Study: Engaged Employees, Customer Service Are Top CEO Challenges

A survey of corporate-world bosses found that CEOs are more concerned about optimizing performance than increasing market share. Association leaders face similar challenges.

The number-one challenge CEOs will face in 2014 is human capital—how to develop, engage, manage, and retain talent—according to “The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2014,” a global survey of more than 1,000 corporate leaders. It was followed by customer relationships, innovation, operational excellence, and corporate brand and reputation.

Increasing market share, which is one of the 10 options business leaders can choose from on the survey, was left out of the top five for the third year in a row.

“This emphasis on people-related issues makes perfect sense in a still-uncertain economy,” Rebecca Ray, senior vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, said in a statement. “Building a culture that supports engagement, employee training, leadership development, and high performance is something companies can control, and can mean the difference between growing market share and simply surviving in 2014.”

The terminology is slightly different, but a survey of association CEOs might yield similar results.

“I hear a lot of my clients talking about the need to find talent for positions that they have open, and developing their employees,” said Marsha Rhea, CAE, president of Signature i, a nonprofit leadership consultancy. “You also find that association CEOs talk about the volunteer side of that equation. How can you change how you’re engaging volunteers in the organization, and make it easier for volunteers to fit that time commitment into their lives?”

From a customer service perspective, association CEOs are being challenged to keep up with the changing demographics of their industries, said Rhea.

“I see so many organizations trying to get their heads around who their members are now and [who they] are fast becoming in the changing society,” she said. “You get a lot of changes in who actually is in a profession, who is in an industry, because the requirements are changing, new players are coming in.” Association CEOs should be examining whether their organizations can respond to that rapid change, she said.

Associations are also facing the innovation challenge, feeling pressure to “do the next big thing,” Rhea said. “During a recession nobody had money that they could put at risk, but now in this slow-growth period you’ve got a little bit you can play around with, so you’ve got more pressure to execute against innovative opportunities.”

One challenge left off of The Conference Board’s survey that might have appeared on a survey of association CEOs is government relations and advocacy, said Rhea.

In an age of legislative gridlock, “what we really need in all associations is an environment that’s open to new ways of thinking and doing policy and regulation,” she said. “Most associations recognize that, just because they can’t get anything done in Washington, that doesn’t mean the issue will go away. You find other avenues to accomplish a goal.”

What are your organization’s biggest challenges as 2014 gets underway? Share them in the comments


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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