by Anna Frazzetto

Overcrowding in the C-suite

Sep 09, 2016
C-SuiteIT Leadership

Have we hit ‘peak C-role’ in the drive to digital dominance?

executive chairs boardroom
Credit: Thinkstock

Remember when the C-suite was a simple, uncrowded place? There was a CEO with business strategy, growth and vision responsibility, and a CFO who oversaw the financial side of the business. Rounding it out, there was (sometimes) a COO who managed operations. And that was often it — a small trio of leaders who shared the job of driving the business forward. Today’s packed C-suites look quite different.

It’s hard to keep track of all the C’s you might encounter in a C-suite today.  From chief information and chief technology officers to chief marketing, chief digital, chief data, chief strategy, chief communications, chief quality and chief sustainability officers, there are few limits on what you might find in the C-suite today.

What’s happened is this: Businesses have worked to find a competitive advantage across different areas of their operations, and in most recent years the focus has been on technology and digital solutions. One result of these advancement efforts is the appointment of chief digital, innovation and marketing officers who are tasked with important jobs, such as turning digital capabilities into profitable services and products and delivering digital systems that improve efficiency and yield insightful data. That’s no small undertaking, and it’s no wonder the C-suite has become so congested with leaders looking to convert on today’s digital possibilities.

Have we reached peak C-roles?

With C-suites bursting with talent and the need for a unified digital strategy becoming painfully apparent to businesses whose one-off digital strategies are falling short, we have reached peak C-suite capacity. The next step is not so much a culling of C-suite talent but rather a merging responsibilities to yield a more manageable leadership team. The goal is to cultivate senior leaders who can oversee companywide digital solutions using mobile, cloud, data and social technologies. These technologies and their capabilities span departments and functions and so should the remit of the C-leaders charged with converting digital capabilities into to profit- and efficiency-driving solutions.  

It’s time to pull together

The most important aspect of driving digital solutions forward is having broad insight into all business functions engaged in and affected by the endeavor. Digital — as we have all heard before — is disruptive to systems, processes and people. To make those disruptions an advantage, you have to see how digital changes processes from end to end. That requires business leaders who can understand processes and challenges across numerous functions, from IT and R&D to marketing and sales.

Many of the C-roles that are aligned with one very specific function (marketing, sales, IT, customer service, etc.) need to merge in order to yield fewer leaders with greater responsibility and more perspective, as well as the ability to lead far-reaching initiatives. Digital marketing success, for example, relies heavily on the inventive capabilities of IT teams and tools. Digital product and service success relies on the innovative talents of product development teams to create powerful, engaging customer experiences. It’s all connected in any business but even more so in a digitally-focused mobile, social, cloud-based and data-driven environment. By merging several functions under fewer C-leaders, businesses can cultivate executive managers who learn to see and better manage the critical points of digital synthesis and division across business units.

Who stays, who goes?

Each business and its C-suite is unique, so there’s no magic number of C-leaders that companies can use as a target as they either whittle down or expand their executive ranks. Instead, businesses need to look at whether they have leaders with the authority and reach to drive digital initiatives across the entire enterprise. If an abundance if C-roles means slowdowns and roadblocks to digital innovation, it’s time to look at who has the broader business, technology and digital expertise and merge several roles into one.

Identifying and empowering the right leaders now with digital management and execution responsibilities is an important way to disrupt with purpose. Digital disruption to the C-suite may be exactly what a business needs to get successfully disruptive in the marketplace.