NEW YORK: Brand owners around the world are placing the greatest emphasis on innovation and managing "human capital" as they seek to drive growth, a new study has revealed.

The Conference Board, the industry group, surveyed a total of 776 chief executives across the globe to gauge which areas were currently commanding their attention.

Innovation – covering everything from goods and services to business processes and models – recorded the highest index rating, of 1.00 points, among participants.

"The biggest obstacle for innovation is the fact that the existing organisation has to deal with the here and now – that's their task – and they will see innovation as a threat," Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel Lucent, the telecoms group, said.

New technology was regarded as the number one factor fuelling this enhanced focus on R&D, and also crossed over with several additional objectives cited by respondents.

This especially proved to be the case for the second most widely-mentioned priority: effectively managing human capital, scoring 0.90 points. Marketing and communications was named as a key discipline here.

"To a certain extent, human capital is the most competitive differentiation," said Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, based in India. "Once you work it in as a differentiator, people start viewing it as importantly as supply chain or other differentiators."

Global political and economic risk also yielded 0.83 points overall, not least as a result of common, albeit not universal, concerns about the ongoing challenges facing the eurozone.

"I think the risk of Europe's debt crisis infecting Asia is a little less pronounced than it might be in some other geographies," said Jesse Singh, CEO, Japan, for 3M, the conglomerate.

Government regulation was another matter featuring on the corporate agenda, logging an average of 0.72 points across the sample. The need for consistency, in particular, was seen as essential.

"A moving target is hard for everyone. People just want to know the rules of the game," said Peter Grauer, Chairman of Bloomberg, the information provider.

Difficulties associated with international expansion hit 0.69 points, closing out the top five. The growing links between regions, companies, consumers and supply chains were identified as one item to be addressed, coupled with the shift in wealth to emerging markets.

Data sourced from The Conference Board; additional content by Warc staff