A look back

Once again in 2019, CEOs and members of company leadership and supervisory boards invested heavy amounts of time and finance into changing the business.

In the final interview month of the year alone, 33 of the CEOs we surveyed told us they have invested up to one-fourth of their time in workshops, strategy meetings, consultancy sessions or similar activities. All of these activities were directly related to a transformation process. Another 32 of the CEOs invested up to half of their time, while 13 said they had invested as much as 50 to 100 percent. As such, more than half of the CEOs currently involved in a change process spend at least 2.5 hours of a regular work day (and in most cases, significantly more) working on transformation-related topics. If we look at the entire calendar year, the pattern becomes even more striking. Twenty of the CEOs devoted between 50 and 100 percent of their time to transformation processes; 29 of them spent 25 to 49 percent of their time; and 30 of them spent up to one quarter of their time.

When we look at the amount of time spent by company leadership and supervisory board members throughout one year, it is clear that CEOs are not the only ones who devote a considerable amount of their resources to transforming the company. What this tells us is that a transformation process uses a heavy amount of resources at all levels of the upper leadership team. At seven of the organizations we surveyed, the company leadership was spending more than half or even all (!) of its time on transformation activities. At another 31 of the companies, they devoted between 25 and 49 percent, while at 38 of the organizations, they devoted up to one quarter. There was a similar pattern among supervisory boards. Twenty of the supervisory boards were devoting more than half or up to all of their time for transformation activities; another 19 supervisory boards spent between 25 and 49 percent, and 37 more of them spent up to one quarter of their time.

In addition to the substantial amounts of time invested, the companies also devoted a heavy amount of financial resources to transformation processes. Around one quarter of the companies we surveyed were spending between 25 and 50 percent of their profits on transformation plans. Ten percent of the companies spent even 50 to 100 percent of their profits on efforts to change the business. Two-thirds of the companies were investing up to one quarter of their profits towards transformation.

Looking back on the past, the CEOs we interviewed one-on-one were very proud of how steadfast and persistent their strong, dynamic employees and teams had done their part to keep the process moving and continually enable transformation plans to be put into practice. The CEOs also reported that these processes brought a new dynamic into their business model and produced new impulses for further development. They perceived these as some of the enriching effects of transformation.

On the other hand, they found it especially difficult to deliver results and stand up to the pressure placed on the business. This places great strain on them because of the high investments and expectations of various stakeholders, as well as the inability to immediately see and measure performance. Specifically, they found it deeply challenging to stay true to themselves during hectic circumstances and despite uncertainty and internal tensions, while also conveying trust, courage and inspiration. Marianne Wildi, CEO of Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG, said that it is decisive to overcome these challenges and consciously perform her duty as a role model. She said:

As CEO, I have to show that I am always happy to do new things and put them into practice. That is encouraging for others to see.

Marianne Wildi
Chairwoman of the Executive Board of Hypothekarbank Lenzburg

In addition to this rather emotionally draining aspect, the CEOs also emphasized what an amount of energy it takes to get the process moving and keep it going. Many of our partners underline the necessary persistence and doggedness that it takes to initiate developments in their companies and to successfully communicate them and make them easy to understand beyond the silos. Many perceived of the process as difficult and slow, even though they also found it profound and promising for lasting success.