Accenture released its annual Pulse of Change Index ahead of the World Economic Forum’s 2024 meeting in Davos, Switzerland — where business and political leaders mingle with NGO heads and celebrities. The index analyzes vast amounts of reported data against a survey of 3,400 business leaders to calculate how quickly the world is changing, and offers valuable insights for CEOs and other leaders.
The index shows the rate of change has increased a whopping 183 percent over the past four years. In other words, if we were in a car moving at 50 miles per hour in 2019, it sped up to 141.5 miles per hour by the end of 2023. And there’s no sign that things will slow down; the rate of change will continue to increase in 2024, with more than half of executives saying they are not fully prepared to respond to each of the six drivers of change — technology, talent, environment, geopolitics, economics, consumerism & social.
Unsurprisingly, technology was the greatest factor in accelerating change in 2023, and the stunning global adoption of generative AI was the reason. Of note, 61 percent of the surveyed business executives expect the pace of technological disruption to increase in 2024.
While talent was the top change driver in the 2022 index, it fell to fourth place in 2023. In this category, skills shortages and lack of employee engagement were identified as major challenges. Given the continuing labor unrest among employees of all types, coupled with stark differences in generational attitudes toward work, unsuccessful efforts to lure workers back to the office and the near-impossibility of finding enough people to apply AI in its multitude of applications, it is clear that businesses weren’t able to adequately address the challenges in the talent category. Talent falling to fourth place is likely more an indicator of how dynamic and volatile our world is today, rather than any improvements in addressing the challenges associated with each of the key factors of change.
Every CEO and board must give serious thought to the ways it manages during this time of accelerating change.
When we first learn to drive, we are taught that as your speed increases, your eyes need to be looking farther ahead. We believe this principle applies to managing a business as well, although that does not mean you can pay less attention to the matters at hand. Business leaders must adjust their vision from a quarterly and even annual timeframe to better assess future factors. The key is having a strategic framework that leaders continually adjust to respond to critical new developments, like the sudden general availability of AI.
For example, the disruptions and costs related to climate change are increasingly evident and will clearly worsen over coming decades. Climate change will harm millions of people who will, in turn, press political leaders to enact regulations that will burden businesses with new reporting requirements, operational limitations and costs. AI and robotics will displace many workers and require millions of people to learn new skills. Remote work may become a permanent choice for a significant portion of the workforce. AI will likely supercharge criminal activity.
All these and a thousand other developments will affect the way businesses are run and whether or not they will survive. Grouping these considerations according to Accenture’s six key criteria is one approach to addressing them; aligning them with a continuously updated strategic plan is another. However it is done, looking farther ahead and making adjustments earlier is the common-sense adjustment we need to make to deal with this acceleration. You turn the steering wheel or start pressing the brakes sooner at 80 miles an hour than you did at 50.
"While many of us wish we could wave a magic wand and slow things down, the reality is that we are strapped in a race car roaring into the future."
We are also thinking beyond the Accenture index, because as important as the 3,400 survey respondents are, we have found that many business leaders are hyper-focused on matters that directly concern their jobs and not necessarily insightful about challenges facing others. As a result, they tend to be unduly optimistic about their organization’s ability to address change. Many are also locked into old work models and structures that weren’t built for the fast-changing and dynamic world suggested by Accenture’s report.
While many of us wish we could wave a magic wand and slow things down, the reality is that we are strapped in a race car roaring into the future.