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Leading through change is one of the hardest challenges for CEOs — and one they must get right, PwC US Chair Tim Ryan says

PwC US Chairman Tim RyanPwC’s US chair, Tim Ryan, said managing through change requires a lot of listening.


  • Globally, businesses are going through a transition with automation, cleantech, and fintech. 
  • PwC’s US chair, Tim Ryan, said leading through change was the toughest challenge for CEOs.
  • Ryan said the “war for talent isn’t going away” and urged leaders to focus on the future.

It’s a tough time to be a business leader. 

The economy is hard to read — high inflation, low overall unemployment. Many bosses and workers are still in a tug-of-war over where and how to work. Supply chains remain strained. And once high-flying industries like tech are shedding workers. 

Tim Ryan, the US chair and a partner at PwC, a global accounting and consulting firm, can tick through lists of these and other challenges he sees for various industries. But the problem that’s one of the most difficult for the CEOs Ryan meets with is one that doesn’t make the headlines: managing change.

It’s one thing for the head of a company to issue new marching orders; it’s far harder to get everyone within an organization to head in a new direction. 

“What every company is trying to do is to get their people to do things differently,” Ryan told Insider. Getting there requires a lot of listening, he added. 

“What’s more important than ever is the proximity of the CEO and leadership team to what their people are really dealing with,” and leaders “should not underestimate the complexity of what it takes to have a workforce do something differently,” he said.

Ryan said that globally, we’re in a period of great transition — from automation and smart technology to clean energy and fintech — and that the companies with leaders who make a connection and get that right “will win when history is written in 10, 20 years from now.”

Even though consulting is a huge part of PwC’s business model, Ryan knows change has to be deployed correctly, because if a company relies too heavily on a consultant, it won’t work. Even the slickest presentations or the most reasoned strategies won’t achieve the necessary transitions “if you’re not moving your people and inspiring them.”

One of the biggest mistakes he sees leaders make is underestimating the cultural evolution that’s required in a world in which many employees expect to be treated as customers, he said.

Ryan said to focus on the experience: “How was the new tool? How was that training? How was your day in the office when we asked you to come in? Did all the things work the way they’re supposed to?” 

Ryan said he believed companies were facing enormous challenges between balancing short-term strategy with long-term strategy and that they wanted to make sure they had the right people on their leadership teams and on their boards of directors. Several companies have brought back CEOs to lead through turmoil because there’s a “desperate need to reframe management,” Ryan said.

As companies look to 2023 and beyond, they can’t underestimate the need for smart succession planning, and they’re becoming more aware “there’s a gap around getting that next generation ready,” Ryan said, adding: “And I think some are turning to more-experienced CEOs to help bridge that gap.”

One notable example came from Disney, which in November brought back its longtime CEO Bob Iger to lead the company. The move followed a tumultuous tenure for CEO Bob Chapek and came only days after Disney reported a loss of $1.5 billion from the division including its Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ streaming services.

Experienced hands will have to worry about more than succession planning and shifting economic challenges. They’ll also need to continue to fight to draw in the necessary workers, Ryan said.

Even though there are layoffs in various industries, like tech, media, and retail, Ryan said “the war for talent isn’t going away” and he wanted executives to think about things differently.

“This isn’t about the past,” he said, “it’s about going to a new future.” 

Read the original article on Business Insider