10 Questions about AI every CEO should ask. 

Provided by Prof. Jon Whittle, Director CSIRO’s Data61

1. What is AI anyway?  

There are roughly two flavours of AI. Symbolic AI requires a human to write down a set of “rules” that the AI searches through to make a decision. Data-driven AI instead looks for patterns in large datasets – in essence, it figures out the rules for itself.

The vast majority of AI in industry today is data-driven AI. By definition, it needs plenty of quality data about your business to work.

Generative AI is a form of data-driven AI that creates content – text, images, video. Generative AI has become popular since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022. ChatGPT is also a form of general-purpose AI as it can carry out a wide variety of tasks. In contrast, narrow AI is designed for a very specific task, and only works for that particular task.

2. Is AI ready for prime-time? 

AI has been used in industry for decades. Netflix has been using AI to suggest what you watch for over two decades. An early form of symbolic AI, Google Maps was invented (in Sydney!) in 2005. I was in the control room when the first AI software was used to command a spacecraft in 1998! In 2023, McKinsey said that 55% of organisations have implemented AI in at least one business unit or function [1].

3. Which industries is AI impacting the most?

Narrow AI is well embedded in industries such as automotive, manufacturing, and mining. Generative AI has impacted education, marketing and the creative industries. Some experts believe that most opportunities lie in healthcare (although health systems can be slow to adopt technology), the legal profession (one in two lawyers already use AI according to the AFR [2]), or banking (although there are issues around sensitive data).

4. What kind of problems can I use AI for in my business?

Publicly-available generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Gemini can be used “out of the box” for a variety of business tasks, such as crafting emails, summarising documents or even writing code. More sophisticated tasks will require a bit more work. Some companies – such as KPMG and Bloomberg – have trained generative AI tools to work with their own internal documents.

Generative AI can be good at automating repetitive tasks, although it usually requires human oversight. More generally, if you have plenty of historical data about a particular business process or problem, you could potentially use narrow AI to solve a particular problem. But for any AI application, be aware that AI never produces right answers 100% of the time. AI is based on statistics so can get things wrong.

5. Will AI improve productivity in my business?

Maybe. It’s still early days in terms of scientific evidence on AI productivity [3]. A meta-review by Microsoft showed productivity increases of between 26% and 73% from its own Copilot tool. Harvard Business School showed a 12% increase in productivity for consultants using AI. And the National Bureau of Economic Research reported call centre agents could handle 14% more calls with AI.

However, these are isolated studies and it’s not clear if productivity increases translate at an enterprise level. It’s well known that productivity increases in one part of a business can lead to decreases elsewhere [4]. And Solow’s paradox [5] reminds us that, over the last few decades, the promises of digital transformation efforts often do not materialise in practice.

6. What risks should I be aware of?

The most well-known are biases (where an AI is trained on limited demographic data and so discriminates against people outside that demographic) and hallucinations (where generative AI makes up facts – research indicates that ChatGPT fabricates unverifiable information in approximately 20% of its responses [3]). These can lead to significant reputational and financial risk for a company. For example, an Air Canada chatbot incorrectly offered a customer discount but was forced by a tribunal to honour it.

Good AI governance within a business is crucial to understanding and mitigating any potential risks. AI regulation is also coming – the EU has already passed an AI Act and regulation is actively being considered by the Australian government.

7. How much will it cost?

While many AI tools are free, the more advanced versions typically require a subscription model. These can add up to a significant investment across a large organisation. Given that the estimates for OpenAI to train its GPT-4 AI are $78M US [3], AI vendors will need to recoup costs somehow. For more specific AI applications in an enterprise, there will be additional costs: to collect and curate the data to train an AI, ongoing maintenance costs, consultancy and/or in-house AI expertise. These costs can be significant. On the other hand, McKinsey says that 42% of organisations report cost reductions overall [3].

8. What is the impact of AI on the environment?

The environmental cost of AI is somewhat under-reported. The datacentres that power AI require large amounts of electricity (not exclusively renewable) and water. Carbon emissions of generative AI systems come from training the AI model as well as use of the model. Meta’s Llama2 is estimated to have emitted 291 tonnes of carbon during training (compared to 1 tonne for a roundtrip flight from New York to San Francisco) [3]. By some estimates, a generative AI search requires ten times more electricity than a standard search. AI can also reduce environmental impact – AI is being used to reduce waste and to make cooling more efficient.

More generally, aspects of AI are starting to be considered in ESG frameworks. CSIRO and Alphinity Investment Management recently released an approach to evaluating ESG impacts of AI [7]. Early evidence suggests that those companies with a strong ESG track record are more likely to implement AI responsibly.

9. Where should I start adopting AI?

My advice to business looking to adopt AI is threefold: (i) Focus on the problem you are trying to solve rather than introducing AI for its own sake; (ii) AI is not appropriate for all problems – for example, AI will never achieve 100% accuracy because it is a statistical technique; (iii) Realise that AI takes effort to succeed – you need well-curated and sufficiently large datasets, AI technical expertise, and good AI governance practices.

10. Where can I learn more?

For a general introduction to AI and its applications across a range of industries, check out my Everyday AI podcast, available on all streaming platforms. CSIRO’s National AI Centre provides resources about best-practice adoption of AI, safe and responsible AI practices, as well as practical support on how to get started.

