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LONDON, January 16, 2017 - There may be little public sympathy for CEOs these days, but there is no doubt that for those gathering in Davos this week for the World Economic Forum, the backlash against the ‘global elite’ is also a backlash against the complexity of big business in a world where many people feel as if their lives are out of control.

At a political level, The Trump phenomena and Brexit are widely viewed as being symptomatic of a backlash against complexity – ostensibly simple solutions that many find attractive even though they are only likely to make things worse.

According to Colin Price, co-author of a new book which is being launched at Davos, Accelerating Performance: How to Mobilise, Execute and Transform with Agility, globalisation is the king of complexity and an obvious target for popular discontent.

Says Colin Price:

“For CEOs, this means having to navigate complexity within their own organisations in addition to operating in an environment where there is a perception of inequality and strong feelings that the benefits of globalisation are not being shared," said Price, who is executive vice president and global managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles.

“At a personal level people often don’t want to hear the truth; instead they can grasp at simplistic ideas or hanker for the past, inadvertently making their lives even more complex. This approach is not an option for today’s CEOs.

“The solution is not to over simplify or try to turn back the clock– quite the opposite. In these situations, dogmatic and rigid thinking will backfire.”

According to Price, there are six key areas of challenge that CEOs face and various different approaches which can be taken to mitigate the risks of complexity.

A master of time and space: Today’s most adept CEOs can warp back in time and learn from the past, deliver in the present and project into the future all at once. To be able to time-travel and see around the corner, take in the bigger picture and join the dots, whilst ensuring things get done in the here-and-now is key to managing complexity.

Who says that’s true? CEOs and Boards have to sift a vast array of information from multiple sources and decide what is true/what is not in so called ‘post-truth’ era. This complex task of discerning and prioritising information is essential. Truth vs lies; ‘experts’ vs the mob; fake news vs authentic reporting - are all symptomatic of the same dialectic in an increasingly muddled and complex world.

What’s the top priority when everything is a priority? When you are CEO, everyone has an agenda which is their top priority – add to that multiple key stakeholders from customers, to employees to shareholders and NGOs. Prioritising the priorities in an increasingly uncertain and business environment is yet another complexity that CEOs have to juggle.

Foot on the accelerator: Speed is one way to escape complexity. For example, a car accident can be avoided by accelerating your way out of trouble. However, CEOs have the challenge of balancing speed and risk. Discernment is key if you are using the accelerator codes to help navigate and manage complexity. Competitive advantage is an illusion - now it’s about reducing time to value.

Grey, white and black all at the same time: Effective leaders are under pressure to think differently and have to look beyond and/or through shades of grey to solving problems and creating positive synergies. However, smart thinking is not as easy as it sounds when the onus is on finding a quick solution. Heidrick & Struggles research* (reference and link to book in footnote) shows that the most effective leaders encourage their teams to move from black and white into transcending paradoxes and devise smart ways of achieving both things at the same time.

Riding the waves of change: Ripple intelligence is a good complexity busting tool CEOs can use to ‘run the race’ - while also keeping abreast of the complex multiple and interdependent changes happening in the world and their own sectors and industries. It is also essential to be able to understand how these factors interact and play out and simultaneously.


Accelerating Performance: How to Mobilise, Execute and Transform with Agility, written by Colin Price, executive vice president and global managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles and Sharon Toye, a partner in the firm’s London office, is published by Wiley in January 2017.

Accelerating Performance microsite:

About Heidrick & Struggles

Heidrick & Struggles (Nasdaq: HSII) serves the executive talent and leadership needs of the world's top organizations as a premier provider of leadership consulting, culture shaping and senior-level executive search services. Heidrick & Struggles pioneered the profession of executive search more than 60 years ago. Today, the firm serves as a trusted advisor, providing integrated leadership solutions and helping its clients change the world, one leadership team at a time.®

Heidrick & Struggles has been a Strategic Partner of World Economic Forum for 10 years.

H&S Media Contact:
Chiara Pierdomenico: +44 (0)20 7075 4236

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