A Powerful Message from CEOs: Their Top Challenges Are People Related

November 20th, 2013
Written by: Dana Papke

Each year, the Conference Board does a study on the top challenges faced by CEOs. The 2013 version of this report (see The Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2013) tells a very succinct and compelling story: People are everything. Said another way, people are either the top CEO challenge, or the key to addressing the other top CEO challenges. 

The top 2013 CEO challenge, according to the survey, is:

“Human Capital: Grow Talent Internally is the Top Ranked Strategy to Meet the Human Capital Challenge in All Regions”

Not surprising. But what’s interesting is that the number two challenge facing CEOs in 2013 also has a strong people dependency:

“Operational Excellence: Employee Engagement is a Critical Element in Achieving Excellence”

That got me wondering how many of the top CEO challenges in 2013 have a people focus. The figure below shows the top five challenges across the top, and below in the column, the five strategies to address each one. (Click image to enlarge.)

The Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2013

Click image to enlarge.  Source: The Conference Board CEO Challenge® 2013

Some observations:

  • The top four challenges are heavily people-dependent. The fifth challenge is “Political/Economic Risk,” which is an external challenge–although one that requires people to address it.
  • 67% (10 of 15) of the strategies to address the top three challenges are directly and explicitly related to people, i.e. skills, talent, employee engagement, culture and organizational effectiveness.
  • Other top strategies that aren’t explicitly talent- or culture-related (“Sharpen understanding of client needs,” or “Engage personally with key clients”) are heavily dependent on successful execution by an organization’s people.

It’s powerful data like this that reinforces a point we always try to make: If everything an organization does, or needs to do, ultimately relies on its people, then why don’t all CEOs devote a similarly large amount of time and resources to optimizing these three things?

  • Their people (the well-worn phrase, “Our biggest asset” comes to mind here).
  • The connection between their business priorities and their people priorities.
  • Incorporating their Human Resources leader or resource into the strategy and planning discussion early on. 

We’ll keep an eye out for other useful research and insights and pass them along in future blog posts.


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