Why CEOs don't get more value from 'human capital'

Human performance is now more important than automating business processes.

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Things changed for the better, he said, when he began sharing his calendar with his colleague - and now Microsoft chief executive officer - Steve Ballmer.

"Steve would ask me why I would want to schedule that and I would look at his calendar to review what he was spending time on," Gates recalled. This peer review, he observed, made both of them more efficient, more effective and more collaborative time managers.

At Microsoft's CEO Summit this May, Bill Gates took a few moments to talk about time management. He noted that, somehow, his calendar seemed to be filled with commitments that - upon reflection - only seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, he had been foolish to make them.

This struck me as a singularly intriguing way for a pair of colleagues to challenge and get more value from each other. How many C-suite executives have the kind of relationships where they can do a peer review of each other's calendars? How much more value could be gained by this kind of reality check on intended priorities versus actual time spent?

This vignette resonates well with a theme increasingly articulated from CEOs worldwide. For decades, CIOs have sold IT as an investment to boost the strategic and operational competitiveness of their firms. That's a good thing. With Web 2.0, blogs, wikis, voice over internet protocol (VoIP), IT's internal value proposition has expanded to embrace enhanced communications within the enterprise. That's also a good thing.

But listening as CEOs talk about their challenges and priorities reveals subtle but significant shifts in emphasis. Yes, CEOs are concerned about global competitiveness; yes, they want improved internal communications. However, they now are much more concerned about getting more value from their best people. They even seem more motivated to get better results from their "average" people. In short, CEOs seem both more nervous and more ambitious about getting greater returns from their firms' "human capital" portfolio. Augmenting human performance now appears even more important than automating business process.

But are executive teams following through on these priorities in truly meaningful ways? Comparing these stated priorities with what CEOs and CIOs actually spend their time and resources on reveals a disconnect.

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