At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear to C-level executives that they needed to make organizational changes in response to the crisis. Most C-level leaders invested in new initiatives designed to foster business agility, the strategic imperative to survive and thrive in challenging times.
Compared to their peers, however, COOs have been slower to make changes to people, processes, and digital technology.
The one exception has been cloud technology. More COOs invested in cloud technology during the pandemic than their peers, according to a global survey of 200 C-level leaders conducted by ESI ThoughtLab. Notably, though, they lagged behind in every other area.
But as the crisis comes to a close, COOs seem to have learned from their peers. Most COOs say that over the next year or two, they expect to prioritize initiatives that are meant to foster business agility.
Slow to change
For many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic meant a sudden or accelerated digital transformation. In response, most C-level leaders quickly pivoted to initiatives meant to foster business agility.
To support remote and hybrid work, COOs prioritized cloud technology during the pandemic. In fact, half of them say they invested in cloud technology over the past year, compared to 38% of CCOs, 35% of CEOs, 33% of CHRO, and 20% of CIOs.
Other than that, COOs did not make many notable investments to boost agility.
Why did COOs fail to invest in initiatives to foster agility?
One reason could be that COOs believe they are already doing enough to foster agility. In areas over which they have responsibility, COOs often rate agility higher than their peers. These include manufacturing and production (23% of COOs vs. 6% of all executives); logistics and distribution (20% vs. 7%), and supply chain management (also 20% vs. 7%).
Not a single COO said that risk management and compliance were agile.
By contrast, COOs give lower marks to other areas. Only 3% of COOs said that data management, customer experience, and digitization strategies were agile at the start of the crisis, more than 10 points below their peers. Not a single COO said that risk management and compliance were agile.
A more agile future
COOs seem to believe that over the next year or two agility will play an important role in their organization’s success. This year, 60% of COOs expect an 11% to 20% increase in company spending on business agility.
For COOs, workflow automation is a significant part of that story. In the years to come, 73% of COOs expect to invest in workflow automation. Less than a third of their peers said the same. This is unsurprising, since COOs are more likely than their peers to believe that their business made little progress in developing a digital enterprise platform that integrates workflows and teams across functional areas.
Beyond that, COOs are eyeing investments that improve employee engagement, profitability, and communications. Most COOs say they will invest in hiring and onboarding staff and IoT, while 40% say they will invest in adopting new business models and pricing.
Nevertheless, challenges remain. The rest of the C-suite is not necessarily aligned on these priorities. For example, 40% of CCOs, 63% of CEOs, 58% of CHROs, and 48% of CIOs say they plan to invest in hiring and onboarding, while only 15% of CCOs, 48% of CEOs, 15% of CHROS, and 25% of CIOs are prioritizing IoT.
As a result, 2 out of 3 COOs are concerned about a lack of clear leadership vision for an agility plan. They also worry they simply do not have enough time to implement a coherent strategy to foster business agility.