[1] Chui, M., Yee, L., Hall, B., Singla, A. & Sukharevsky, A. (2023). The State of AI in 2023: Generative AI’s Breakout Year.  McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/quantumblack/our-insights/the-state-of-ai-in-2023generative-ais-breakout-year#widespreadhttp://ceros.mckinsey.com/commentary-ai-2023-lareina-ye-desktop.

[2] ‘Get the job done’: One in two lawyers use AI, Euan Black, Australian Financial Review, Apr 16, 2024

[3] Nestor Maslej, Loredana Fattorini, Raymond Perrault, Vanessa Parli, Anka Reuel, Erik Brynjolfsson, John Etchemendy, Katrina Ligett, Terah Lyons, James Manyika, Juan Carlos Niebles, Yoav Shoham, Russell Wald, and Jack Clark,  “The AI Index 2024 Annual Report,” AI Index Steering Committee, Institute for Human-Centered AI, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, April 2024.

[4] Why CSCW applications fail: problems in the design and evaluation of organization of organizational interfaces. J. Grudin. CSCW '88: Proceedings of the 1988 ACM conference on Computer-supported cooperative work, page 85--93. New York, NY, USA, ACM, (1988)

[5] Bäck, Asta & Hajikhani, Arash & Jäger, Angela & Schubert, Torben & Suominen, Arho, 2022. "Return of the Solow-paradox in AI? AI-adoption and firm productivity," Papers in Innovation Studies 2022/1, Lund University, CIRCLE - Centre for Innovation Research

[6] Alex de Vries, The growing energy footprint of artificial intelligence, Joule, Volume 7, Issue 10, 2023, pages 2191-2194.

[7] Alphinity Investment Management & Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), The intersection of Responsible AI and ESG: A Framework for Investors, CSIRO, 2024.

Burnout...Already? Recognising Symptoms and Implementing Strategies for a Balanced 2024 

Burnout is a pervasive issue among leaders and professionals, is more than just a temporary feeling of exhaustion; it's a state of chronic physical and emotional depletion that can have severe consequences for both individuals and organisations. 

Understanding the Symptoms

Burnout in leaders can manifest in numerous ways, affecting not only personal well-being but also organisational productivity:  

As organisations grapple with ongoing stressors and disruptions, stress-related absences are on the rise, highlighting the urgent need to address burnout at its root. 

Causes of Burnout: 

Burnout does not stem from a single source; rather, it's often the culmination of a range of factors, both work-related and lifestyle related. Work-related causes can range from operating in high-pressure or disorganised environments to being burdened with unrealistic expectations, feeling unrecognised or unrewarded, and experiencing a lack of control over one's work. Lifestyle-related causes encompass taking on excessive responsibilities, inadequate sleep, insufficient relaxation time, a scarcity of meaningful relationships, and neglecting one's unique needs. 

Managing Burnout: 

Recognising the importance of proactive measures, leaders can take steps to manage and prevent burnout. Here are some effective strategies to consider: 

1. Delegate Responsibility. 

Delegating tasks is crucial for preventing burnout. Leaders often fall into the trap of trying to handle everything themselves, leading to overwhelming stress. By delegating responsibilities appropriately, leaders can distribute the workload and foster a more collaborative work environment. 

2. Diversify Your Time. 

Striking a balance between work and personal life is essential. Leaders should diversify their time by incorporating activities that bring joy and relaxation. This could include hobbies, exercise, or spending quality time with loved ones. Prioritising these activities can create a buffer against the pressures of work. 

3. Identify Major Stressors. 

Pinpointing the major stressors in both work and personal life is crucial. Whether it's an overly demanding project, unrealistic expectations, or personal issues, addressing and finding solutions to these stressors is essential for preventing burnout. It might involve restructuring work processes, seeking support, or setting boundaries. 

4. Reevaluate Goals and Priorities. 

Taking the time to reassess personal and professional goals is fundamental. Leaders should reflect on what truly matters to them and realign their priorities accordingly. This may involve adjusting work objectives, setting realistic expectations, and ensuring that personal well-being is not sacrificed for professional success. 

Within the role of leadership, burnout remains a pervasive challenge. Acknowledging the symptoms, understanding the root causes, and implementing proactive strategies are crucial steps towards creating a healthier work and home environment. Leaders must prioritise their well-being, recognise the signs of burnout, and take affirmative action to prevent its debilitating effects. By fostering a culture of balance, resilience, and self-care, leaders can navigate the challenges of the modern workplace while ensuring sustained personal and professional success. 

Navigating the Tides of Change. The Shifting Power Dynamics in the Workplace.

In the ever-evolving landscape of the global economy, the power dynamics between employers and employees are undergoing a profound transformation. Over the past few years, various factors, including economic shifts, rate rises, cost/staff cutting, restructuring, and the disruptive influence of automation, AI, and robotics investments, have collectively reshaped the traditional employer-employee relationship.

Economic shifts and the balancing act.

One of the key drivers of the changing power dynamics is the continuous ebb and flow of the global economy. As nations grapple with economic uncertainties, businesses are compelled to adapt swiftly to stay competitive. This adaptability often translates into increased negotiating power for employers.

