What CEOs Learned This Week

We picked up 5 key messages at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council conference this week.

What can leaders do about sexual harassment in the workplace? How do you keep pace with the relentless pace of change?  Dozens of corporate titans who trekked to Washington, DC this week got a host of tips from fellow CEOs, academics and high-profile politicians at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council conference.  Here's five we thought stood out. 

Stay agile.

It used to be that "if things grew 100% in a lifetime that was a lot of change," says Jay Walker founder of Priceline. Not so much these days. The change is almost dizzying, and it is going to get worse. "You have software that will write software," he says. Due to that fast rate of change, Walker says smart leaders will emphasize “agility more than planning.” That the ability to shift constantly and follow through on change will be hard for many organizations, especially those who still adhere to annual planning process where resources get allocated, and goals set for the following 12 months. 

Good culture starts at the top 

When asked about workplace sexual harassment, John Ferriola, CEO of steel firm Nucor had a blunt but clear message. "If it does occur, there has to be an absolute policy of zero tolerance," he says. His goal is to develop a company culture where such behavior doesn’t happen. Cultural shifts—whatever they may be—have to start in the executive suite, experts say. By providing clarity, Ferriola has made it far more likely that Nucor will achieve that objective. The more significant test will be if there is an incident the requires him to fire someone who wouldn’t follow the rules.

Keep learning

The digital age is upon us and how. The world is “heading toward this big disruption or maybe even poised to enter an entirely new age,” says futurist Martin Ford, author of "Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future." What does that mean? It means that there will be “different rules than what we’ve become used to.” Should that be daunting? No. However, it does point to the need to learn new skills as necessary. In essence, that’s how people and companies remain digitally sustainable -- they just keep on absorbing new ways of doing things.

Keep focused on the goals

The administration hasn’t exactly hit the ball out of the park when it comes to passing new legislation. But that hasn’t dulled either the enthusiasm or the focus of the president’s top economic adviser, Gary Cohn. “We’ve got to get taxes done this year,” he says referring to the controversial tax reform legislation. “The legislative calendar is going to get very crowded come the first and second week of December.” As if that wasn’t enough, he then spoke of the need to pass an infrastructure bill soon as well. By staying focused on his priorities, he's far likelier to achieve them.


Maintain work-life balance

It is all too easy to get stuck on working relentlessly without a break. But there is good reason to do so. Two economists, Anne Case, emeritus professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University and Nobel laureate Angus Deaton highlighted this matter when discussing the plight of the working class, many of whom have become victims of the opioid crisis. Case and Deaton described some displaced workers could fall into “deaths of despair," in part because they don’t haven’t developed a support network, as many in Europe do.  While repeatedly going to school concert after school concert might at times be taxing, it does help cement individuals in a community which can become a reliable support network when needed.