Automotive manufacturers will need a new breed of leaders to succeed in a prolonged period of “slow growth and rapid change”, according to a new global study of senior automotive industry executives from leadership consulting firm Korn Ferry.
The report, which draws upon interviews with senior executives from some of the world’s biggest automotive firms, reveals that the industry needs agile leaders, quick to adapt and able to successfully apply their experience to new or first-time challenges, in the face of unprecedented challenges such as unfamiliar technologies, more demanding consumers and disruptive new players.
The report finds that to deal effectively with increasing levels of disruptive industry change, carmakers and suppliers need a talent strategy that is clearly aligned to their business strategy and that identifies and develops leaders equipped to deal with these challenges.
Yet, according to the study, 39% of respondents believe that their company has either no clear talent strategy or one that is actually in conflict with the business strategy.
Plus, barely half (53%) of global automotive senior executives are confident that their company can identify and develop high-potential next-generation leadership talent.
The report reveals that companies need to develop different skills in their workforce to cope with changing expectations from customers accustomed to swift upgrades by makers of smartphones and tablets.
Companies are therefore casting the net beyond the industry to bring in digital expertise.
The study says the imperative to broaden the search for new skills will grow as new, disruptive companies enter the auto industry, from Google’s prototypes of autonomous cars to Tesla Motors’ challenging of orthodox thinking.
It predicts that the companies that will succeed in the future will be those that have clearly aligned talent strategies that can ‘flex’ to respond to changing business needs.
The most important leadership attributes identified for addressing key business challenges of the future are:
• Strategic agility
• The ability to cultivate innovation
• Dealing with ambiguity
• Inspiring others
• Cultural adaptability
Some of these attributes are more innate; others can be developed over time and through a range of interventions, including carefully planned stretch assignments and tailored coaching programs. They all can be measured and, in combination, provide the most valid and reliable predictors of future leadership potential.
Chris Donkin, senior client partner at Korn Ferry and author of the report, said: “The results of the survey point to a fundamental shift in the leadership capabilities required to succeed in what is likely to be a prolonged period of slow growth and rapid change.
"Automotive enterprises need to prepare leadership teams that can cope with the mounting pressures to stay competitive. At the heart of these new talent strategies should be a succession management process designed to identify and develop the next generation of leaders, based on a number of leadership attributes that correlate strongly with success in complex, fast-moving, competitive business environments.
"Ultimately, the winners will be those companies that can evolve most quickly, developing streamlined, adaptive talent organizations driven by a new breed of executives with different leadership skills.”
Selected quotes from senior industry contributors to the report:
Andy Palmer, chief executive officer, Aston Martin: “In the future, 50% of volume is going to come from places we don’t sell cars right now. That means having leaders with the mental agility to think globally. We need to turn our business on its head, from being functionally driven and technically orientated to being customer-driven and digitally orientated. We need agile leaders with broad, international experience, able to successfully adapt to changing circumstances and fresh challenges while remaining focused on a clear strategic direction for the business.”
Paul Welander, senior vice president for HR, quality and customer satisfaction at Volvo Car: “The world of connectivity is developing incredibly fast, and we therefore need talent that understands the new ‘software’ of the car industry as well as the traditional ‘hardware’.”
Maxime Picat, chief executive officer, Peugeot: “In terms of leadership and talent, you need to have a high level of adaptability, to be open-minded, and have the ability to think and act quickly. Diversity and agility are key if you want to stay in the race.”
Carlos Tavares, chief executive officer of PSA Peugeot Citroen: “Alignment of our people strategy and our business goals is absolutely fundamental. One needs to be supportive of the other – there is no business strategy without talented people to lead the company.”
Michael Cole, chief operating officer, Kia Motors Europe: "It's a dynamic industry and the business environment requires increasing flexibility and agility. You need people who can lead through change when the pace of change is accelerating."
Ulrich Schumacher, vice president for human resources and labour director, Opel Group: “We have to recognize that the industry model has changed irrevocably. The pace of change is relentless—we are constantly operating at maximum revs.”
Barb Samardzich, vice president and chief operating officer, Ford of Europe: “Europe is going to be a slow-to-no-growth market over the next five years. That means the onus is on us to find and develop leaders who can successfully grow a business even when the market is flat.”
Anthony Eastwood, human resources director, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars: "As an industry, we have a lot of good managers but we are not as good as we should be at developing them into leaders."