How the C-Suite is Changing

How the C-Suite is Changing

Filter tag: Change Management and Executive Outplacement, Culture & Organisational Effectiveness, Leadership Capability, Strategies for Growth

Today’s C-suite executives certainly have their work cut out for them. These leaders are responsible for piloting the business through turbulent times, inflation and economic downturn, supply chain security, fluctuating demand, global disruptions, and shifts in customer expectations. It’s a tall order, and a major challenge for many businesses looking to recover from these setbacks and step into the future with the right foot forward.

As a result, we are seeing many businesses make major changes within the C-suite to build leadership teams that are better equipped to deliver the necessary impact to help the business succeed long term. This has involved reshaping roles, introducing new voices at the top table, and shifting focus towards more strategic objectives.

Here are the 3 major changes organisations are making:


1. Titles Aligned with Strategic Goals

Historically, C-suite titles have been limited to departmental designations such as Finance, Marketing, or Operations. It made sense that the key functions of the business had representation at the top of the organisation, with the Chief Executive at the helm overseeing everything. While those titles still hold valuable places in the C-suite, many organisations have begun to understand that stronger leadership and ownership is needed for their strategic priorities.

That’s why when you look at many of today’s boards, you see newer titles such as Chief Diversity Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Data Officer, and so on. Research from LinkedIn found that a search for titles incorporating the word ‘Chief’ returned 51 different variations, most of which reflect the changing priorities of top-level leadership.

These titles may appear gimmicky, but their value is anything but. The creation of these roles indicates an understanding from organisations that both the business landscape and the world at large are changing, and that the business needs to adapt accordingly.

Can the appointment of these C-suite executives fix the shortcomings in these priority areas overnight? No. However, having leaders with remits dedicated specifically to these issues creates accountability for the organisation and helps ensure that these issues have an ever-present voice in all decision-making processes. The act of appointing a Chief Sustainability Officer itself will not reduce the organisation’s carbon footprint, but it will help to ensure that sustainability is represented in all leadership conversations and has the internal support required to make change happen over time.

In addition to these strategic titles, we are also seeing businesses adapt, expand, and adopt certain roles to improve the organisation’s ecosystem orchestration and cohesion. For example, the Chief Growth Officer, Chief Alliance and Partnership Officer, and Chief Customer Officer may be tasked with connecting traditionally siloed departmental roles like marketing and sales and infusing external customer-facing objectives into internal strategy. The Chief Data Officer will likely be tasked with bridging technology with other areas of the business, an increasingly important task as businesses accelerate their digital transformation projects.

We mentioned in a previous blog that having a niche related to one of these highly important business priorities is a major asset for any top executive to bring to the leadership team. As the C-suite is evolving, there is potential for executives to combine their leadership capabilities and subject matter expertise to create real impact in these newer board positions. The expansion of the C-suite allows for more voices in the conversation and can help to shape the leadership team into one that adequately reflects the evolving needs of the business and its people. You may be able to bring something unique to the table, and your insight may be exactly what the business needs moving forward.


2. Purpose-Driven Activity

Beyond strategic priorities, these titles and appointments are also driven by organisational purpose. ESG has become a major focus for businesses, with Harvard Law School’s ESG Global Study 2022 finding that the European market boasts the highest percentage of ESG users at 93%, which is more than both North America (79%) and Asia-Pacific (88%). Research from Deloitte backs this up, as 79% of respondents in their survey of 212 C-suite leaders across various industries reported that their company has a clear and defined purpose strategy that is integrated with core business strategy.

But it isn’t just the leadership team that cares about environmental, social, and governmental issues. According to a study by PwC, 76% of consumers say they will stop buying from companies that treat the environment, their employees, or the community in which they operate poorly, while 86% of employees prefer to support or work for companies that care about the same issues they do. As more Gen Z enter the workforce and become a bigger part of the customer population, it is expected that more attention will be paid to ESG-related issues in the years to come.

