ImageIBM’s 2012 survey of 1,709 CEOs had some things to say that didn’t surprise me – and some that did.

First, the interesting observations that reinforced my existing perceptions:

  • Leaders are recognizing that our new connected era is fundamentally changing how people engage. This shift is one reason why, for the first time since this CEO Study series began in 2004, technology now tops the list of external forces impacting organizations. Above any other external factor — even the economy — CEOs expect technology to drive the most change in their organizations over the next three to five years.
  • While CEOs are invigorated by the opportunities, they also fear falling behind, given the pace of technology change. “The biggest risk we face is technological,” explained one CEO of a French industrial products firm. “If we fail to anticipate a huge technology step, we might go out of business.”
  • In our connected economy, data is a critical new “natural” resource. And knowing how to effectively access, analyze and use it is crucial to understanding and engaging individual customers.

But an emphasis by CEOs on empowering employees, enabling collaboration and innovation, surprised me in my cynical old age.

  • Technology’s impact is obviously broad-based; it is difficult to imagine any aspect of an organization not touched in some way. However, as we looked across the whole of CEOs’ responses, one consistent theme emerged: an overwhelming focus on changes in how people engage with the organization and with each other. The view that technology is primarily a driver of efficiency is outdated; CEOs now see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships — those essential connections that fuel creativity and innovation.
  • Technology is creating entirely new ways of connecting innovators inside and outside organizations, altering organizational composition, structure and span of control.
  • It’s allowing organizations to understand and engage customers, consumers, clients and citizens on a more personal level, precisely when, where and how they want. It’s providing novel ways of inspiring employees’ individual and collective creativity, and revolutionizing how teams collaborate, make decisions and get work done. Simply put, technology is reinventing connections with — and among — employees, customers and partners.

Now while I agree that the technology enables virtual collaboration and communication across the globe like never before, I am surprised that CEOs have this so high on their list.

After all, how many in leadership positions actively engage with their employees? When they hold meetings with employees, my experience is that they talk for an hour and then have 15 minutes for questions. The time they spend listening is very limited.

So, while I am encouraged to see a focus on collaboration, let’s see if we can persuade CEOs and other executives to harness the intellectual power of the organization by actively and honestly listening. The tools for that are better than ever before!

Or is collaboration only for those in junior positions?

I welcome your views.