Every day, CEOs face the relentless task of making tough decisions--about tactics and strategies, customers and markets, operations and management, and more. These decisions can vary in significance and complexity, but some have the potential to determine the fate or fortune of a company. Others may lead to a defining moment or a turning point in a CEO's career.

In an effort to better understand the key decisions of today's top leaders, Vistage Research surveyed more than 1,000 CEOs from high-performing, small and midsize businesses (SMBs) with the question: What are the key decisions that you have to make this year?

The responses from CEOs fell into five groups.

Talent Management (37 percent) 

Top decisions relate to: Talent planning, talent review, human resource management, bench-strength analysis, staffing, compensation, benefits, employee engagement, performance management

Why they're important: Hiring, developing and retaining top talent is a persistent challenge for any company, but it's especially challenging in today's tight labor market. Overcoming this challenge is necessary if you want to grow or scale your business, however. Growth is dependent on having the right talent in place.

Customer Management (29.4 percent)

Top decisions relate to: Finding, acquiring and retaining customers in a new digital world

Why they're important: Technology has changed the way in which companies connect, engage and build relationships with both current and prospective customers. It's also changed customer behavior and expectations; created new channels and markets; killed traditional strategies in marketing and sales; and completely transformed how businesses and people interact. CEOs have to figure out how to navigate in this new environment--because without customers, there is no business.

Financial Management (17.7 percent) 

Top decisions relate to: Recording, reporting and analysis of revenues, expenses and profits; accessing, managing and deploying capital; using financial dashboards to promote organizational goals

Why they're important: Financial data brings transparency to every aspect of a business and helps inform strategy development based on economic, regulatory and market conditions. Metrics enable CEOs to develop clear strategies for their organizations and effectively execute on their visions.

Business Operations (10.9 percent)

Top decisions relate to: Infrastructure and facilities in the organization that are specific to the business. In professional services, aligning customer requirements and professional resources; in manufacturing, optimizing production facilities, factories and supply chains; in construction, managing equipment, projects and supplies.

Why they're important: An increasing number of businesses are investing in new facilities and infrastructure in order to make their operations more efficient, improve their financial performance, and offer better environments for their people. In addition, new technology is changing almost every aspect of business operations. To keep up with the transformation, companies need to evaluate whether their systems require an upgrade in terms of cybersecurity, backend operations management, enterprise resource planning (ERP), or other applications for knowledge sharing, collaboration and communication.

Leadership (5 percent)

Top decisions relate to: Choosing the tactics, techniques and strategies that enable a CEO to execute on their vision or achieve their goals.

Why this is important: Leadership is the art of execution. It's about setting and orchestrating strategies and goals; ensuring that the right processes and resources are in place; managing people and holding them accountable; and simply getting things done. There are many leaders who go unconsciously about the business of leading. And they often fail to optimize their organizations because they lack the necessary process to be thoughtful and intentional.

Which leads to the final point: The best CEOs don't make good decisions by accident; they have a heightened awareness of the decisions that matter most to their business. They bring a conscious and intentional process to the decision-making process--always anticipating, preparing for and thinking about these key decisions; dedicating time and energy to understanding the implications of their choices; and visualizing how different decisions might play out in reality.

To develop the same practice, turn your attention to preparing for the crucial decisions could be heading your way, either in the short term or long term. And when the moment comes to make a decision, apply your own conscious process--one that effectively integrates instinct, judgment and perspectives.

Published on: Nov 14, 2017