

Said in fewer words, executives told Insigniam that they want to get more, and better products to global markets faster and more efficiently than ever. And the process of doing that can be summed up in a single word: Innovation. An overwhelming majority of executives surveyed — 76 percent — said that innovation, whether in product development or in internal processes, is key to strengthening their competitive advantage over then next one to three years.

But, as Insigniam’s Bina puts it, “To drive operational excellence, companies need people who are pushing the envelope, looking for change, and taking risks. But those were exactly the things executives told us they had frustrations with in terms of their people.”

In fact, 42 percent of global senior executives who participated in Insigniam’s survey cited frustrations over complacency, cynicism, and culture, as their main concerns with employees. And those frustrations with cynicism and complacency were cited by twice as many executives as were other concerns about people. Globally, the second and third place frustrations fell under the categories of “processes, resources, and management” and “alignment and communication.”

Bina says executives have good reason for those concerns about their people.

“There was a time in business when trying to adhere to the status quo was a good thing,” she says. “But that time is gone. So, the companies that do successfully innovate — like the executives in our survey told us they wanted to do — will be the ones that get the best performance out of their people.”