Some of the region’s larger (but not future-ready) corporations may need such torch bearers, as one small global study suggests

New global research (Asia Pacific, North America and Europe) involving the perspectives of 442 respondents drawn from Harvard Business Review readers about corporate planning for the future, has yielded some insights into how organizations and businesses in the Asia Pacific region (APAC) are wary of the future but uncertain about the right measures to .

The April 2022 survey data showed that 92% of APAC respondents had indicated that an adaptive culture and continuous employee upskilling was “very important”, while 30% had indicated their organization “was very prepared for unexpected changes or disruptions”.

The small sample size comprised respondents from mostly large organizations: 35% had 10,000 or more employees; followed by 8% and 21% with 1,000–9,999 staff; the remainder were 6% with 500–1,000 staff, 20% with 100–499 staff, and 10% with under 100 staff. 

Findings derived from the data for the region and globally include:

  • 62% of respondents’ organizations had plans to increase their investment in people; 69% had plans for investing in innovation or services, while 43% planned to invest in operations over the next year.
  • 73% of global respondents indicated they were strongly focused on strategic planning, working to relatively short-term horizons of between one and five years into the future, while 20% indicated longer-terms of more than five years. 
  • 55% of global respondents selected cited revenue growth and improving profit margins as a top priority; 51% cited their top priority as finding new customers, markets, and growth areas; 47% prioritized product and service innovation; and 46% were focused on retaining and attracting talent.
  • 29% of global respondents indicated that building a more resilient business ecosystem was a priority, compared to 42% of APAC respondents.
  • 38% of APAC respondents cited “slow decision-making’ as their biggest challenge, followed by 36% experiencing difficulty attracting the right talent, and 36% facing hurdles in retaining staff.
  • 32% of APAC businesses indicated that not involving lower-level employees in planning was a core problem.
  • 57% of global respondents had indicated that creating a culture that embraces change was an important organizational factor in anticipating the future—the most-selected response. Consequently, 59% of respondents highly valued the ability to attract new talent with needed skills; 59% highly valued aligning employee skill sets with the right roles and responsibilities; and 56% prioritized the ability to upskill current employees.
  • 32% of APAC respondents cited the lacking the technology needed for the future as an important challenge to tackle.
  • 80% of APAC respondents were “much more encouraged” and 55% were “more rewarded” to have a proactive mindset about the future than most other roles.

According to Cathy Ward, Chief Operating Officer, SAP (Asia Pacific and Japan), the firm that commissioned the survey: “What this report shows is that, while agility and resilience are critical to prepare for the future, there’s still no single way to anticipate the changes the future will bring. But leaders cannot build a future-ready business alone.”

Ward was suggesting that leaders create a culture of collaborative planning and forward-thinking across the organization by becoming Chief Anticipation Officers. By focusing on future-proofing how people will work, how they will do business, and how organizations will be run, such leaders can break away from traditional methods, and be in a better position to “anticipate what’s coming next, and begin to drive new, successful outcomes in the future.”