The growth of AI seems unstoppable across every business sector – after all, it has the potential to add trillions to Asia’s economies, and investment in the technology is forecast to reach nearly $200 billion globally by 2025.

According to our latest survey of the World’s Most Admired Companies (WMACs), leading organizations are already actively leveraging or experimenting with AI across their entire business.

But even as the shift to AI unfolds, 82% of WMAC executives agree that talent will be more important than technology to drive growth and long-term business success.

We sat down with Korn Ferry Senior Principal Handan Aribas Toker and Principal Matthew Lloren to find out how APAC leaders see these priorities—and how they’re investing in talent for growth.

Q: What’s more important for growth strategies in APAC: investing in talent or innovation?

Handan Aribas Toker: The two go hand in hand—but innovation starts with talent. That’s why two-thirds of WMAC say their biggest concerns about transforming for growth revolve around people.

New services and new ways of working require an organization-wide mindset shift. If people aren’t engaged, or if they aren’t taken on that journey, innovation will fail. Simply put, investing in innovation without investing in talent is a waste of time and money.

What we’re seeing is organizations that innovate successfully start with the talent, then address the techniques and tools they need to succeed.

Matthew Lloren: It’s notable that around half of WMAC executives see AI presenting opportunities to develop new revenue streams, compared with only 36% of peer companies. However, business growth comes from the combined effort of individuals, so they need to feel empowered to innovate with the right tools and technology.

Both your innovation and talent strategies need to support your growth strategy. For example, if your growth depends on increasing market share or launching new products, that requires a specific approach to innovation.

In turn, this determines who you hire, the type of behaviors and skills you look for, and job descriptions, as well as what your current people need to succeed. Do they need to be upskilled? Do they need to learn how to work better together across different parts of the business?

Talent strategies will need to enable people to think in new ways to support your growth strategy.

Q: How are APAC business leaders investing in talent to find new strategies for growth?

Aribas: AI is transforming the future of work—and it’s already having a significant impact on how organizations are investing in people.

Eighty-six percent of WMAC executives believe AI has the potential to improve productivity and margins. At the same time, 82% of leaders say their employees will need new skills to be prepared for the growth of AI.

Rather than simply filling roles, we’re seeing APAC organizations shift to skills-based hiring. For example, some are moving away from a functional role hierarchy to leveraging different people’s skills through portfolios and working groups.

Interestingly, APAC talent development leaders are not just focusing on upskilling in technology. They’re also prioritizing interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and how to create an inclusive culture. These are all important skills for innovation. 

They also want to know how to leverage technology for collaboration and connection. Because they know that when new technologies are applied in human-centered ways, that is where the magic happens.

Lloren: The key here is to balance people with technology and innovation, and AI is changing that approach.

Progressive companies in APAC that want to make the most of Generative AI are bringing people together across business and technology to identify problems the technology can solve.

For example, we see technology organizations working with customer care teams to first identify activities and processes that need to be improved, and then experimenting with Generative AI-based solutions. This ensures the technology is tied to generating business value and improved customer experiences.

“Because they know that when new technologies are applied in human-centered ways, that is where the magic happens.”
~ Handan Aribas Toker, Korn Ferry Senior Principal

Q: How can business leaders make sure technology and talent work together to enable growth?

Lloren: It’s about understanding your customers’ and business’s problems first. Then you can find the right technology to solve those issues. This mindset needs to be modeled by leaders, and all processes should support that.

Tech is not just for technologists. I’ve seen IT teams start experimenting with GenAI and collaborating across business units to find solutions to specific function issues. To implement any new technology successfully, your people need to understand how it will make a difference to them as well as the business.

Aribas: The potential economic impact of AI is mind-blowing. In India, the technology could boost productive capacity by US$600billion, while in Japan it’s US$1.1trillion.

But to realize AI’s potential, leaders will need to make people feel part of the journey. That means being open about where this will take the organization, the role of technology, and the implications for everyone. For example, weaving first-person stories into each key message helps communicate the need for change in a human way.

And when you can help everyone see how they can contribute, you create a competitive advantage.

Q: How can APAC leaders create a culture of innovation?

Aribas: Innovation means thinking creatively to find new solutions for existing or future problems. However, while creativity is at the root of innovation, it doesn't guarantee it. It’s one thing to come up with an idea, and another to see it through to execution. 

That’s why leaders need to create the right conditions for both creativity and implementation.

We see creating psychological safety as having the biggest impact in APAC, combined with diversity and inclusion. People need to feel safe to say something new without being judged, and that creates diversity of thought.

Creating a culture of innovation starts with leaders connecting innovation to their company's core purpose and clearly communicating this with their people.

Lloren: We have seen companies foster a culture of innovation by enabling their people to innovate as part of their day job. 

Building and maintaining a culture of innovation and introducing new ways of working need to be managed. Movement making and the role of influencers is important. It’s all about choosing the right people—beyond leaders, influencers can be evangelists for new tools, mindsets, and behaviors.

To manage this over time, look at how your organization responds to new ways of working. Do those influencers need top-down support, or do you need to allow them to lead as an individual?

Technology is of course important. It can help people be more efficient and help them think more creatively. But addressing talent and skills gaps and enabling people to use technology is critical. Even WMACs struggle with this—43% of WMAC executives said filling these gaps is one of their top growth barriers.

Organization Strategy

Change starts with people

People are at the heart of tech’s potential

The World’s Most Admired Companies are pursuing growth through innovation, but they know it will take flexible, cross-functional teams with a diverse set of skills. And two-thirds of top performing leaders place primary responsibility for innovation across the organization.

It’s clear that technology will play a central role in the growth of organizations around the world. But tech, on its own, won’t yield results. And without the right people on the journey, innovation is likely to fail.

To learn more about how the World’s Most Admired Companies plan to grow, explore our growth-strategy infographic