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What is the new C-Suite?

Richard Poole, ahead of a major event with Richard Cross and Mark Chillingworth, asks where are leadership roles heading?

By Richard Poole

The job titles at a board meeting are changing. But are the roles behind the new wave of job titles changing?  Product and innovation services firm Fluxx, Richard Cross, formerly a CIO now a CDO and Horizon’s Mark Chillingworth will debate the changing leadership landscape at an exclusive C-suite round table debate on May 26th in London.

Richard Cross CDO of Atkins

Richard Cross is widely considered to be one of the UK’s leading business technology leaders. Cross was CIO at broadcaster ITV (2004 – 2010) and architectural design leaders Arup (2011-2014); Cross joined engineers Atkins as CIO and last May became its Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

“It is a business oriented, value creation role, not an operational role,” Cross told Horizon’s Mark Chillingworth recently.

We’ve reached the stage of wondering about job titles. The big ones (CEO, CFO, COO) are typically easy to understand, but these days an organisation might feel a bit insecure about not having a CDO and a Chief Transformation Officer (the other CTrO) and a Chief Customer Officer (CCO) and a Chief Product Officer (CPO). But are we getting a bit carried away with ourselves? Corporate governance has been refined over a couple of centuries, and it seemed good enough up to now with only a few gentle tweaks.

Little has changed in the last 100 years

Looking at this from the other direction, perhaps what’s surprising is how little has changed in governance terms in the last 100 years.

This recent surge in new C-level roles is largely down to the surge in corporate fatalities. Why did Kodak not see digital photography? Film and music labels not see digital media? And after them Blockbusters still not react to Netflix? Why didn’t Nokia see proper smartphones?

Was it that these companies had poor C level executives? Absolutely not – they had the best available and paid handsomely for them. At the time of each disaster, no-one was baying for the head or the CEO of these companies or putting forward better candidates (that happens afterwards…). Might it just be that they didn’t have enough C level executives?

So are the new roles worth bothering with?

Chief Customer Officer: The champion of the customer. I like this role, why didn’t we have it before? Perhaps visionary CEOs like John Lewis (the man before the shop), Harry Gordon Selfridge (ditto) and latterly Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs always had a bit of this in them? It’s interesting how it links the existing roles: the CMO is in charge of creating things that the customer wants, but all too often is rarely involved post creation, where it is the COO who owns the service. The CIO has an increasing role here as relationships are data driven and delivered over digital channels. These three have not worked this out yet. Who in your organisation is in charge of customer? I suspect it’s a bit of a fudge.

Chief Digital Officer: The person in charge of making your company digital. The purist in me maintains that this role doesn’t make much sense: it’s purely a transitional role as the digital revolution sweeps through industry sectors (we didn’t have a Chief Telephone Officer when the phone was invented, or a Chief Television Officer…). In many companies, the existing leadership team will lead the digital transition, but equally – a lot of companies have found that it’s simply too big a job to add to the current exec workload, and that this transition takes new skills and experience that relatively few of the mostly grey haired existing board members have.

Chief Transformation Officer: Driven by the increasing pace of business change, many large companies are desperately trying to make their elephants dance. For me this is more a project than a role – and an incredibly demanding one at that. To make this work you need to rip up methodologies, hierarchies and rules and move back to Lean approaches (the sort your company probably had when it was small and dynamic). If you manage to do this successfully, you are likely to make so many enemies in the process that you’ll have one of those mirrors on a stick to check the company car each morning.

Chief Product Officer: I haven’t met enough of these to form an opinion yet, although I’m instinctively drawn to CCO being a better choice than CPO – and my head hurts at the thought of having both. Perhaps where you have very large and enduring products (crossing many customer types) this does make sense, as how else can you keep the integrity of the product?

So if you are wondering what all this means here’s a couple of questions to ask yourself about your organisation:

1. Who owns customer delight? If that’s “everybody’s job” then the chances are that nobody’s doing it brilliantly. Spend a little time thinking about your business from a customer’s eyes, it’s always enlightening. We often remind Board members to meet their customers and their prospects – and it is always enlightening. Don’t hide behind consultants or pay for endless market research that typically squints backwards. Take your Board and meet some customers. Then ask why don’t you have a CCO to do that all the time.

2. Who owns digital transformation in your business? Do they really have the right skills? Digital isn’t finished, and we’ve only just started IoT, AI and robotics… it’s going to be a bumpy ride for many. Your digital transformation should be focused on adopting lean techniques, creating agility and then using it to adopt experimental techniques. It’s all about small cycle times, because you can’t predict the future and you don’t have to. Consider having a Chief Digital Officer or a Chief Transformation Officer (but having both looks a bit greedy).

There are two notable exceptions to typical C level structure I have not mentioned here:

Banks, who’ve gone with some strange and fairly impenetrable hybrid of presidential roles and directors (here, Veeps, EVeeps, MDs and COOs are always plentiful). Recently this does not seem to have created entirely successful governance structures *ahem*.

Partnerships, where the rule in general is – the more democratic the partnership the less prone to actual progress the organisation will be.

About the author: Richard Poole as spent his career devoted to finding innovative ways of solving problems. Fluxx is a services and innovation organisation that encourages big companies to break their stride and validate whether or not an idea is the right idea Fluxx also makes sure an idea gets implemented in the right way.

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About Mark Chillingworth 228 Articles
Mark Chillingworth has over 20 years of journalism and editing experience across all media platforms including online, live events, print magazines and television.
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