During periods of economic growth, companies may find themselves in fierce competition for skilled talent, leading to a power shift towards employees. Conversely, economic downturns often tip the scales in favour of employers, who may have the upper hand in negotiations due to a surplus of available labour.

Rate rises and wage negotiations.

The global rise in interest rates has intensified the evolving dynamics between employers and employees, as businesses face higher operational expenses, prompting cost-cutting measures. This economic environment creates a delicate dance in wage negotiations, with employers leveraging factors to moderate expectations. Skilled professionals may demand competitive compensation, particularly in labour-short industries. Australia's unemployment rate near a 50-year low contributes to "healthy" wage growth, but the rising cost of living poses challenges for millions, reflecting the intricate interplay of economic factors and policy interventions.

Cost/staff cutting and organisational restructuring.

Cost-cutting measures and organisational restructuring have become commonplace strategies for businesses navigating economic uncertainties, enhancing efficiency, and ensuring competitiveness. However, this shift towards employer empowerment is evident, especially in industries embracing automation and AI, leading to job insecurity for employees.

Amid three years of pandemic-induced disruptions and concerns of recession, leaders face the challenge of aligning budgets with slower revenue growth. The anxiety of short-sighted decisions looms, emphasising the need for strategic cost-trimming without compromising long-term aspirations, culture, and key talent. Open dialogue, protecting the future culture, and strategic focus are pivotal for sustaining organisational health during challenging times.

Disruption of automation, AI, and robotics investments.

As technology advances rapidly, jobs once considered immune to automation are now at risk, requiring employees to adapt to new skill sets. Employers, benefiting from increased leverage, navigate a talent market valuing digital proficiency.

The rise of generative AI tools underscores AI's explosive growth, with organisations increasingly integrating them into business functions. Despite the potential for significant business disruption, AI high performers are at the forefront, adopting gen AI tools and outpacing others in leveraging their capabilities for product and service development.

Competitiveness versus support and positivity.

The strategic shift from employee to employer power is vital for modern businesses, but its impact on employee well-being must be acknowledged. The fear of job insecurity and the pressure to upskill for technological advancements can lead to increased stress and burnout.

Employers must prioritise fostering a positive workplace culture and supporting professional development to ensure a motivated workforces.

This balance between efficiency and a supportive environment is crucial. In the current era of transformation, successful navigation of power dynamics will define the future of work.

Despite recent macroeconomic volatility and geopolitical factors, signs of stabilisation in energy prices and economic growth tempt expectations of a fresh start in 2024. However, with geopolitical tensions and unresolved supply-demand imbalances, business leaders face the question of whether uncertainties will ever return to pre-pandemic levels.

Authenticity and leadership in liminal
space and time.

We are currently living through a liminal time. What does that mean? Let me explain a concept called liminal time. In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning "a threshold") is the feeling of disorientation when participants in an event are in transition from one stage to another. It is a time between times – a transitional space. Think of the caterpillar's metamorphosis into a butterfly: we are in the process of growing wings, ready to emerge from our cocoons, transformed! Let me break it down further.

We have all experienced liminality at some point in our lives, where we exist on the precipice between life before and life after. For some, a significant event evokes this feeling. It could be the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, changing jobs, retirement, and so on. It can be an unfamiliar space of great uncertainty – a space between spaces – moving from something familiar, through doubt, fragility, vulnerability, into something new. You can plan for liminal times in your life and put safeguards in place. By planning, you anticipate and prepare. You may even feel excited about this life change ahead.

However, this past 12 months has been an unplanned liminal time – we didn't expect it, nor did we want it – we had no choice. COVID-19 was unlike anything we have experienced before – the anxiety, the ambiguity, the lack of trust. This disruption came about through no fault of our own.

Furthermore, the current pandemic is unique in that it is a liminal moment the entire world is experiencing simultaneously. Yes, some individuals have been affected more than others, but the common factor is that everyone is affected somehow. We have all faced the same challenge at the same time. It has been a collective experience. The pandemic has been a jolt to the system. It has shocked all of us, coming out of nowhere to upend our lives.

As a result, we have seen the good, the bad and the ugly of human behaviour. We have seen rapid changes occur in all facets of life, with family, community, at work, at play, everywhere—even ourselves.
Our self-awareness and authenticity have determined our response to all of this. Our self-awareness is connected to and informs our authenticity.

Our authentic selves have had to navigate this strange and unprecedented experience, often fumbling in the dark for familiar touchpoints to orient ourselves amid the uncertainty. Sometimes we have been left bemused, perplexed and even disillusioned. Authenticity can be a hard road to travel. Even when all is stable and well, living an authentic life can be challenging. Amidst a pandemic, contending with all that brings, our authentic selves have been severely tested.

As leaders, we have all have had to step up, face fears and sometimes make the most courageous, unpopular decisions to get through, both personally and professionally. It has forced some of us to look in the mirror and question who we are. Is this the authentic me? Am I living my authentic self?

Living through liminal time accentuates and accelerates the external factors that impact our sense of self. In liminal space, we live with heightened self-awareness. We are fragile, sensitive to all that is going on around us. Our core is exposed. It's during these moments that we search again to align self-awareness with authenticity and purpose. Being authentic is about embracing the power to define your life -to write your story.
When you look back on this liminal time, how will you judge yourself? Did you stay true to yourself?
Will you emerge from this liminal time, transformed? Did you let go of the old to give way to the new?

