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Ability to Attract, Retain Talent is Top Concern for CEOS

The Conference Board’s CEO Challenge 2016 survey identifying top concerns of for-profit chief executives may sound familiar to association CEOs: Human-capital-related issues dominated the list of challenges that organizational leaders from around the globe are most concerned about this year.

The failure to attract and retain top talent is the leading concern among corporate CEOs, presidents, and chairs in 2016, according to the annual CEO Challenge 2016 survey by the Conference Board. The need to develop next-generation leaders, slowing growth in emerging economies, new global competitors, and volatility in cash flow rounded out the top five hot-button issues, respondents reported.

Conducted between September and early November 2015, the survey asked 605 leaders from around the globe to share the most pressing challenges their organizations are facing and to provide context regarding concerns related to six key business areas: human capital, customer relationships/corporate brand and reputation, operational excellence, innovation and digitalization, regulation and risk, and sustainability.

When it comes to human capital, the survey found strategies shifting “from a belief that talent is readily available on the marketplace toward internal development and engagement.” Additionally, it found five of the top 10 operational excellence strategies named by CEOs relate to human capital, and that human capital is intimately tied to customer relationships, with CEOs recognizing “the importance of a culture in which everyone shares customer/brand responsibility.”

“Deep-seated anxieties about talent and human capital pervade this year’s survey results,” said report coauthor Rebecca Ray, Ph.D., executive vice president at The Conference Board. “From their hot-button issues for 2016 to their long-term strategies in multiple business areas, CEOs are wide awake to the risks posed by rapidly changing skill requirements, on one hand, and a historic slowdown in working-age population growth on the other.”

In recent years, many nonprofits have reported struggles to recruit and retain employees. “The majority of nonprofits do not have dedicated HR talent or systems,” Nonprofit HR President and CEO Lisa Brown Morton previously told Associations Now. “The broader theme here is that the sector doesn’t generally invest too deeply in human resources infrastructure or resources.”

Nearly 70 percent of nonprofits reported they do not have any kind of formal succession planning in place, “which suggests that they are not developing talent within their own organizations in preparation for changes at higher-level positions,” according to Nonprofit HR’s 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey [PDF]. “As a result, when an employee is seeking an opportunity for advancement, he/she may be more likely to look for that opportunity at another organization,” the report said.


Other key findings of the CEO Challenge 2016 survey: CEOs consider inclusion fundamental to the innovation and digitalization challenge; cybersecurity is the leading concern in the area of risk and regulation; and CEOs “take a holistic view of sustainability, with an emphasis on integrating it with brand identity and marketing strategy.”

“We are in a slow-growth world with significant downside risks for the year ahead,” said Bart van Ark, Ph.D., another report coauthor and executive vice president, chief economist, and strategy officer at The Conference Board. “At the same time, technology continues to accelerate at an incredible pace, promising great rewards to organizations capable of seizing the initiative. To do so, they need to be aligned, agile, and innovative like never before—and our survey finds CEOs focused urgently toward that end.”

Associations in all industries have increased attention to their technology strategy and its impact on the organization’s broader strategy and goals. In an interview with Associations Now last year, John Mancini, president of the Association for Information and Image Management, noted that CEOs have a critical role to play.

“You can get overly preoccupied with the hardest 20 percent of a technology question,” he said. “The only people who can help the organization stay focused on the most important aspects are the CEOs. [They should] know enough about the technology to help the organization and understand when you’re crossing over from that 80 percent. Focus the effort on the 80 percent. That’s when you can get the best results.”

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