CEOs and the paradox of talent shortages in a digital age
First, the good news. While you’ll find robots doing all sorts of industrial jobs and even delivering services, CEOs still need people. Just 16% plan to cut their company’s headcount this year, compared to 52% who plan to hire more people, according to the latest PwC Annual Global CEO survey.
The bad news is that the right people are getting harder to find, with 77% of CEOs worried that skills shortages could derail business growth. And it’s the creative, emotionally intelligent innovators who are in shortest supply – the people most likely to drive growth in a volatile and uncertain world.
Using people data
But do CEO’s even know what skills and talents lurk within their workforce? Or if they have the right people to deal with whatever lies ahead? I reckon many have no idea. Despite the explosive growth in employee data generated by digital HR processes, PwC research has shown that companies are still not making the best possible use of this hugely valuable resource. In fact, only around half the businesses studied use analytics consistently to gain insights into how well they are deploying their people’s skills.
Of course, the most clued up CEOs understand the value of mining and analysing big data on employees. They also know that the digital technologies used to engage customers can deliver an equally compelling, personalised employee experience that will engage key talent.
What CEOs may not always appreciate is that if they really want to exploit the full potential of these technologies, they need to join forces with HR leaders.
Forging new partnerships
We’ve all heard complaints from CEOs that Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) aren’t strategic thinkers or that they don’t understand the business. So I was struck by a Harvard Business Review article that blamed CEOs themselves for being distanced from their company’s CHRO and from HR in general. Arguing that it is up to the CEO to raise the status of HR, the article’s authors call for a new core group consisting of CEO, CFO and CHRO. “The result will be a CHRO who is as much a value adder as the CFO,” they say. “Rather than being seen as a supporting player brought in to implement decisions that have already been made, the CHRO will have a central part in corporate decision making and will be properly prepared for that role.”
And a paradox of the strange times we are living through is that corporate decision making is increasingly focused on people issues, even while digital technologies are transforming the workplace. As a PwC’s report has noted: “Whatever technological innovations are ahead, it’s the people that will make the difference between eventual success and failure. That’s why CEOs need a people strategy for the digital age.” 
It doesn’t look as if robots will be taking a seat at the top table any time soon – but we’ll be definitely seeing more HR leaders in the C-suite.
- 20th Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC, 2017
 “People Before Strategy: A New Role for the CHRO”, Ram Charan, Dominic Barton, Dennis Carey, HBR, July-August 2015
 “People strategy for the digital age: A new take on talent”. 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, PwC, 2015