Creating the magic of social connection in a
displaced workplace.

One of the most significant questions on leaders' minds today is how to create social connection in a displaced workplace. How can leaders build a culture and foster engagement to reconnect in an age of economic uncertainty and workplace disruption? 

Social connection is an issue that goes to the heart of the modern workplace in a post-pandemic age characterised by hybrid workplace models, fluid employment arrangements and the changed expectations of employers and employees. It is shaping to be one of the long-term challenges for organisations of all shapes and sizes across the spectrum of industries. 

The need for social connection has always been fundamental in organisations. Its importance was evident before COVID, but the unique challenges of the pandemic heightened the urgency of the issue. Beyond solo entrepreneurs and a few rare organisations, all businesses must grapple with social connection and how it is constituted and expressed in the workplace.

Social relationships undergird essential organisational elements such as communication, teamwork and values. When social connection breaks down, the adverse flow-on effects seep into all corners of the organisation. Without a culture that supports healthy social connection, organisations soon become dysfunctional. As leaders, we turn a blind eye to social connection deficiencies in our organisations at our peril – and the detriment of our colleagues and the business more broadly.

Social connection magic.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with an amazing leader, Mario Halouvas, the Founder of EA Essentials and CEO of Priority Management Australia, a corporate training company specialising in helping organisations increase their productivity. Mario and I presented at one of our EA Circle events on social connection and how it is proving to be among the most demanding challenges facing organisations right now. His take on the topic was unique and insightful.

Alongside his corporate credentials, Mario has a rich background in drama, theatre and film. In fact, Mario was a Theatre Sports champion back in his university days! Because of this training, he is astute at spotting hidden narratives among individuals and within organisations. Many of us in business are excellent with numbers or systems and processes, but someone like Mario can bring a perspective to a topic like social connection that is not always obvious to most.

After speaking to Mario, I could see we were aligned on the theme of social connection in a displaced workplace. We both were able to share our pearls of wisdom and connected positively with some of the best and brightest minds in our EA Circle, sparking a robust and productive discussion around this crucial topic. It was wonderful to have Mario address our EA Circle because I firmly believe EAs are essential for building culture, engagement and social connection in organisations.

I see EAs as "the glue" because they are the culturalists, the hosts, and the custodians in organisations. EAs are highly capable administrators but also have a hidden superpower – they have the power and influence to lead and impact an organisation's social connection. They do much of the invisible work that holds an organisation together. They can make a difference!

The objective of both Mario and I co-presenting together was to increase awareness and help EAs and organisation influencers change their mindsets and become more strategic in their thinking.

Our presentation and Circle discussions touched upon the current environment's many issues relating to social connection and beyond. These included:

So how do you build culture, engagement, and social connection in a displaced workforce? We narrowed it down to the Big 5 things EAs and others can do to facilitate and enable better social connection across any organisation:

1. The Glue.

In the organisation host or culturalist role, the EA can play a critical part in welcoming an employee into the organisation and also work closely with people and culture (HR) to formulate, tweak and tune the induction program. EAs (and others) can get closely involved in formulating and improving workplace induction programs, providing their insights and expertise. To build social connections and a healthy workplace culture, it is integral to ensure that new hires have a sense of belonging right from the outset. To that end, a well formulated induction program and welcome process is essential.

2. The Inner Circle.

Social connection depends on understanding, expanding, and aligning the sphere of influence. EAs are often influential within organisations as conduits for connections across departments and up and down hierarchies. As organisational hosts, EAs often understand the social dynamics of a workplace. They can identify not only the overt influencers (those with managerial titles, etc.) but also the covert influencers, or "foxes", the people who make tangible differences to the everyday atmosphere of a workplace. The "foxes" play an influential role in shaping an organisation's granular culture. Getting them on board can make all the difference in creating healthy social connections.

3. Ikigai.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living. Yes, we work to earn money, pay the bills and provide a better life for ourselves and our loved ones. But we want our work to have meaning. A sense of purpose for our work and a shared mission create powerful drivers for workplace culture and social connection. By making the space for people to explore and express their sense of purpose, you can tap into a conversation between employees about what they love and are passionate about both in and out of work. Ikigai is simply about finding the alignment and harmony between our sense of self and the organisation's purpose.

4. C & E Groups (Connect and Engage).

Organisations can successfully engage their workforce by simply seeking their opinions, perspectives, and thoughts on the continuous improvement process (CIP). There are several ways to facilitate C&E groups in the workplace:

Establish face-to-face focus groups to discuss identified areas of concern, listen to feedback, and demonstrate a genuine commitment to improvement.
Lunch-and-learn groups can get together over lunch and have someone present their viewpoint or expertise in an informal and friendly setting, allowing employees to get to know each other and opening avenues of learning and communication within the workplace.
Engage the power of storytelling and have existing employees, guest speakers, and people from the broader community come in and tell their stories. We have so much to learn from each other. We need to make the space to listen and learn. Create situations to engage employees through the power of storytelling.

