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It’s Time for Every Function to Hone Strategy and Execution

January 13, 2020

Contributor: Jackie Wiles

Gartner research shows that every function can help its organization to drive through disruption and come out ahead, but it takes concerted action on key pain points.

Today’s disruptive times demand that your organization lean into the uncertainty and master the pain points that stand between you and your success — from a lack of critical skills and capabilities to new emerging risks and the urgent need for data literacy.

Here we offer insights from Gartner research on how progressive companies can hone strategy and execution and drive enterprise ambitions:

  • Strategy
  • Information technology
  • Finance
  • Legal, compliance, risk and assurance
  • Research and development
  • Marketing, sales, and customer service and support
  • Supply chain
  • Human resources and corporate communications

Download eBook: Top Insights for the C-Suite, 2019-2020


Execution as competitive advantage

Eighty-three percent of strategists say execution is more important than it was three years ago, and two-thirds say they now support execution — whether they review execution action plans, troubleshoot execution problems, coordinate enterprise change or support resource reallocation. 

Gartner research shows that for maximum impact, pay particular attention to midexecution support when guidance from strategists is critical to interpreting and responding to unexpected events. 

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Strategy Perspective

Information technology

IT beefs up to win in the turns

Ninety percent of enterprises have experienced a market transformation or other crisis that requires a fundamental change in how they do business. Gartner research shows that “fragile” firms, which emerge from such turns behind or far behind where they were previously, take a hit to revenue and profits temporarily — and find it harder to run and grow the business going forward. 

“Fit” organizations emerge from turns ahead or far ahead of where they were before the turn. They effectively drive and maintain alignment even as they shift direction, actively search out and act on emerging opportunities, and make the organization adaptable to change.

The future of data and analytics is now 

Data and analytics (D&A) increasingly lies at the heart of every organization’s digital business strategy. The value of and urgency around D&A will only increase, especially as organizations increasingly combine human intelligence with machine or artificial intelligence (AI).

But to deploy data, analytics and AI successfully, Gartner research shows that digital D&A leaders must proactively engage and train their entire organization to become data-literate and value data as an asset. To do so, promote data literacy awareness and lead purposefully on key issues such as skills development, closing talent gaps, building the right teams and formalizing the right roles.

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: An IT Perspective

Download eBook: 2020 CIO Agenda: Winning in the Turns


CFOs translate growth into sustained profitability

CFOs are challenged today to structure costs to drive a specific competitive strategy, manage costs relative to external benchmarks and investor pressure, and act on cost-related risks and opportunities stemming from the business cycle — all while under pressure from investors to control costs and from business leaders to fund growth opportunities in uncertain times.

Certain companies generate extraordinary returns by succeeding at this balancing act and achieve what Gartner calls efficient growth. CFOs of these overperformers institutionalize the realization that not all growth is created equal and restructure the cost base to drive efficient growth. 

They build scale in the cost structure with focused growth bets, simple product and service lines, and dense operational and customer footprints — which together drive higher operating leverage from a focused fixed cost base.

Finance creates decision-ready management reporting

CFOs have invested heavily in analytics, but 54% of finance organizations still struggle to provide data and reports that stakeholders can rely on to inform their decisions. 

As organizational performance data grows in volume, variety and velocity, finance must adapt to the notion that data can be imperfect and still be valuable for analytics and decision making.

Gartner found that a “sufficient version of the truth” strategy is far more effective at producing decision-ready data than insights around a single source of truth — as long as the costs of these imperfections are understood and finance makes informed trade-offs between the cost of bad data and the effort of additional data governance. 

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Finance Perspective

Learn More: Winning Finance Transformation Strategy

Legal, compliance, risk and assurance

Legal and compliance gets more savvy on risks

More than 60% of general counsel report that they are more frequently providing guidance on unfamiliar risk areas and facing an environment where the organization’s risk posture changes frequently. In that environment, the majority report that business risk tolerance is undefined or unclear.

To ensure that in-house lawyers better meet the business’s risk-taking needs, teach risk-advising know-how. Gartner research shows you can significantly improve your legal team’s ability to provide risk-aligned guidance by providing access to: 

  • Pertinent information and experiences 
  • Strong, consistent examples of what risk-aligned guidance looks like 
  • Frameworks that help lawyers to accurately assess risk and balance it against reward

Improve third-party risk outcomes

Today’s third parties require more access to an organization’s data assets and are increasingly working with their own third parties, multiplying the size and complexity of the third-party network — and its risks.

