For change to happen, it is important that individuals play their part in making the world a better place. In fact, 77% of next-generation leaders surveyed by Bloomberg said each individual plays an important role in changing the world. However, businesses still have the influential power to effect change in society and 86% of respondents concurred with this sentiment.
Bloomberg's Next Gen Leaders Study, which surveyed 1,000 individuals aged 25 to 64 years old across 10 markets including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong, said three quarters of the next-generation leaders are in positions such as GM, MD, C-level, and SVP or are owners and partners of the company.
It's becoming increasingly common for consumers to expect CEOs to be the face of change. That said, some leaders have more autonomy than others when it comes to decision making. When asked about the active steps leaders can take to play a changing role in the world and rally other senior executives and their employees, Bloomberg Media's MD, media sales, APAC, Sunita Rajan, explained to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that it is seeing plenty of next-generation leaders take responsibility when it comes to key social and environmental issues - even if they're not an especially well known or autonomous CEO.
Setting the tone from the top is very impactful to this new breed of leaders, especially as they narrow the gap between their personal objectives and their professional, Rajan explained. Rajan, who has been with Bloomberg since 2020, is a veteran in the media ad sales business. Previously she was CNN’s SVP advertising sales in Asia Pacific and also spent over 16 years with BBC.
"Clearly, these leaders recognise that they can help in their own way and have some expectations of CEOs to do the same. 'Being socially and environmentally minded' and 'Creating innovative products or services to bring about positive impact' are top of mind for these young leaders when it comes to what businesses are capable of," she said.
Meanwhile, getting buy-in from senior executives and employees is crucial to the success of any business decisions.
However, if a particular strategy or initiative isn't already aligned with the views of values of employees and other stakeholders, Rajan said that buy-in becomes a huge ask. Therefore, engaging with employees and other stakeholders is an important first step to understand their level of knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes to various issues. "At the same time, it is critical to not lose sight of delivering to customer needs and aligning with those same customers as a first priority," she added.
The study also found that responsible business growth is the main priority for modern leaders, alongside environment and social impact. Other key factors in decision-making included financial impact, customer experience, reducing cost, and employees' views/feedback.
While customer experience is key to brands these days, Bloomberg's study showed that it is slightly less important in decision making compared to other factors such as business growth and ESG impact.
To this, Rajan said she believes that to some extend, overall "business growth and expansion" encompasses elements such as customer experience.
According to her, the changes in the business environment over the past two years seem to have intensified next-generation leaders' perspective on the relative importance of factors such as social and environmental impact of their decisions. However, Rajan said it doesn't mean that customer experience has become less important in an absolute sense.
"Data points from the study which confirm the continuing importance and focus on customers include the fact that almost three quarters (71%) of leaders say their businesses have adapted and become more flexible to meet the changing needs of customers," she explained. In doing so, the function that most leaders (75%) say adjusted to adapt to changes during the past two years is client experience and service, Rajan added.
On the same thread, environmental issues are becoming increasingly important in today's business world (57%), followed by healthcare (53%), mental health wellness (50%), and ethical working practices (48%) as well as global climate change (48%). With ESG on companies' radars these days, it is crucial for brands to not fall into the trap of greenwashing. Likewise, business leaders are also being scrutinised closely for their actions and promises, with consumers and employees holding businesses and leaders to account more often and more vigorously.
To show that companies are genuine in walking the talk instead of greenwashing, Rajan said it is important to set clear objectives and a strong framework to support the execution of these initiatives for any company – big or small. This goes hand in hand with clear metrics to determine the success of any programmes.
"Nothing in a company gets done without the right human resources on the job – walking the talk in ESG terms means making sure a business has the resources, capacity and will to execute on its plans. And finally, share the success - communicating milestones and measures of success will go a long way in ensuring that internal stakeholders remain true to the cause," she added.
Which news platforms do next-generation leaders prefer?
The majority of next-generation leaders frequently access news websites on a daily basis (73%) and watch TV (71%) to catch up on news. This is followed by social media (66%) and news apps (66%) as well as print media (45%) and podcasts (33%).
Infographics (43%) and videos (43%) are their preferred formats for news and information, followed by short articles (42%), events/webinars (40%), and e-newsletters (39%).
Given that social media is pretty popular these days, it's interesting to see that social media feeds are ranked slightly lower than TV and news websites when it comes to sources for decision-making. Rajan explained that part of leadership is building credibility and hence, it is unsurprising to see leaders themselves leaning towards traditionally credible news sources, especially when news is so often the basis of important business decisions.
"Of course, while traditional channels of information continue to be the sources most used, social media feeds are not that far behind at all – 89% of the leaders we polled visit news sites daily or a few times a week, compared to 87% for TV and 85% for social media feeds," she added.
That said, Bloomberg is aware from other studies that social media is an increasingly important channel for marketing and advertising, and Rajan said that it is reasonable to assume that as leaders become more familiar and comfortable with it as a news source, they will continue to become more comfortable with using social media to engage consumers directly.
"The next-generation of business leaders will be the first who can't remember a world without social - it stands to reason they will be more comfortable engaging in it than previous leaders," Rajan explained.
Important leadership qualities
Strategic thinking, adaptability, communications, and transparency are the leadership qualities seen as most important. Meanwhile, over the past two years, leaders have also learnt the importance of being agile/adaptable/flexible and to focus on personal and employee well-being. They also understand the need to collaborate/delegate/empower employees and adjust to remote working/hybrid workplace.
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