5. Celebrate!

We don't do it enough! Celebrating the success of individuals and the organisation builds enormous momentum for social connection and healthy workplace culture. Catch people doing great stuff. Get the team together, do a webinar/podcast about successes, and share it with people. But don't only celebrate the obvious achievements. Dig deep and find the silver linings in apparent failures, too. Share the pain and create the gain. We can bond powerfully over challenging situations as well as victories.

A big part of celebrating is creating fun days to encourage people and social connection—BBQs, training sessions, guest speakers, etc., are all great ways to connect and bond. Additional things could be mental health programs, yoga, and exercise groups. It's not about getting people back into the office; it's about creating a workplace employees want to be part of, where they feel valued and they belong.

The Greater Success of your organisation depends upon social connection. Your workplace leaders have an important job to do in that success. To finish, I ask you to think about the following: "By understanding your space, your people, your culture, you can influence and help create the conditions – and the outcomes happen. The magic happens!"

This is what International Women's Day
means to me.

Globally, we celebrated International Women’s Day 2023 on Wednesday, 8 March and I appreciate this may come across as tokenism, but I want to share the importance of International Women’s Day from a male point of view, mine. 

Before I delve into my perspective, International Women’s Day (IWD) has featured heavily in the media and across our socials, but how much do we really know about it, its origins, and what it stands for? 

Originating from early 20th-century labour movements in North America and Europe, the United Nation’s history timeline shows the first National Woman’s Day was observed by the United States on 28 February 1909, with a rich history of international activity to follow from several groups to grow and honour women’s rights and the female suffrage movement. IWD was officially recognised by the United Nations in 1977.

As acknowledged by UN Women Australia: International Women’s Day is an occasion to review how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise for meaningful change.

A day to celebrate the achievements of women and one to spotlight the inequity women face.

For me, IWD represents an opportunity to take a deep look at the imbalance of gender diversity in all facets of society. I note this should be a daily focus, an ongoing activity, but what IWD does, is it brings global attention to how uneven things continue to be, yes, progress is happening, yet, the world’s pendulum still swings favourably to males, especially at work. There is a growing discourse towards the annual morning teas, however, IWD is a tap on the shoulder to remind the decision-makers that they need and must do more.

Decision-makers must make a concerted effort to understand and appreciate that everyone is different. Each person’s circumstances are unique. We must do all we can to cater to people’s individual circumstances. Be the enablers and allocate resources and opportunities to assist those that need our help to reach an equal outcome.

The significance of this impactful day was reinforced at Hyatt Australia’s IWD 2023 event, where I had the honour of joining the esteemed panel alongside the incredible Carla Raynes and Debbie Lee to explore this year’s theme #EmbraceEquity. It was an inspiring occasion where we explored the important global discussion that ‘Equality is the goal, and equity is the means to get there’.

Listening to Carla and Debbie’s stories and what they have achieved and continue to achieve in their lives, personally and professionally, fighting through a concrete ceiling, not a glass ceiling, proves that pressure does make diamonds. If you believe in yourself and surround yourself with people that believe in you, you find the strength and the power to face adversity, fight the good fight, persevere, and create opportunities to make your dreams become realities.

These two amazing leaders have already made an enormous difference to so many women. They have paved the way and shown them that dreams do come true. They proved that women can achieve anything they put their minds to. That they are unlimited!! No one has the right to define what you can and can’t do – no limits. You can achieve anything in life as long as you put the work and effort in and truly believe.

Helen Keller, author, lecturer and political activist said: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Trailblazers Making a Difference.

After working in the homelessness field for nearly two decades, in 2021 founder and CEO Carla Raynes established Bridge It. The charity works to address the big gap in youth accommodation by supporting 17 to 21-year-olds exiting out-of-home care. Through the ‘Cocoon’ support model, Bridge It has created a home in St Kilda, The Cocoon. Among the many services and support available, it is a haven to recover, learn life skills, receive education and employment access, wellness activities and peer mentoring groups. A second Cocoon will be launched this year with the future potential to make the model accessible in other countries.

Debbie Lee is the National Women’s and Girls Action Plan Lead for the AFL and in 2021, became the first-ever female inductee to the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Her credentials speak for themselves and apart from her playing excellence, she is one of the most respected and admired people in her industry, championing women’s AFL.

Supported by her father, Debbie’s football journey began early and she recounted of the time when women’s football was a constant battle. They were an afterthought and there was no support. There was no visibility in the sport, and she experienced firsthand the barriers that existed in creating equal sporting opportunities for women and girls.

Debbie’s motivation stemmed from her determination to make a difference for women in football. To break down the barriers and discrimination. She had a dream that AFLW would become televised and a fully-fledged competition, respected and admired by all. I am delighted to say that Debbie has achieved this dream.

Reflection and Action.

From the many key topics discussed, the panel shared their viewpoints on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Most importantly they all highlighted that DEI are essential elements in creating the best workplace for everyone to feel a sense of belonging. No matter how big or small, our ideas and actions each bring the opportunity for change which in turn will create renewed hope and a brighter day for us all. Please consider what you can you do to foster DEI in your daily life and organisation.

On a final note, IWD also allowed me to reflect on the incredible female leaders we have involved in all of our Circles, my own incredible team of women at The CEO Circle and the amazing women in my personal life. Their stories, their struggles, their challenges and their successes, inspire me and so many others to reach greater heights in our personal, professional and organisational lives.

