CEOs Worldwide Fretting About HR Issues

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

Jan. 14 — CEOs in all regions of the world place human resources matters prominently among their top concerns, according to a new survey from the New York-based Conference Board.

Of six “big picture trends” in the Conference Board's “CEO Challenge 2016,” released Jan. 14, “five of them are human capital related,” report co-author Rebecca Ray said in a Jan. 12 interview with Bloomberg BNA. Surveyed last fall were 605 CEOs from around the world, 112 of whom headed U.S. companies.

The five HR-related trends are:

• “Improving organizational capabilities to drive better business results and inspire innovation”;

• “Overcoming a critical shortage of talent globally”;

• Making “organizations aligned and making them more agile—supported by effective, enterprise-wide communication”;

• “The impact that diversity and inclusion can have on performance and innovation”; and

• “The importance of building strong organizational cultures to drive performance.”


The only non-HR related “big picture trend” mentioned in the report is “the role of cost management and strengthening process improvement to mitigate risk.”

The survey asked CEOs to name “hot button issues.” For U.S. CEOs, “developing the next generation of leaders,” followed by “attracting and retaining talent,” were among the top five. While these two issues were sometimes placed in reverse order of priority, they were among the top five hot-button issues for all regions of the globe, including India and China, she said.

“It's certainly going to put upward pressure on wages,” Ray said. “Folks all over the world say they cannot find enough candidates with the appropriate skill sets, and that's the main thing holding them back in their strategies.” Some companies are so desperate for good talent they are buying entire other companies to get it, she noted.

Will Seat at Table Be Proffered?

Will these pressures finally get HR its coveted “seat at the table,” Bloomberg BNA asked? “I can only hope,” said Ray. “Have conversations early” with top management if you want that seat at the table, she suggested.

One area where HR is bound to have a major role is in bringing in talent to be something other than regular full-time employees—“free agents, talent platforms, alliances, etc.,” Ravin Jesuthasan, a managing director and global head of talent management at consultancy Willis Towers Watson who was not involved with the survey, said in a Jan. 13 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA. “More than any other function, HR is also best positioned to help leaders navigate this myriad of options.”

Not Everyone Sold on Strategic HR

At the same time, not all CEOs may have gotten the memo about HR's strategic value, according to a survey by HR software firm BambooHR of Lindon, Utah. Having polled more than 1,000 U.S.-based business leaders, HR and non-HR, the company found that “while 85 percent of HR professionals polled believe it is either important or very important to practice strategic HR, only 67 percent of non-HR management feels the same. Of the 67 percent, only 46 percent say that their HR team is either involved or very involved in the strategic business planning of the company.”

Moreover, BambooHR said in a Jan. 12 press release, “while only 70 percent of HR professionals say they actively identify, evaluate and implement HR best practices in their organizations, even fewer (50 percent) of non-HR management members say HR is implementing best practices.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at

Information on the Conference Board's CEO Challenge 2016 can be found at

A blog post on BambooHR's survey is at