Issues like climate change and D&I are at the top of every board’s strategic wish list, and it falls on the C-suite to deliver the desired results. Appointments of C-suite executives with ESG-related remits is on the rise, but it is also becoming increasingly important for C-suite members in all areas to integrate these issues into their own agendas. The C-suite needs to work together to create an aligned strategy that creates accountability throughout the organisation and provides a basis for each individual member to draw from with their own teams and activity. Executives can no longer afford to overlook ESG, nor should they try.


3. Increased Scrutiny

The ways in which the C-suite delivers on ESG goals, enacts the organisation’s purpose, and behaves in times of turbulence will not go unnoticed. These roles carry a lot of responsibility and accountability both internally and externally. C-suite executives must answer to various stakeholder audiences including their fellow C-suite and board members, their teams and direct reports, the rest of the organisation’s staff, as well as investors and customers. These roles require a high level of relationship management skills to meet the varying needs of these different groups. It is a juggling act, and there are often trade-offs to be made.

Sometimes, the leadership team gets it wrong. Other times, serving the best interests of one group negatively impacts another. These situations are undesirable but an inevitable reality for C-suite executives. Unfortunately, our increasingly digital activities heighten this scrutiny. Thanks to social media and the ever-active digital news cycle, word travels fast. The C-suite are no longer mysterious, faceless entities that sit at the top of an organisation and are relatively unknown outside their specific industries. Social media has made it possible for many executives to position themselves as thought leaders and share content with a wide-reaching audience, while a 24-hour news cycle is able to pay more attention to things that might have otherwise been missed or selectively passed over. We are even seeing a rise in some C-suite executives becoming micro-celebrities outside of the business world—think Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Sheryl Sandberg.

This increased attention can be both positive and negative. On one hand, a positive public perception of a leadership team can reap various benefits for customer loyalty, investments, and market performance. On the other hand, it puts additional pressure on C-suite executives to toe the line and deliver impact. In the wake of a scandal or organisational shortcomings, it is often the C-suite that bears the blame both internally and externally in the court of public opinion. C-suite executives need to be poised to perform under pressure and immense scrutiny despite challenging circumstances.


Our Advice

Navigating these changes may provide challenges for seasoned and long-serving members, or prove intimidating for new executives. Our executive career advice for overcoming these hurdles and driving impact is to:

  • Be flexible. The only way for the C-suite to overcome change is to anticipate and adapt to it. Keep an open mind and remain agile. As the C-suite expands to give voice to more diverse perspectives, don’t write these new appointments off as a box ticking gimmick. Be open to these new perspectives and be willing to collaborate and learn. The C-suite is the sum of its parts but is at its best when those parts work in harmony. Be willing to take feedback on board, adopt new ideas and practices, and change direction as needed.
  • Look ahead. Yes, we are seeing a rise in titles related to timely issues such as remote work experience, well-being, and AI, but what comes next? Executives should take time to study trends in the market to improve their understanding of what is to come and begin preparing for it. Make decisions using data, evidence, and intuition so you’re not surprised to see a rise in titles like Chief Metaverse Officer, Chief Automation Officer, or Chief Cohesion Officer.
  • Create purpose and demonstrate responsibility. ESG is here to stay, and every member of the leadership team should have a solid grasp on the organsiation’s stance on various issues. Which causes matter most to your customers and stakeholders, and what is the C-suite doing about it? How do the organisation’s activities align with the values and visions it claims to represent? C-suite executives are in the spotlight and therefore need to walk the talk.
  • Be self-aware. Of course, this scrutiny extends beyond just ESG issues. How you carry yourself day to day will impact how the rest of the C-suite perceive you, whether your team will be willing to buy into your vision, and the level of trust the board, shareholders, and investors are willing to put into you as a leader. There is a lot of value to be found in taking the time to reflect on your own individual impact in the grand scheme of things. Where are you delivering the most value, and which areas require work? No one is 100% perfect all of the time. Seek out feedback from your team and peers and be willing to reflect and adapt. Enlist the help of a career coach who can provide specialised executive career advice as needed. The organisation will improve when you perform at your best.

Rialto is at the forefront of providing insights on both individual and organisation transformational change. Our focus includes supporting senior executives to make game changing career moves. Over 6,000 professionals globally have successfully made senior level moves globally over the last 11 years.

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