Three insights from the World Economic Forum

The Logo of the World Economic Forum the Annual Meeting 2019 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 25, 2019 Copyright by World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

Guest blog by Michael Ambjorn – following the annual Davos circus from afar, a few quick take-aways:

Don’t miss the elephant(s) in the room

Hannibal famously crossed the Alps with elephants. I’m fairly sure that he didn’t go through Davos. Yet, that’s not to say that the assembled leaders didn’t miss a few elephants nevertheless.

Well, apart from maybe this one panel – which is worth watching till the end. It makes for uncomfortable viewing. A difficult, complex debate. I’d like to see more of this from Davos.

Linked to that is a broader set of issues – including corruption – which could have gotten more attention in the main panels. Here’s Professor Mark Pieth, founder of the Basel Institute on Governance with a timely reminder that these issues haven’t gone away. 

The World Economic Forum launched the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative with fanfare 15 years ago. Now’s not the time to take the eye off the ball. And that links to … 


The World Economic Forum’s own Future of Jobs report of course came up again – 2018 predictions, but as they are future-oriented, they’re worth revisiting – where’s your role?2018 WEF Future of Jobs Report - Table 3 - Examples of roles

Maybe not as stable as it seems?

And here’s my take – starting right at the top: it presents CEO / Managing Director jobs as being stable. I disagree. Data from other research [NYT / WSJ reports] does not bear that out – tenures are shortening. There’s turmoil at the top.

Why is this? Restive shareholders and impatient boards. But what lies beneath those symptoms? PwC presented their 22nd annual CEO study which could offer a clue: the CEOs say they’re not getting the data they need. And that in turn means boards are not getting the data to adequately oversee the going concern. And investors feel that forecasts are built on weak foundations.

2019 PwC CEO Survey - Exhibit 12

How to deal with the elephant(s)

Encouragingly, both of the above reports suggest that retraining staff can help address these challenges. I completely agree that more training is needed as jobs change. The strange omission from both reports is a focus on the training needed for the very top: CEOs, their direct reports – and the boards that oversee them.

The fish rots from the head, as the saying goes – and organisations would do well to start here – with a focus on what holds it all together: a solid understanding of purpose, ethics, values – and the culture that ties it all together. It’ll help them deal with inevitable quandaries in a way the organisation can be proud of. This does mean opening up discussions around integrity, values and norms – and ultimately the organisational culture as a whole. It is not easy, but working with an experienced partner, it can be done.

The elephant beyond the boardroom

Oh and that bit about customers and clients preferences and needs (the biggest gap above). Get out more… Talk to real people. Visit your developers, your factories and your shops. The Japanese call it Gemba. You might know its cousin, management-by-walking-around. Either way, it is as old as time itself: trust is built when you dispense with the symbols of power and hierarchy, show an interest – and really listen. That said, when you do, be sure that you’ve worked out what your organisation stands for first.

Good luck.


Michael Ambjorn advises boards, facilitates strategy and develops changemakers.  You can follow him @michaelambjorn.