Where Should the CEO Focus His or Her Attention (Nigel Lake, Part 8 of 10)

CEO Focus

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This is the eighth instalment of my conversation with Nigel Lake, CEO of Pottinger, a global corporate advisory firm based in Sydney, Australia. Nigel is the author of The Long Term Starts Tomorrow, a must have book “for any manager, leader or Minister.” The Hon Mike Baird MP, Premier of NSW

Tom: In my mind one of the problems with innovation is that it can require a kind of schizophrenic approach. Focusing on the present business model and current needs can be all consuming, and thinking about the future can similarly be all consuming. Do you think that it may be helpful for companies to divide those roles? Or, do companies just need a business leader who has the foresight to see the future as it’s unfolding?

Nigel LakeNigel Lake: I think that’s a very interesting observation.

The advice that everyone gives entrepreneurs is that make sure that you don’t spend all of your time working in the business, you actually have to work on the business. And the same very much applies to large companies.

The CEO should not be spending much of his or her time running the business day to day. They absolutely should be looking much further out into the future and making sure the business is well positioned by taking the long term and difficult decisions now that will ensure that the business does well over the longer term. That isn’t always the case, but that for me is very clearly what the CEO role is all about.

In terms of how do you deal with this, in many organisations you end up with most of the management infrastructure focused on running the business, and that’s fine, and you have a preferably very small team of people who are focused on the longer term strategy of the business.

An interesting example is Tata Consulting, the big Indian IT services business, one of the world’s largest IT businesses. They have a workforce of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and what they do is all about reliable delivery of technology which is very driven by process and reliability.

In that kind of entity how on earth are you going to embrace radical innovation and change? And so, what they have is a whole separate ecosystem internally called the Co-Innovation Network, which has quite a significant headcount in it and which is entirely focused on radical innovation and new technologies. And so, they have part of their business which is not constrained by today and is entirely engaged with what is happening that will change the world in all sorts of ways. That part of the business reports in directly to the Global Chief Technology Officer, who is one of the key guys in the group.

Tom: I guess, at the end of the day, change needs to come from the top.

Nigel Lake: You can’t make change happen from anywhere other than the top. If the top isn’t interested you’re wasting your time.