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The things keeping Australian business leaders awake at night

New independent research from Robert Half shows that the main problems business leaders are facing right now (and into 2020) are mainly to do with tech, volatile markets, change management and talent gaps.

These seem to the biggest concerns for business leaders as we approach the new calendar year, which are all framed by global macro-economic tensions, evolving challenges attached to digital transformation, and a deepening talent-shortage.

Those concerns keeping leaders up at night have been summarised, with data supporting, below.

Geopolitical and economic challenges framing business confidence

Global economic volatility, lowering interest rates, and uncertain trade policies underpinned by the US-China trade war and impact of Brexit have seen Australian business leaders take a cautious and wary view of their global growth outlook as major international trading partners navigate their own tightening economic outlook for 2020 [1].

These concerns are exacerbated by uncertain domestic forecasts, with GDP growth stagnating alongside falling consumer confidence and expenditure [2].

In fact, 38 per cent of Australian business leaders consider economic uncertainty to be one of the top three biggest challenges that they will face in their role in 2020.

This is followed by a 37 per cent grouping that points to the growth of emerging markets, thereby increasing competition, as their main concern.

Coming in third is at 31 per cent, is geopolitical changes.

“As the US-China trade war and other geopolitical tensions place uncertainty over growth opportunities, it’s not surprising that the global growth and stability of our trade partners is currently a top concern among business leaders in Australia – a country with close economic ties to China,” said David Jones, Senior Managing Director at Robert Half Asia Pacific.

“These geopolitical and economic challenges in turn can place a heavy burden on innovation, entrepreneurialism and creative thinking within companies at a time when many companies are being disrupted.”

“While the specific disruptive forces can vary by industry, companies are exposed to macro-economic volatility and in uncertain times, this can lead to a more hesitant approach to future growth plans which in turn can shape their retention policies and hiring intent over the coming 12 months.”

Technology continues to dominate

More than four in ten (43%) Australian business leaders highlight technological changes as one of their primary external concerns, highlighting the continued dominance of technology on the business agenda.

While the business advantages of digital transformation are well-known, business leaders are faced with many hurdles in order to leverage the potential of tech opportunities for stronger business results. This includes sourcing technically-skilled talent in a skill-short market and adapting existing workforces to change while upskilling them to meet future business needs.

A failure to do so will not only see businesses miss out on internal benefits, but also fall behind competitors and lose a long-term competitive edge.

David Jones commented, “From improving customer experience to leveraging data and AI for enhanced productivity, business leaders have the daunting capacity to enhance nearly every aspect of their organisation through

“However, it is not simply about implementing new operating systems and processes – they must also drive behavioural change, cultivate a workforce who can leverage the potential of the emerging tech, and shore up their organisation against the evolving threats and restrictions specific to their industry.”

Managing change while optimising growth

As business leaders focus on leveraging tech advances, there is increasing pressure on management to find ways to drive long-term change at fast-speed as well as manage the risks and regulations that evolve in parallel to these changes.

This all has to be considered whilst also delivering upon their short-term financial goals.

Business leaders in different fields are faced with unique internal concerns specific to their role; CIOs are most concerned over cyber-security threats (51%) and AI and machine learning (46%), while CFOs are concerned primarily over managing and delivering growth (46%) and and internal/external audit costs (40%).

Talent gap impedes organisational productivity

When it comes to talent management, it’s talent retention and managing staff turnover that remain one of the top three biggest talent management concerns for almost one-third (32%) of Australian managers.

Improving productivity is cited as a primary concern by 29% of Australian managers, followed by 28% who refer to finding the right training for staff and managing workloads respectively.

More than one quarter (27%) identify staff attraction as part of their top three talent management concerns.

David Jones said, “In a fiercely competitive talent-short market, companies should continue to fine tune robust staff attraction and retention programs, as well as developing comprehensive training programs to ensure their staff are equipped with the right skills to successfully tackle organisational digital transformation efforts.”

About the research

The annual study is developed by Robert Half by an independent research firm, surveying 620 hiring managers in Australia. This survey is part of the international workplace survey, an annual questionnaire about job trends, talent management and trends in the workplace looking ahead to 2020.