When asked about the major threats to their business growth, CEOs also cited the increasing tax burden (62%), availability of key skills (58%) and the cost of energy and raw materials (52%).
Dealing with disruption
In order to build organisations that can survive and thrive amid disorder, CEOs are pursuing three specific strategies: targeting pockets of opportunity, concentrating on the customer and improving operational effectiveness:
1. Targeting pockets of opportunity
Some 68% of CEOs are focusing on carefully selected initiatives. They're weighing up all their options, making a few smart investments and consolidating their resources to maximize the odds of success.
Where CEOs see pockets of opportunity, nearly half are pinning their hopes on growth within existing markets, while only 25% are turning to new product development. And only 17% of CEOs are planning new mergers and acquisitions. For those CEOs planning an M&A, the top target regions are North America and Western Europe, with some evidence that CEOs are looking to take advantage of some difficult economic times to find a bargain.
China topped the list of countries seen overall as most important for future growth, cited by 31% of CEOs, followed by the US (23%), Brazil (15%), Germany (12%), and India (10%). Indonesia was listed among the top ten for the first time this year, two points above Japan. Among large companies (over US$10 billion), however, China was viewed as most important by 45% while the US dropped to 20%
2. Concentrating on the customer
Nearly half the CEOs (49%) see shifts in consumer buying patterns as a serious business threat and 51% said their top investment priority for the next 12 months was growing their customer base.
3. Improving operational effectiveness
Improving operational effectiveness is a top investment priority for CEOs. 77% have undertaken cost reduction initiatives in the past 12 months and 70% plan to do so in the next 12 months.
But CEOs are wary about inadvertently cutting value. One indicator: 48% of CEOs have increased their company's headcount during the past 12 months, while 25% have kept it at the same level.
Jobs and the search for talent
CEOs remain relatively cautious on plans for increasing headcount for this coming year. of CEOs plan to recruit in 2013 (down from 51% in 2012) while 23% plan to reduce the size of their workforce.
Looking at which industries are recruiting and which are shedding jobs shows an interesting picture. CEOs most likely to be increasing headcount are in business services (56%), engineering and construction (52%), retail (49%) and healthcare (43%); while the biggest number of CEOs planning headcount reductions are in banking (35%), the metal industries (32%) and forestry and paper (31%).
Whatever their hiring outlook, finding and keeping the right people remains a major challenge for CEOs. Availability of key skills was ranked by CEOs as a major threat to growth prospects, cited by 58% worldwide. The skills threat was especially acute among smaller companies and in high growth areas like Africa, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.
And the CEOs most concerned about the skills shortage were those in mining (75%), engineering and construction (65%), communications (65%), technology (64%) and insurance (64%).
In view of all this, it is unsurprising that more than three quarters (77%) of CEOs said they anticipate making changes in their company's strategies for managing talent during the next 12 months, and nearly a quarter (23%) said they expect the changes to be major.
Addressing public trust
CEOs also recognise the need to build trust with a wider set of stakeholders. 37% worry that lack of trust in their industry could endanger their company's growth, and 57% plan to focus more heavily on promoting an ethical culture. In addition, nearly half of CEOs (49%) plan to put more effort into reducing their environmental footprint in the next 12 months.
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