I'm beginning to understand why it's been so hard and taking such a long time for me to find a new CIO job. It's not just the economy (i.e., "Bad News Comes In Waves For Economy"), the wildly fluctuating stock markets, a Presidential election year in the US, and overly cautious business and IT leaders that are complicating my job search. Major shifts in global corporate ownership are rippling downstream, affecting enterprises' hierarchical structures, executive roles, and hiring criteria, as I've learned from my recent discussions with David Gray, an international executive consultant and researcher based in Australia.
After being introduced to Mr. Gray through a mutual acquaintance, I've learned a great deal about his ongoing research on business efficiency and executive employment through a number of Internet-based conferences and conference calls. Gray is preparing to publish his research after having spent over 10 years studying the globalization of businesses and its impact on business efficiency. It was during this time that Gray noticed the beginnings of a disturbing trend where better qualified executives were being eliminated from the interview selection process from many organizations, including both large corporations and small and midsize businesses.
Gray believes, based on his research, that since the 1990s the globalization of business has led to a significant shift in corporate ownership to external financial organizations. These outside, indirectly affiliated organizations' increasing focus on quarterly results has led to a shift away from the innovation and quality that established American manufacturing's excellence, and toward an emphasis on cost reductions, primarily by simplifying processes and outsourcing these to emerging economies. Gray notes that feeding this shift in core business values has been the ready access to investors' cash, and to credit-rich consumers worldwide who are willing to sacrifice quality and service for "cheap luxuries."
These economic shifts have created two unprecedented consequences, according to Gray's research.
First, as manufacturing has moved to cheaper but less efficient sources, the world has seen an unusual phenomenon of increasing relative investment returns at the same time that productivity, efficiency and quality have all been in sharp decline.
Second, and on a more personal level, Gray believes that these same economic changes have created an environment where executives experienced in innovative problem-solving and long-term strategic business development have been eliminated as an unnecessary expense. Gray's research suggests that an executive's employability - their ability to get hired for senior executive-level jobs - is no longer a function of their experience, qualifications and credentials because modern business practices are devaluing wisdom.
Gray's conclusions came as somewhat of a shock to me, and indeed they are somewhat counter-intuitive. "People think business is a dispassionate environment, and that 'it' thinks logically, such that the best person will be put in place - the best and the brightest - to lead," says Gray. "But that's not so. 'It' is actually people and power and politics, and as we all know, people in power want to stay in power."
Gray's research indicates that the corporate expectation that excellence allows people to move up in their careers is not entirely true. An individual's career growth based on their own excellence appears to have a ceiling. In other words, their practical knowledge of the business and ability to execute on that knowledge will only get them so far. Beyond that, says Gray, soft skills and cultural/political acumen become dramatically more important than practical knowledge. Once executives reach the $500,000+ salary range, says Gray, "they move mentally from running the business successfully to a constant socio-political campaign of retaining their position of power."
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