Accelerating Innovation and the Evolving Workforce as Discussed by Boston Executives

Rob Biederman

Every few months, we host a salon dinner with leaders from top global companies to discuss today’s trends. Traditionally, salon dinners are gatherings of intellectual leaders under one roof to foster discussion, inspire creative thinking, and expand knowledge among participants. Ours serve a similar purpose: help equip senior business leaders to win in a rapidly evolving business landscape.

Last week I hosted an intimate group of senior executives, including Jessica Deckinger, CMO at Humana, Diane Chang-Wardi, Head of Growth at Workplace by Facebook, and many others to discuss the key attributes of an Agile Enterprise. We had a lively conversation about today’s disruptive business landscape and the steps these leaders are taking to remain competitive.

Meeting today’s market demands often requires companies to pivot quickly. Business leaders in every industry need to drive continuous innovation and close the gap between strategy and execution. As the dinner progressed and conversation ensued, I noticed two major themes that emerged: speed and talent.

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Accelerating Innovation

The increased pace of technological change, coupled with shifting consumer preferences, has led to shorter product cycles and tighter timeframes to react to new market data. Businesses are under increasing pressure to drive rapid execution and faster time to market. As an executive at a Fortune 500 health insurance company with more than 13 million customers pointed out over dinner, speed is absolutely critical to their success. Another attendee, an executive at a consumer credit reporting agency with revenue upwards of $4 billion, echoed this sentiment, noting that companies simply have to get work done faster.


60% of companies take more than a year to get a new product to market.

Source: State of Innovation Report,
CB Insights

An agile operating model enables an organization to quickly execute on decisions with rapid iterations of deliverable-based work that ties directly back to strategic objectives. Consider Amazon’s “matrix of services,” which enables them to release product code changes in only 11 seconds — surely, this is a contributing factor to the company’s wild success and the $2 billion in profit it makes in just one quarter.

The key to operating with agility: continuously evolving large strategic objectives to match the demands of the market, which are constantly changing. Innovating faster than ever before means setting ambitious goals, as an executive from a Fortune 500 manufacturer of household hardware and tools noted at the salon dinner. Linking goals to key results allows leaders to quickly adjust and execute strategy — an imperative of agility. The 60% of companies that take more than a year to get a new product to market are at serious risk of falling by the wayside to ones that adopt agile operating models to drive innovation forward.

Changing Workforce Expectations

The ability to access the right people, skills, and expertise is imperative for business agility. Companies must meet the needs of top talent and adjust to changing workforce expectations to not only attract and retain high-potential full-time employees, but to find and engage highly qualified external experts and specialists. This theme resurfaced throughout dinner.


68% of enterprises’ workloads run on cloud platforms today.

Source: Cloud Vision 2020: The Future of the Cloud Study,
Logic Monitor

Advanced technology has transformed the way people work. Coworking spaces, remote working options, and flexible work environments didn’t even exist a decade ago, yet 68% of enterprises’ workloads run on cloud platforms today, enabling a borderless work environment. Employees are demanding more flexibility in how, when, and where they work. Top-tier workers want opportunities that encourage both professional and personal growth and enable them to have better work-life balance. Some highly qualified professionals with specialized skills and expertise will only work for organizations with missions that align with their personal values, while others are choosing to work independently and explore unconventional career paths.

At the salon dinner, an executive at a pharmaceutical company (ranked among the top performing on the S&P 500) pointed to the war for talent and its effect on a company’s ability to thrive. Between fierce hiring competition and changing skill requirements, finding and engaging the right people for the right work is increasingly difficult, and adding ever-evolving workforce expectations to the mix only adds fuel to an already burning fire. Companies that create a mosaic of engaged talent with the right skills and expertise that can flex and grow based on evolving business needs are better positioned to accelerate innovation.

Catalant’s salon dinners are valuable in so many ways. Business leaders need a place to gather together, talk candidly about our challenges, and gain insight into what other companies are doing to innovate faster and stay competitive.”

— Jessica Deckinger, Humana, CMO

Today, enterprises are facing the threat of disruption at every turn. Consumers won’t suddenly become less demanding in the future, nor will competition abate. Across industries, companies need to move mission critical work forward to drive innovation and bring new products to market faster. An agile operating model enables companies to quickly deploy the right teams, dynamically prioritize new initiatives, and rapidly adapt to new demands.

“Catalant’s salon dinners are valuable in so many ways. Business leaders need a place to gather together, talk candidly about our challenges, and gain insight into what other companies are doing to innovate faster and stay competitive,” noted Jessica Deckinger. We design our dinners to give business leaders the opportunity to discuss these exact issues and connect with peers facing the same hurdles in a thoughtfully curated environment.

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