The pandemic has shaken up the business world, from consumer habits all the way to the boardroom itself. In this new paradigm, it’s clear that traditional C-suite structures and ideals are fast becoming obsolete.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, this 2019 EY (dotcom) study found that only one-third of Forbes 2000 CEOs, their board members, and institutional investors deemed the current C-suite model well-suited to the challenges and opportunities of the next decade.
Fast forward to August of this year, and 75% of CEOs in another EY study responded that they would consider changing or adding C-suite roles, with key capability gaps including digital transformation, innovation and artificial intelligence.
Evidently, foundational change is already underway and company leaders need to step up and assess the current effectiveness of their C-suite models. It’s never been more important to be able to guide businesses towards a stable future, especially as the impact of the pandemic is ongoing and losing talent is now the no.1 risk that organizations face.
Here’s how C-suite structures must evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the current paradigm.
Increase Accessibility, All the Way Up
In a recent McKinsey interview, the company’s leader of its global insurance sector, Kurt Strovink, said that “CEOs are being called on to play almost ministerial roles, to be emotionally relevant and available for their employees.”
Prior to the pandemic, C-level executives in many businesses rarely (or never) came into contact with anyone outside of the leadership team, but now the tide is turning.
This crisis has shown us that C-level executives need to be more accessible to their teams. During challenging times, employees want to feel reassured, and that means being more connected to their leaders. In the same sense, it’s crucial that executives demonstrate empathy and humility towards employees, who want to feel like their leaders “have their back” during uncertainty.
The first steps in creating a more open and accessible environment must come from the top: Company leadership can start immediately by holding virtual “town hall” style meetings where they address everyone in the company or entire teams at a time. Another option is to hold virtual coffee sessions where employees can ask leaders questions directly, no matter the position they hold.
Ultimately, more accessible leadership will result in better quality and more affordable products and services for the end customer. When teams can connect with their leaders and the vision of the company, they are more likely to find meaning in their work, resulting in better performance.
While it’s no secret that C-level executives must focus on leading the company, not micromanaging their team (which requires an innate level of trust in employees), this must be mutual. Without strong two-way trust between leaders and their team members, organizations will struggle to build the kind of company culture that’s necessary to confidently and smoothly guide the business forward.
In order to gain the trust of their teams, leaders must drill-down on the mission and vision of the company, and be transparent about any big decisions – which are especially apparent in the current climate. They must clearly outline the reasoning behind any such decisions in order to instill confidence. Only when employees wholly support the mission and vision of the company’s strategy will they be driven to perform because of their intrinsic motivation, rather than solely to reach KPIs.
Simon Sinek argues that trust is inherent in building long-term performance as trustworthy leaders create the environment for their employees to thrive. Still, though, many CEOs focus too much on driving performance without ensuring that their teams are built on trust. At a time when it’s vital for all hands to be on deck, businesses must work to establish trust at all costs – and performance will follow.
Agility is Key
If the COVID-19 crisis has taught us anything, it’s that, unexpected circumstances will hit you like a ton of bricks, and you need to be ready to act. C-level executives need to commit to keeping up with the pace of digital transformation and stay on top of new trends and technological opportunities.
Creating an agile environment means recognizing that data is now the most important resource that modern companies have: Business leaders need to equip their teams with all of the data they need to make quick decisions.
Fundamentally, agility also requires being an excellent decision-maker, even when leaders don’t have enough time to conduct an in-depth analysis of the information available. In turn, employees will support leadership when they make what might seem like radical decisions in changing circumstances as they trust their judgment.
Merging Roles & Team Collaboration
One historical problem with C-suite roles has been the inability of executives to see outside of their position’s immediate remit and understand the operations of other sides of the business. However, it’s now crucial that C-level leaders wear multiple hats and facilitate cross-departmental collaboration. Uncertain times require innovative solutions, and often they only come as a result of diverse perspectives.
This can be a challenge for more technical roles, where leaders such as CTOs, CIOs, or even CDOs (Chief Data Officer) might have a wealth of engineering or data-related experience, but also need to grapple with strategic business matters. It’s vital that such roles have an excellent understanding of business functions and are able to think strategically.
One example of a new C-suite position that merges these skill sets is the Chief Digital Officer. A Chief Digital Officer would encompass everything digital – IT, data, software development, and even marketing – while possessing a solid business acumen and leadership skills.
Leaders like this with a wider skill set are better able to facilitate collaboration between teams, as they understand more deeply the roles of different departments. While a collaborative approach is nothing new to the tech world – Steve Jobs famously championed collaboration at all levels of Apple – businesses need it more than ever to be able to strategically and innovatively guide the path forward into this changing landscape.
Just take Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who took the company from being characterized by competition between teams and employees to now evaluating employee performance based partly on how much they helped their colleagues succeed. Microsoft is today valued at over $1 trillion (up from $300 billion when Nadella started in 2014).
2020 has been a rocky ride for all businesses, from startups to enterprises. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities to take and lessons to learn. As many organizations adopt a fresh approach when it comes to things like digital transformation, sales strategies, and marketing channels, they should consider doing the same with their C-suite too.
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