Managing risk ranks as the top priority for senior executives, according to a global study released by Accenture. This is a change from the study's findings during the last three years, which ranked workforce-improvement issues as the top issue.

The study, which Accenture conducts annually, comprised interviews with 436 senior executives in major companies in North America, Europe and Asia to identify the areas of greatest concern to senior management, understand how their priorities shift over time and identify key forces behind the issues.

"This latest study illustrates that companies realize they must address the increased risks associated with geo-political instability, globalization, aggressive growth, increased competition and the information explosion," said Walt Shill, managing director of Accenture's Strategy practice. "These risks have ushered in a new era in corporate strategy in which high performance companies are those that sense potential issues and opportunities, and then respond and execute their strategies more quickly."

In each of the three prior years' annual surveys, workforce-improvement issues ranked at the top of the executives' priority list. This included attracting and retaining skilled staff, and changing organizational culture and employee attitudes. In the latest study, however, external competitive issues have moved to the head of the list.

Top 10 Current Business Issues for Senior Executives

  1. Managing risk
  2. Achieving growth while increasing profitability
  3. Acquiring new customers
  4. Using IT to reduce costs and create value
  5. Changing organizational culture and employee attitudes
  6. Increasing customer loyalty and retention
  7. Improving workforce performance
  8. Increasing shareholder value
  9. Applying innovation to stay ahead of the competition
  10. Attracting and retaining skilled staff

While human-resource issues have dropped in the latest study, Shill believes they remain big priorities. "Human resource issues are embedded in the issues at the top of the list," he said. "For example, to effectively manage risk, a company needs to have - and retain - the industry's top talent."

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