CEOs Say Talent Shortage Is Now Top Bottleneck to Innovation at U.S. Companies

A new Chief Executive poll shows lack of skilled talent as the biggest obstacle to innovation, as companies attempt to boost their preparedness for potential disruptors.

The advent of powerful new business models driven by digital technology is fueling innovation in nearly every sector and industry. But, according to a new poll of U.S. CEOs, the talent shortage—far more than the technology itself—is imposing a significant, new bottleneck that threatens to stymie these efforts.

That’s among the key findings of a new survey of 294 CEOs fielded in July by Chief Executive. The good news is CEOs appear to be highly optimistic about their innovation prowess: More than three-quarters of those we polled (76 percent) said they believe their company is now more innovative than their industry peers, thanks to a culture that rewards trial and error (25 percent said this was the most important element driving their efforts) and agility (25 percent).

But, when asked what the biggest obstacle to innovation is in their company, a third (32 percent) of those CEOs say not having the skilled talent they need. Nothing else—including the technology itself—came even close. That does not surprise Maureen Lonergan, global director of AWS Training and Certification, who has seen evidence of this across nearly every company and industry.

“It takes a massive cultural shift, a strong investment in your people, and a new operating model and processes, to achieve digital transformation goals,” says Lonergan. “Digital transformation has become enterprise shorthand for technology updates like moving to cloud. However, the real disruption comes from educating everyone in your organization about cloud. Technology success comes down to an investment in your people and your culture.”

“Managers expecting to hire their way out of skills problems face a shallow candidate pool and are taking a short-sighted view of the opportunity at hand. Leaders can change the current skills gap cycle,” says Lonergan. “Rather than hiring talent away from their current roles, invest in the staff you have today. Embrace learning and development programs that help your staff understand the cloud and the vision behind your transformation strategies. As you build a culture of learning into the DNA of your organization, you are in a position to maximize not only your cloud investment, but also build a strong, loyal and productive organization that transforms your business.”

Beyond talent, some of the other obstacles to innovation polled CEOs listed included issues ranging from access to capital to government regulation and what respondents called “the daily grind.” But technology took the second place, with 16 percent saying their legacy technology is what’s obstructing their innovative abilities.

“The ability to innovate isn’t about technology adoption, it’s about what people do with the technology,” says Lonergan. “When you bring your people along on your cloud journey, and they understand its capabilities, you can radically transform your organization and drive business innovation. When you train your whole organization in cloud—not just tech teams and cloud architects—you give your people confidence to experiment, which is the heart of innovation.”

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