What’s on the CEO Radar for 2014?

Retaining, managing, engaging workers; deciphering “big data”; and increasing leadership diversity

By Aliah D. Wright Jan 13, 2014
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​What will challenge chief executive officers in 2014?

Human capital and how best to develop, manage, engage and retain talent were among the leading challenges cited in a new survey of executives from more than 1,000 companies worldwide.

Conducted by the Conference Board and released Jan. 9, 2014, the survey report, CEO Challenge 2014, also listed customer relationships, operational excellence, innovation, and corporate brand and reputation as other tough areas.

“While earlier years saw major discrepancies between regions, challenges cited by CEOs for 2014 revealed global convergence,” said Charles Mitchell, the Conference Board’s executive director for knowledge management and lead author of the report. “The top challenges across all regions and nearly all countries converged around questions of internal strength—better products, smarter workers, stronger customer appeal and collaboration.”

Among hot-button issues, this year’s report listed leadership diversity, economic conditions in Europe, changes in the U.S. health care system, big data and the need for technology-driven, customer-centric innovations.

In the coming year, CEOs and their organizations will also try to learn the best ways to collect and analyze data and use it to enhance engagement with customers, according to Stephen Miles, founder and chief executive of The Miles Group. “The companies on the leading edge are moving beyond just data collection to actually empowering their employees to better engage with customers in a real and meaningful way. This is what will move the needle in translating data to dollars.”

What’s at the center of it all? Employees.

According to the Conference Board, human capital was named the top challenge of global CEOs (first in Europe and Asia, second in North America and Latin America). “Improve performance management processes and accountability” rose to the No.1 strategy in China, which is facing slower growth, as well as in Asia as a whole, the report found.

Other top challenges for 2014:

  • Enhancing engagement.
  • Training.
  • Leadership development.
  • Creating a performance-based culture.
  • Increasing the effectiveness of senior management teams.

The Miles Group, too, conducted a study on the difficulties that CEOS are confronting this year. Its list includes:

  • Finding the path to growth.
  • Stepping up to government and regulatory challenges.
  • Engaging effectively with boards of directors.
  • Weighing U.S. pensions’ impact on the bottom line and talent.
  • Bringing in talent for growth.
  • Rethinking offshoring.
  • Moving beyond talk in innovation.

When asked about the significant issues that keep them awake at night, leaders named “diversity in our leadership ranks” as a major priority as well as the rise of big-data analytics, potential economic depression in Europe, currency volatility and (among U.S.-based respondents) health care benefits for employees.

“There is no reason to believe that the business impact of government policies is going to subside in 2014,” Miles said. In the U.S. the full effects of the Affordable Care Act will begin to be felt, and Europe will continue to watch for news from Brussels about policy in the European Union, he added. “Governments will be flexing their muscles in 2014, and companies will feel it.”

Aliah D. Wright is an editor/manager for SHRM Online.

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