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No more business as usual, transform yourself – CEDA report

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Businesses must get better at transforming themselves to seize new opportunities rather than focussing on business as usual, according to a new survey by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA).

The report – Dynamic capabilities: How Australian firms can survive and thrive in uncertain times – reveals the results of the first broad survey of the dynamic capabilities of Australian companies, by CEDA and University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

CEDA Chief Executive Melinda Cilento (pictured) said: “Our survey shows the most dynamic firms are resilient and more successful, especially in challenging times.

“Until now, we didn’t know much about the dynamic capabilities of Australian businesses. This survey reveals how our companies stack up, and why these capabilities matter for firm performance and economic growth.”

The survey of 149 managers of businesses of all sizes in a range of sectors found that as new opportunities and challenges emerge, the ability to transform is critical to enabling firms to survive and thrive.

CEDA also found that a crucial enabler of transformation is having the spare capacity to build capabilities and to identify and pursue long-term innovation and opportunities. Yet a consistent message is that companies lack bandwidth beyond business as usual.

The report was written by CEDA Senior Economist Melissa Wilson, with Dr Renu Agarwal, Professor in Management at UTS Business School, Dr Wen Helena Li, Senior Lecturer at UTS Business School, and
Dr Christopher Bajada, Professor of Economics at The University of Technology Sydney.

Ms Cilento said: “Even amid skills shortages and a tight jobs market, businesses need to find the space to lift their eyes and look to the future to ensure they can survive amid uncertainty.”

Comparing the most dynamic 25 per cent of firms with the least dynamic 25 per cent, CEDA found:

  • 85 per cent of the top firms had higher net profits after June 2020, compared with 61 per cent of the weakest firms
  • 63 per cent of top firms had higher productivity, compared with 54 per cent of the weakest firms
  • 54 per cent of top firms innovated by overhauling their management processes in the first few months of the pandemic, compared with 26 per cent of the weakest firms
  • Diversity matters – 81 per cent of top performing companies with a board had at least one director that was female, at least one that had science and technology expertise and at least one with international experience, compared with just 26 per cent of the weakest firms
  • And despite perceptions that Australian businesses are risk averse, 89 per cent of survey respondents agreed that learning from failure was a necessary part of success.

The researchers said this probably reflected that a high proportion of respondents were senior executives, who typically have a higher risk appetite, and that they recognise the need to take more risks and build the capabilities to do so.

Given the link between diversity and dynamic capabilities in the findings, one way to challenge business as usual and boost transformation is to embrace diversity at the board and senior executive level.

Ms Cilento said while there has been much discussion about what governments can do to boost Australia’s productivity, we must understand the role that businesses have in driving innovation.

“Differences in ordinary capabilities – the basic qualities needed to run a business in normal times – may explain up to half of the productivity gap between Australia and the United States.

“This highlights that in uncertain times like now, strengthening business’ dynamic capabilities is critical not just for their own success, but also for Australia’s economic growth, productivity and innovation.”

Picture: CEDA/Chief Executive Melinda Cilento

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