The CEO Mindset: Managing man and machine


Many people worry that globalisation and technology will eliminate their jobs.

In reality many organisations desperately need talent but can’t find people with the right skills.

Almost 1,400 CEOs from approximately 80 countries have provided their insights on how to address the risk of globalisation and technology and realise the benefits for everyone in PwC’s latest survey.

CEO Mindset Man and Machine open shirt pic


How are you creating the more agile, well-rounded and diverse workforce that’s needed for the digital age?

In a time of heightened anxieties and the highest levels of transparency gifted to us by the interest, how leaders engage with employees and stakeholders (both public and private) has never been more important. Strategy can no longer be an approach of simply numbers and bottom lines; strategy must be built upon a long-term vision of growth, access, equality, innovation, and human endeavour. Enduring winners will be leaders who develop a two-way relationship – with customers, employees, or society at large – based on honesty, integrity and transparency.

Wanted: More technology and more people

CEOs still need people. Only 16% plan to cut their company’s headcount over the next 12 months – and only a quarter of them say it’s primarily because of technology. Conversely, 52% of CEOs plan to hire more employees, although there are significant differences depending on how confident CEOs feel about their company’s growth prospects


27% of the CEOs say technology has transformed the competitive environment in the last 20 years. Clearly, CEOs see the value of marrying technology with uniquely human capabilities. The skills they consider most important are those that can’t be replicated by machines. In fact, they’re precisely the qualities required to stimulate innovation – the area CEOs most want to strengthen to capitalise on new opportunities.

CEO Mindset More Tech More People Graphic


There are several reasons why organisations continue to need people:

  • How long it takes to adopt new technologies – because older technologies are still profitable, other priorities are more pressing or effort and resources required are just too great.
  • Regulatory environment – stringent labour regulations have affected the rate of pace that large manufacturing exporters have adopted robotics – particularly in Brazil and France.
  • Technology is currently nowhere near able to replicate every job or every aspect of a particular role.

It’s routine, repetitive, standardised jobs and tasks that are at risk – as well as non-routine activities, where there’s enough data for a machine to learn to spot anomalies. Even where jobs can be fully automated, some will remain in human hands simply because companies need people to understand what consumers want, including how they prefer to interact with technology and the products and services they desire.

Technology also creates new jobs: jobs for people who can design, monitor, maintain and fix technology; jobs for people in sectors that benefit indirectly from technology (such as the leisure sector, where new opportunities are emerging, as people’s time is freed up); and even new versions of ‘old world’ jobs. Technology has, for instance, facilitated the rise of on-demand companies that match customers with independent contractors selling everything from taxi services to accommodation

Creativity can’t be coded

The challenge is getting to that point: 77% of CEOs are concerned that key skills shortages could impair their company’s growth. And they say it’s the soft skills they value most that are hardest to find. Creative, innovative leaders with emotional intelligence are in very short supply. If anything, indeed, they’re even thinner on the ground than they were in 2008, when PwC asked a similar question, whereas people with technological skills are more plentiful than before.

CEO Mindset Talent Attraction Retention Graphic


So how are CEOs addressing the skills crunch?

A significant number promote diversity and inclusiveness; seeking the best people, no matter who or where they are; and moving employees where they’re needed. Just over three quarters of CEOs have changed their talent strategies to reflect the skills and employment structures their companies will require in the future (see Figure 11). The percentage of CEOs who agree that their company uses technology to hire, train and retain people, or who are exploring the future impact of technology on their people or on the HR function itself, is considerably smaller.


People Place Purpose

What becomes clear is that new strategies to find people and develop them will no longer be enough. The whole system within which people work will have to be considered. This includes reinforcing mechanisms like pay and reward and performance-enhancing mechanisms like coaching, feedback and a workplace environment that reflects the diversity of the employee pool and creates a purpose and culture that inspires people. What comes through loud and clear is that retaining the human element in a more virtual world will be a pre-requisite for future business success.