Equity is a means to get to equality. Are we succeeding? Yes, we are, however, we need to reach for Greater Success in our endeavours to bridge the equity gender gap.

To disrupt or be
disrupted.

Disruption does not need to be a negative word – especially if you create it!

The Covid pandemic has been a disruptive event thrust upon us. We have all had enough of the havoc it has wreaked over the past two years. However, even within a grand scale disruption like a pandemic, there are opportunities for positive change. We can take back control of the narrative and put ourselves in a position to benefit from disruption. 

Covid is but one example of disruption, albeit a major one. Disruption happens in all facets of life, in our professional and personal domains. The one constant, however, is you. 

Our attitude towards disruption shapes how we handle change. It also informs how we position ourselves as change-makers, as positive disruptors capable of breaking down, assessing, and reconstituting our reality and lives. 

We hand over our agency when we only view disruption as an external force pushing and pulling us from pillar to post. At best, we become reactive to events around us, a bit-part player in someone else's story. When we give up control of our story, we lose the strategic advantage of having agency and the psychological advantage it brings. Our ego is diminished. We lose an essential element of our life force.

Disruption happens to us, but importantly, we must never forget that we can be the disruptor. 

You can be a disruptor by speaking up or doing something about a negative aspect of the status quo, whether in your personal life or the workplace. By being the shining light or the champion in the organisation who does not allow uncontrollable, external disruptions to influence or affect your mindset adversely, you disrupt for good. By not accepting the prevailing wisdom or the traditional way of doing things, you can open yourself and others to new ideas and better outcomes. 

The key to being a positive disruptor is mindfulness. When we accept our situation or circumstances as a given, as immutable, we tend to slip into sleepwalker mode. We tick boxes and follow the seemingly pre-destined path laid out before us. We park our brains and let habit do the driving. 

But you need to be in the driver's seat! Be the driving force in your life. Mindfulness means you are SELF-aware and conscious of your thoughts, situation, and circumstances. It's flipping the switch from ''what does this situation demand from me?'' to ''what can I demand from this situation?'' 

You can control this – you can control how you approach things and whether you let those things negatively or positively impact you. Focus on your attitude and how you decide to respond. Ask questions. Interrogate. Reframe your outlook. Look for cracks in the facade. Where can you gain the leverage to pry open new possibilities? Imagine new horizons. 

Opportunities are everywhere, especially if we are curious. Curiosity is integral to ensuring that you are on the front foot, awake and prepared to move and disrupt.

Adopting this attitude may require becoming comfortable with being a maverick and shaking things up. 

Extend this thinking to your business. To be a disruptor, you must:   

To achieve Greater Success, don't wait to be disrupted. Be the disruptor!

How scenario planning can help organisations
emerge from the COVID fog.

At The CEO Circle, we have continued to hold our regular Circle meetings (virtually, of course) throughout the COVID-19 crisis. 

It has been a fascinating and sometimes emotionally charged experience, listening to our many members speak about the leadership challenges they have had to confront and overcome. 

In my 13 years with The CEO Circle, I have not seen our members tackle a more complex set of collective challenges. Personally, it has been a humbling, exhausting and inspiring experience. 

Among the most common topics to come up in Circle meetings was scenario planning. In the normal course of events, scenario planning is an important and regular part of how most successful organisations go about setting goals and strategy for the future. 

However, during the past six or so months, scenario planning has taken on a whole new level of importance. COVID-19 introduced such an abundant array of complicating factors into play that when we first grasped its enormity, we all felt dizzy just thinking about its implications.  

In truth, we are all still trying to get our heads around what it all means.  

There's still no vaccine. No one is entirely sure of the economic ramifications, domestically and globally. And we don't know the long-term effects the crisis may have on such things as mental health, education, international travel and a host of other things. 

All of this means that scenario planning is essential.  

But scenario planning in the time of COVID can't be what it used to be – it has to be turbo-charged. Events move too quickly, and the stakes are too high to move at a leisurely pace anymore.  

As our meetings progressed, we made sure to continually update a spreadsheet of the different topics raised in our Circle meetings. Around 50 separate topics were documented. 

The breadth and depth of the issues raised illustrated just how far-ranging the challenges have been for businesses. From concerns about the skills shortage created by the abrupt halt to immigration through to data privacy and security, the issues raised by members have all required significant assessment and policy thought.

Going the distance: 10 critical insights for leadership above and beyond COVID-19.

As part of our ongoing commitment to supporting CEOs and leaders throughout the COVID-19 crisis, The CEO Circle held a webinar titled “Going The Distance: Leadership Above & Beyond COVID-19” on Thursday 11 June.

The webinar featured experienced business leaders Andrew Reitzer, Elizabeth Johnstone and John Moller, who are all esteemed group chairs with The CEO Circle. 

The discussion ranged from the way COVID-19 is transforming the socio-economic landscape of Australia through to how organisations might be able to consolidate the positives that have emerged from the crisis. 

As the webinar moderator, I was delighted by the optimism of the panellists, with everyone recognising this crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. All agreed we can expect uncertainty to be a certainty at least for the next 12-18 months. 

The consensus is that organisations with strong fundamentals in place and an adaptable, ‘athletic stance’ to challenges and opportunities stand to emerge stronger from this crisis. 