As third-party risks continue to grow, CEOs and other C-suite leaders struggle to understand which third-party management practices are most effective for improving risk outcomes. Many pursue large-scale improvements: They evaluate new governance models, assess ownership and try to determine optimal technology strategies to improve risk outcomes. 

Gartner research shows that accessible, incremental process changes in current activities are more impactful than such wholesale changes in governance or investments in technology. Start by designating one primary functional owner for third-party risk management and determining clear roles and responsibilities for functional partners in monitoring and prioritizing third-party risks. 

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Legal & Compliance Perspective

Download eBook: Stay Ahead of Growing Third-Party Risks

Faster action on emerging risks

Enterprise risk management (ERM) teams have long struggled to get their organizations to act quickly on emerging risks, which — by definition — don’t have a meaningful immediate impact. But these risks are often fast-moving and volatile, and organizations increasingly recognize that they are just too slow and ill-equipped to deal with them.

Business leaders want to act more decisively, but ERM leaders struggle to clearly convey risk information in an actionable way. Under pressure to do more, ERM leaders typically try to push harder for quicker action by providing stakeholders with more precise information.

Gartner research shows they need to reframe the risk discussion by: Prioritizing the risks and providing options for dealing with the urgent subset; offering solutions that require relatively little funding or disruption; and finding credible advocates among executives across the business who would be held accountable for the impact of potential emerging risks.

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Risk Perspective

Solve the audit-skills mismatch

Data is increasingly integral to how all organizations work, and internal audit (IA) teams find that the business is much more likely to act on data-driven and insightful recommendations. But IA needs to acquire or strengthen data literacy skills to deliver high-caliber data-driven insights the business needs to take action.

Investments in analytics have been slow to yield expected returns — and it has proved difficult, time-consuming and expensive to acquire data-literate talent. But Gartner research shows that IA can do more with existing talent and resources

One highly impactful step is to evaluate which existing datasets exist can be used to drive insights and pull forward that evaluation to the audit planning stage, rather than waiting until the plan has been set. Another is to identify, allocate and leverage the scarce data capabilities that already exist in the audit function. This elevates the department’s everyday level of competency while longer-term hiring and training solutions take effect.

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: An Audit Perspective

Marketing, sales and customer service

Marketing-led innovation

Marketers are all-in on innovation, but say their efforts are limited by organizational resistance to risk, an inability to measure the impact of innovation and challenges finding talent.

To overcome the barriers, adopt a staged “crawl, walk, run” approach to mature new ideas. During the crawl phase, conduct research with customers to identify unmet pain points; ideate new ways to solve them; develop a business case for the innovation; and identify possible partners to develop the solution. 

These early, incremental steps give stakeholders time to acclimate to a new idea, even as marketers continue to validate it. This helps overcome the type of in-house risk aversion that can defer or deter the buy-in needed for ideas to graduate to the walk and run phases.

High-impact CX strategies

Many marketing leaders seek to differentiate from the competition through amazing CX. But it’s almost possible to innovate and excel in every aspect of the virtually infinite scope of CX. Marketers need to determine where to focus to drive the largest impact, especially given finite resources. 

Gartner found that a small subset of experiences have an outsize influence on customers’ eventual loyalty. These salient experiences stay with customers long after they occur.

Most salient? Positive product experiences that not only show the customer that the product works; they also demonstrate customer benefits, validating the customer’s decision to buy the product — making them more likely to do it again.

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Marketing Perspective

High-performance sales approach for the information era

Modern B2B buyers overwhelmingly indicate that the information they encounter during their purchase processes is of high quality. But the amount of quality information available to these customers far exceeds their capacity to consume it. As a result, buyers need sellers who can help them navigate the information landscape to find the answers they need to make better decisions. 

Gartner research shows that sellers who adopt a Sense Making approach to information increase the chances of closing high-quality, low-regret deals. They do this by connecting customers to relevant resources, clarifying information complexity, and helping customers to evaluate the quality of information and arrive at their own understanding of difficult issues. This approach boosts customer confidence and reduces skepticism. 

