By Daniel Hunter

With the UK economy teetering on the edge of growth, research by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) shows Chief Executives could start to stifle the early signs of recovery and optimism by prioritising customer relations at the expense of innovation.

CMI’s research in partnership with The Conference Board shows business leaders around the world are far more focussed on innovation and developing their workforces than their UK colleagues.

The survey asked CEOs around the world to rank a list of 10 business challenges in order of importance. It found maintaining customer relationships is the most important strategic challenge among CEOs in the UK. While this may not be surprising in a service economy such as ours, it’s interesting to note that in no other region in the world do business leaders place customers so high up their challenge lists.

Chief Executives in the UK are also more conscious of corporate brand and reputation than anyone in the world, ranking it fifth. This is significantly higher than the global position at number eight.

Conversely, innovation ranked eighth terms of UK CEOs’ priorities, compared to taking third spot globally and topping the list in China.

Globally, business leaders view their people as their top strategic challenge in 2013. In the UK, however, they do not share this view, ranking it third. Only American respondents ranked it lower.

The fact that training budgets in the UK have been under significant pressure for several years may be a factor in this comparatively low ranking. Add the fact that according to UK Commission for Employment and Skills, managers are the occupational group least likely to receive training, with only one in five having formal management qualifications, these findings cast doubt over whether tomorrow’s CEOs are developing the skills they will need to succeed.

“It makes sense to put customers at the heart of business strategy, but the danger highlighted in this survey is that UK business leaders may be focussing too much on this at the expense of other key priorities," Ann Francke, CMI’s Chief Executive said.

"When the rest of the world is prioritising people and innovation, can we afford not to be? If we don’t innovate to better meet our customers’ needs, how will our businesses build better relationships with them?

"How will we deliver innovation and great customer service without prioritising people development? Senior executives in the UK should focus more on developing their workforces and driving innovation so they can compete with economic powerhouses like China.

“CMI research shows investing in management and leadership qualifications makes better managers, increasing organisational performance by 23 per cent and lifting staff performance by 32 per cent. Good management is inclusive, supportive, collaborative and innovative. Let’s do these things so we can improve results and job satisfaction.”

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