With that in mind, here are 10 of the most critical insights to come from our Going The Distance webinar.

  1. Maintain an 'athletic stance'. Opportunities will emerge over the next year for businesses that have adopted an 'athletic stance' during the COVID-19 crisis. Leaders need to ensure their business is ready to seize these opportunities across areas like M&A, new markets and new projects. This is not business as usual; we are in a new era. Stay on the front foot. Revisit supply contracts; organisational structure; lease and rental agreements; and employee agreements. How can you strengthen your balance sheet in the short to medium term? What is your cash runway, do you have the cashflow to cope? Understand the changes made in your business over the past months and work to lock in the positives.
  2. Engage and energise your team to stay the course. The fracturing of workplace cultures is one of the significant challenges to come from the crisis. For many, uncertainty about the future of their jobs and livelihoods has led to anxiety and stress. Even with regular virtual meetings, remote work has put team cultures under strain. Leaders and key staff need to work hard to reinvigorate flagging cultures and stressed employees, especially as businesses shift to ‘hybrid’ workplace models incorporating remote work and a return-to-office. John Moller said: “Your business is about people – today, tomorrow and forever. Get the right people on the bus. Retain good people. If you’ve got great people working together, it energises an organisation. Leaders shape an organisation’s culture.”
  3. Leadership fundamentals have not changed. Despite the massive upheavals, the fundamentals of good leadership stay the same. Employees are looking towards leaders during these difficult times. Andrew Reitzer said: “People want direction. They want to be led. As a leader, you need to lead and stand up.” While pre-COVID times may have seen a shift in leadership styles towards flatter hierarchies and a greater emphasis on consensus decision-making, the demands of crisis and emergencies require leaders to back themselves and take action, quickly. Your team needs you now more than ever.
  4. Get close to your customers. John Moller said: “People are shopping differently. People aren’t as tactile anymore. Customer behaviours are changing. Stay close to your customer. Run customer surveys to get on the front foot. Your customers may be different post-COVID to pre-COVID.” It is tricky to discern precisely to what extent customer behaviour will have changed as a result of the pandemic, but the signs clearly indicate it has been significantly affected. Now is the time to stay in touch with your customers and to gauge what it is they want and how you can deliver.
  5. Shifts in the socio-economic landscape. Elizabeth Johnstone outlined several areas in which we can expect drastic changes to the socio-economic landscape as well as the international business landscape. She said: “How will what’s going on internationally affect your business? The changing geopolitical scene, sanctions, tariffs, lack of travel, international trade? All of these things will affect the economy and businesses.” With governments around the world making policy on the run, there is a high degree of uncertainty about what we can expect in the next 1-3 years. High debt levels and the spectre of inflation and recession also loom. Leaders must be cognisant of these factors and how they may affect business. 
  6. You need a plan. Change is a certainty and is happening at an unprecedented rate. Your plan and your planning process have never been more critical. Controlling what you can manage and stringent scenario planning for everything else will enable businesses to weather a broad range of outcomes. John Moller said: “With COVID, we have had to revise the plans a little bit. You have to get the plan out of the bottom drawer and regularly revise every 30, 60, 90 days, look for new opportunities.”
  7. Extreme decisiveness is required and desired. The most significant opportunity to arise from the crisis is to lock in organisational speed. Winners in the future will be those who can move quickly, and the crisis has provided a blueprint for extreme decisiveness and accelerated action. Elizabeth Johnstone said: “People who take decisive action will survive. Significant businesses, not only small ones, will fold. Leaders need to analyse the talent they need to focus on growth and survival.” Understand how you enabled rapid change in your business in nine weeks and work out how you keep this decision-making process as the new normal. 
  8. Consolidate and extend gains in areas like digital transformation. The shift to hybrid work models and the adoption of tools like Zoom for meetings only skims the surface of the digital transformation underway among fast-moving organisations. The crisis has forced a radical reset on how we do business, and digital technologies (AI, automation, VR/AR, blockchain, etc.) have all come to the fore, offering new ways to work more productively and deliver to our customers. While many businesses gave lip-service to digital transformation pre-COVID, smart ones have seen the benefits of being digital-ready. They have been able to transition workforces quickly and maintain firm contact points with customers and stakeholders. Organisations that lock in the productivity gains of digital transformation will gain a substantial lead on their competition in years to come.
  9. The great leaders will be the ones who know how to deliver tough messages. Leaders will need to have difficult conversations with their people, especially as the question of redundancies and restructures come up. Learn how to have those conversations in a compassionate, appropriate manner, but have them decisively. Elizabeth Johnstone said: “Be honest and clear with people. Almost always, people want to be led by someone who communicates well. They need to see the link between what they are doing and what it will give to them, not just in a financial sense, but also meaning and purpose.”
  10. Look after yourself. We are only a little over halfway through 2020, and we have been through so much already. The COVID-19 crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. To go the distance, you need to look after those around you, but also yourself. If you are not mentally and physically in good shape, your capacity to lead others will be diminished. Make sure to have some fun. Take a break when you can. Andrew Reitzer used marathon running as an analogy: “Where is halfway in a standard marathon? It’s not 21 kilometres. It’s five kilometres from the end. Because the energy that we need to use to get to the 5 kilometre mark, is the same energy that we need for the last 5 kilometres. Know your battery, how much energy do you have? How do you recharge that battery? What works for you? It’s different for every individual.”

