Achieving Business success through adaptation with Cathy Ward

06 October 2022

The past few years have proven to be a great challenge for the success of many organisations due to the increased need to quickly adapt to a rapidly changing industry. With these changes have also come new challenges. From working through the pandemic to now heading into a global recession, organisations have experienced several world events that have impacted the way their businesses operate.

With a career now spanning over 27years, Cathy Ward has worked in technology from small startups to big corporations, and now at SAP as the Chief Operating Officer (CAO). She has taken on 16 different roles, and according to Cathy, invested 50,000 hours into her craft. 

Additionally, having worked across many countries around the world, she has shifted from sales to chief officer roles locally and globally across customer life cycles.


“I don’t know if you’ve heard of the 10,000-hour rule? So, 10,000 hours to be an expert in any given subject… 50,000, given my 27 years of a career 16 different roles and that 10,000-hours rule, I like to call myself an expert generalist. Which fits very well” 


During a conversation with Dr Philp Squire, Cathy explains in detail her role as CAO for preparing and anticipating changes that may happen in the future, and what exactly that entails. 


The Key Factor to Successful Business Growth 

It does not seem like the world will be slowing down any time soon, so it is more important than ever for organisations to be prepared for the future. From accepting the new normal to navigating the metaverse, currently, it seems like we are in a constant state of change and adaptation. The pace of change is hugely disruptive. It is no longer good enough to look to the past and build on that, all in hopes of preparing for the future. So how can an organisation prepare for the future in an environment of turbulent change?  

One word, support: 

  • Support the sales side of the business and customers through pre-sales 
  • Support the Industry and value advisory 
  • Supporting the partners and the partner ecosystem 
  • Supporting business operations and enablement  


“This role is primarily focused on building the operating models to operate today but also, and more so, as we’ll have the conversation, really making sure that we’re anticipating and preparing for multiple different futures. So, it's about performing today but also transforming, protecting and building the organisation for future readiness” 


So, what does it means for a business to be prepared for the future and what is the primary role of an organisation moving forward? Is it to be more sustainable and reach net zero or be more cost-efficient? Incorporating AI?  

There are a set of base questions that need to be asked first to make a start in the right direction. However, in Cathy’s opinion, there are three pillars that are most important to address: People, business, and operations. Focusing on these three categories and understanding what could be improved within them, will enable better readiness for the future and transformation.

The Chief Anticipation Officer mindset through the Harvard Business Review 

After introducing the concept of a CAO at a round table for Harvard Business Review analytics services, Cathy and her team conducted global research on the future readiness of various organisations. The conclusion showed two things:  


  • 9/10 businesses were indeed thinking about future readiness and understood the necessity of insuring teams had the right skills, were continuing to upskill and had a people-first focus. 
  • 1/3 of organisations, around less than 30%, did not know how to begin this change. 


This is where the role of CAO steps in. Given the nature of the job, this position would enable businesses to always be prepared for inevitable changes within the industry regardless of how big or small the changes are. In addition to this, there should also be a background focus on continuous learning. 


Another finding that came from the research was the understanding need for collaboration within the business. This would lead to greater success. As it goes, two heads are better than one. It's much easier to set a plan in motion and guarantee success if everyone is working together towards the same goal, instead of one department working on a single goal, only to find out later they could have been more successful with the help of another department. 


After all, “there is no one way to anticipate change, and there is no right way”. The results of the research lead to finding the answer to the most important question of all: How? 


Through training, dedication, and resilience of course. 

Phil shared his own thoughts regarding the topic of change by mentioning two authors. David Wilkinson, who writes about leadership traits and the ambiguity advantage, and Dr Julian Birkinshaw, who talks about the different eras of sales we are living in. It can be concluded that one thing the role of CAO and the two authors have in common, is the understanding that an individual should have a particular mindset. One that is both open to change and adaptive. 

What the future of the Chief Anticipation Officer role looks like 

What percentage of people within a company does it take to drive change? According to research, only 7%*. Although not easy, and it may seem like a small number, depending on the size of the organisation, that 7% could represent hundreds of people. 


Cathy and her team have been hard at work gathering more feedback on the role of CAO through round tables across various teams such as their emerging talent teams. 


“What we have learned and the conversations that we have had now across so many different parts of the business with different customers with different diverse groups, is that it isn’t a role, it's actually a mindset. And if we choose to call that a Chief Anticipation Officer and we all put our CAO hat on, regardless of the role, it then starts to evolve into this future readiness broader concept” 


With this idea, there can be a CAO in every team or someone with the qualities of CAO. Indeed, if everyone thought in a way that was more collaborative with the future of the business in mind, this would no doubt lead to greater business success. 


Coming to the end of their discussion, Cathy ends by stating her hopes that the CAO role can act as a blueprint for change. 


Today's world is constantly changing. From ways of working to customer behaviours, it’s important to always be prepared. The role of CAO and thinking like a Chief Operating Officer is definitely a great step in the direction that does not leave organisations struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of change but sets the tone for being prepared for any kind of change. 

Listen to their podcast to hear more details about the feedback around the Chief Operating Officer role, research, and ideas on creating this transformational movement: 


Apple podcasts - 
Spotify - 
Google podcasts - 

*London, L., Madner, S., Skerritt, D. (2021) ‘How many people are really needed in a transformation?’ McKinsey & Company

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