In a world where the primary obstacle to commercial success is less about sellers’ struggle to sell and more about customers’ inability to buy, Sense Making has the greatest commercial impact — making it an important component of sales hiring, training and enablement strategies.

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Sales Perspective

Download eBook: Win Through Sense Making

Digital-first customer service

Companies have invested for the past decade in multiple digital service channels, such as web portals, mobile apps and chatbots, in an effort to deliver on perceived customer preferences. But Gartner research shows that customers are more interested in the resolution of their problems than their choice of channel.

Winning service organizations dedicate their efforts and resources to building and optimizing self-service capabilities to achieve resolution where feasible. Given the superior economics of digital, self-serve channels — and customers’ willingness to use them — service organizations should move aggressively toward a digital-first strategy. 

Rather than providing self-serve channels as additional choices to customers, leaders need to engineer the service experience to move and keep customers in digital channels.

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Customer Service & Support Perspective

Download eBook: Rethink Your Digital Self-Service Strategy

Research and development

Increase the commercial impact of new product development

New products often don’t meet enterprise growth ambitions, commonly because of poor product/market fit. Sometimes new product development teams are ill-informed, but even when customer and market insights are shared and understood throughout the organization, they often fail to translate into commercial success.

Gartner found one approach with an outsized impact on product success: Taking a “challenging posture” to customer insight and understanding — specifically, scrutinizing the quality of customer data and weighing different ways to solve customer problems. This approach: 

  • Keeps R&D focused on the things that really matter in driving product success
  • Reinforces desired product outcomes
  • Signals to R&D leaders where effort or time is wasted
  • Surfaces shifts in assumptions that could jeopardize project success

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: An R&D Perspective

Supply chain 

Digital supply chain technologies drive business goals

Top-performing supply chain leaders seek to invest in new technologies to optimize costs, meet increasing customer expectations and enhance their decision-making ability. They are also clear on which capabilities the supply chain requires to meet future digital business needs.

To stay ahead, chief supply chain officers must be aware of key technology trends. Gartner research shows an increasing number of tangible use cases in the digital supply chain for AI, advanced analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT). 

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: An Supply Chain Perspective

Human resources and corporate communications

The Connector manager performance advantage

To make sure employees get the development support they need from their managers, many organizations promote continuous coaching and feedback. But how well do these initiatives work in practice? Gartner research identified four distinct manager approaches, and found that the continuous coaching and feedback style, while popular, was failing.

Instead of helping their employees develop, these “Always-On” continuous managers can actually degrade employee performance. The approach can be disabling for employees, providing them with too much, or even irrelevant, feedback.

One type of manager outperforms the others — the Connector manager. Connector managers don’t spend more time coaching than other types, they just prioritize their coaching time differently and make three connections — employee, team and organization — that aid employees’ development.

Increase the return on your employee experience strategy

Employee experience touches employees in many ways, all related to how they internalize and interpret the interactions they have with and within their organization and the contexts that influence those interactions. If HR leaders don’t improve their employee experience, they won’t see the business and talent outcomes they want — and need.

Many organizations are investing in “consumer-grade” experiences meant to be personalized, seamless, consistent and empowering. But Gartner research shows that shaping how employees feel about their experience results in better outcomes than simply investing in the experience alone. This approach involves influencing the expectations, day-to-day experiences and memories of employee experience over time.  

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Human Resources Perspective

Download eBook: The Connector Manager Performance Advantage

How comms handles contentious social issues

Communications leaders can be reluctant to engage with controversial topics, fearing negative backlash from their employees, customers and investors. But Gartner research indicates that stakeholders respond very positively to organizational involvement in societal issues.

In fact, there is a disproportionately positive response from audiences when they see companies taking a stand. The data shows that improved opinions of the company outnumber negative reactions by roughly 6 to 1. Potentially even more impressive than the attitudinal improvement is the positive impact on behavior in crucial areas like customers buying more and employees recommending the company.

It’s key, however, to take a systematic approach to guiding your organization’s involvement in societal issues. Choose the right issues and engage in a way that’s authentic to your values. 

Download now:Top Insights for the C-Suite: A Communications Perspective

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