A new survey of senior executives across the globe has revealed an increasing focus on workforce issues, with attracting and retaining skilled staff and getting the best out of their people dominating the list of priorities.
An annual study by Accenture has found that workforce improvement-issues dominate this year's executive priority list, with attracting and retaining skilled staff representing the biggest single issue, cited by 35 per cent of those interviewed.
This was closely followed by "changing organisational cultural and employee attitudes", cited by 33 per cent, with "improving workforce performance" (selected by 28 per cent to rank seventh) and "developing employees into capable leaders" (selected by 26 per cent to rank 10th).
The research, examining the issues of greatest concern to senior management interviewed 425 senior executives at leading organisations in North America, Europe and Asia.
But what is not clear from the figures is whether this concern for people extends across organisations or – as many observers feel – most are only really worried about retaining and developing their top talent and 'hi-pos' - individuals with the highest potential.
As Chris Bones, the Principal of Henley Management College told Management-issues recently, there is a world of difference between talent and the potential to lead an organisation.
"Ascribing the label 'talent' to the very limited number of people who could actually run an organisation is a perfect example of the way organisations are actually failing to see people as a valuable asset," he said.
Nevertheless, argues Accenture's Peter Cheese "the most powerful theme emerging this year is a strong and consistent focus on people."
"Even though the business conversations have centered on global competition and the need for execution, business leaders are increasingly aware that nothing happens unless people-talent is engaged in the right way," he said.
Customer-retention issues also occupy top spots on executive agendas. Both "acquiring new customers" (32 per cent) and "increasing customer loyalty and retention" (29 per cent) were popular responses across all countries surveyed.
Innovation also rose on the executive agenda, ranking relatively higher and making it back into the list of top 10 issues on executives' list. "Developing new processes and products to stay ahead of the competition" is the fourth-highest-ranked executive concern, selected by 29 per cent of respondents.
Another top 10 issue is "being flexible and adaptable to rapidly changing market conditions," selected by 26 per cent.
"Innovation, like expansion, seems to be an issue that rises in importance when the economy improves. That may be natural, but it is also short-sighted," said Cheese. "Innovation should never be out of mind - possibly even more so in tough times."
The only IT issue in the top 10 is "using IT to reduce costs and create value," selected by 27 per cent of respondents to rank eighth, a sharp decline from its number two spot in each of the past two years.
"Although ranked relatively lower, the use of IT continues to be a major focus, as businesses are becoming more demanding in driving value from IT in the form of improving employees' productivity, engagement and capabilities," said Cheese.