We are proud to be able to bring the best and brightest minds together in completely confidential Circles – no hidden agendas, completely confidential and with a vast range of experiences.

For over 26 years now, The CEO Circle has been sharing insights, knowledge and perspectives, enhancing leadership capacity and making it a less lonely existence for all in our Circle. Where else can you have access to hundreds of years of combined experience that would take a lifetime to amass yourself.

We will continue our mission throughout this crisis and beyond the curve, helping you to achieve greater success as a leader. 


Our Webinar Panellist's

Andrew Reitzer brings 40+ years of global experience in the technology, retail and wholesaling industries, with significant expertise in M&A, post-acquisition integration and organisational change. From 1998 to 2013, Andrew was CEO of Metcash Limited, overseeing a four-fold increase in sales and a $280 million earnings turnaround. Andrew has been appointed to several company directorships, including Chairman of SG Fleet, amaysim, ARQ Group and George & Matilda boards. A CEO Circle member, he is one of our esteemed CEO Circle Sydney Chairs.

Elizabeth Johnstone is a professional company director with a distinguished career in corporate law including many years as National Director and Practice Head (Company Law and Governance) of legal firm Blake Dawson (now Ashurst). A senior strategic consultant to global law firm DLA Piper, Elizabeth is the current Chair of ASX Corporate Governance Council and has served as a director of a number of publicly listed, private and government boards. She is a former Business and Professional Women’s Association/QANTAS Business Woman of the Year. Elizabeth Johnstone is one of our esteemed CEO Circle and Future Circle Chairs in Sydney.

John Moller has built world-class leadership teams, turned around companies and been a mentor to many during his prolific career in Australia and abroad. He has held senior positions in Honeywell, James Hardie Industries, Adsteam, Repco and most recently with Genuine Parts Company, a US-headquartered company which acquired Repco in 2013. He is the Non-Executive Chairman of GPC Asia Pacific and is on the board of Inenco Group. An esteemed CEO Circle Chair, John has been a member of The CEO Circle in Sydney, London and Melbourne.

Excessive decisiveness and resilience will win
the battle of Covid-19.

COVID-19 has shocked the world with its severity and scale, jolting organisations and leaders out of their comfort zone. However, there has never been a more compelling time to focus on the possibilities and uncover new opportunities. Its profound impact means there has never been a more critical time for leaders to lead.

Amid this crisis, people are yearning for “excessive decisiveness”. Procrastination is not only a waste of time but could result in you and your organisation’s demise in this environment.
 
People want leaders to make tough, courageous decisions and have the vision to adapt, innovate and help the organisation and its people emerge beyond the curve in a stronger position – fit for purpose for the new normal! 
 
Quite simply, organisations cannot afford to go through the same old processes they did before all of this happened. Now is not the time for business-as-normal thinking.
 
The stakes are too high and the speed of change too rapid for organisations to stay stuck in collaborate-and-consensus-rinse-repeat mode. The times we live in call for swift and decisive action, not ponderous deliberations. People want this from their leaders right now. 
 
Perhaps even more crucially, this is what is required if you want to stay ahead of the curve and come out the other end of the COVID-19 tunnel having survived and thrived.
 
Excessive decisiveness is about accelerating the way decisions are made and problems solved. To do that, leaders must have the resilience to back themselves and back their teams. 
 
It is important to note that excessive decisiveness is not the same as a dictatorial power trip. 
 
Instead, it’s about cutting the layers of padding that slow down quick movement and thinking among teams. It’s about spying opportunity when it presents and pouncing on it. It’s about stripping back and streamlining decision-making processes to the point where rigour and speed become intertwined. 

It is also about using technology intelligently and effectively. Organisations reframing, repositioning and accelerating revised and new IT strategies to take advantage of the new normal. What was taking some organisations years to do is now being compressed into days and weeks. Urgency has accelerated the process of digital transformation. 

Professor Jon Whittle, the Dean of the Faculty of IT at Monash University, says: "Digital transformation is going to be more important than ever as the economy starts its recovery. We likely will see industries accelerate tech investment post-COVID. They'll need it to get efficiencies where they can, and to give them a competitive advantage. And they've seen from the rapid reliance on tech in the COVID era that digital transformation is possible - and can happen fast."
 
Leaders who undertake excessive decisiveness create an agile decision-making framework that enables critical team members to assess, decide and act when, where and how required. 
 
Concise and practical communications, lateral and flexible thinking on strategy, and the confidence and composure to advance on an opportunity are vital elements of leadership during a time of crisis. Leaders cannot afford to hoard these qualities for themselves. Effective leaders need to enable these qualities to shine throughout their organisation, especially among crucial group leaders. 
 
COVID-19 has set the world on a warp-speed trajectory. For CEOs, you must have a guard of invisible armour around you at all times, as you fight seemingly never-ending battles during this pandemic crisis. Your armour needs to be tough but also lightweight enough to enable swift maneuverability. Resilience is essential for every leader and organisation. 
 
The slow and the tentative will face a painful reckoning. Resilient leaders who can move with excessive decisiveness will prevail during these unprecedented times.

© The CEO Circle Pty Ltd 2024
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