Our latest Executive Outlook survey uncovered an emerging point of view that people are more important than technology, when it comes to operating a successful business.

We conducted in-depth interviews with over 100 business leaders, to explore their issues and challenges (specific to local industry).  Top Office then presented these highlights to a large gathering of business leaders last month.

We found a clear swing back to personalized customer service. Businesses are now realising that this is a point of difference in its own right, while competitors are obsessed with technology.  It’s about customer service, telling our story, and engaging with our clients and staff in a meaningful way.

Social media is important, but businesses are turning back to embracing our people, community and customers. We’re using technology as a tool to innovate, raise productivity and create a safer workplace. This frees us up to plan, grow and enrich people’s roles. You told us:

  • Technology enables us to be smarter. They’ve talked about Armageddon for years, but people want to deal with people.
  • The people at the face of our business can’t be replaced.

This is why I was so stunned to read highlights from a new report by the Korn Ferry Institute, which analysed the reality of human capital’s importance in the minds of CEOs globally. Their study interviewed 800 leaders of global firms to gauge their views on generating profit, and how workers fit into that vision.  The findings are unnerving (and fly in the face of Executive Outlook).

Korn Ferry also sought their views on the value of people in the future of work. Once again, people scarcely got a look in.

The Wall Street Journal reported: When asked to rank their businesses’ most valuable asset, leaders said “Technology matters above all”.  Employees didn’t even make the top five.

They go on to say: “Two-thirds of CEOs believe technology will create greater value in the future than their workforce will, and 44% believe that automation, artificial intelligence and robotics will make people “largely irrelevant” in years to come.”

“Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they “see people as a bottom-line cost, not a top-line value generator,” according to the report, while 40% said shareholders have pressured them to direct investment toward physical assets like technology.”

The bottom line of the Wall Street Journal’s article is: “Looking ahead, leaders said the five most prized assets in five years will be:- customer-facing technology and products, innovation/R&D, product/service, brand and real estate, according to the report.”

Ross Clennett is a leading industry coach. His views on this resonate loud and clear.  “CEOs might utter positive and soothing words to an employee’s face in the office, shop or factory but when answering the questions of dispassionate researchers it’s clear these same CEOs want technology to take much, or all, of the same employee’s job as soon as possible. . . Although this is a global study you would be naive to think this doesn’t apply to Australia, a relatively high-wage economy”.

So there you have it… Technology has a devious way of distracting us from our people, community and what really matters.

Despite robots, driverless cars and an arms race between global giants to create machines that replace people, people still come first for the firms in Executive Outlook.  We’re better at social skills, empathy and negotiating than robots. It is still our ability to connect, and invest in relationships – that makes the difference. People are still at the core of what we do, make and sell (that’s how we add real value).

Jan Gadsden