The C-suite of any organization is comprised of the most coveted and influential positions within the company. These high ranking and lucrative positions provide direction, strategy and accountability. To become a C-level executive takes leadership skills, business expertise and resilience. Historically, it has been believed that these qualities were necessary for driving corporations towards their main goal: profit maximization.
In the past, the roles in the C-suite have been relatively compartmentalized within their respective departments. This division of powers ensured that each area of the organization can be highly specialized, thus creating efficiency and clear chains of command. Today’s organizations are realizing the value of an operational orientation in all of their executives, no matter what the functional expertise. CEO’s are recognized for their “soft skills” as well as their solid business acumen and supporting C-suite roles, working collaboratively to understand how all the pieces fit together.
We will highlight some of the key roles in the C-suite today, and evaluate how these positions have changed in perception or responsibility:
Chief Executive Officer
Operating as the most senior executive in an organization requires a certain set of skills. In many ways, they are the face of the organization. In earlier years, it was rare to see an executive earn a CEO job without previous industry experience. But we are now seeing organizations look outside the traditional box for top leaders, realizing that industry experience can be learned. However, a leader’s core competencies and demonstrated experience in creating and developing strategy and corporate culture are paramount to the organizational success and ultimately, profitability.
Strong communication skills have long been a “must have skill” for a CEO. They are the liaison between the organization and the Board of Directors, present the health and financial wellness of the company to stockholders, customers and other constituents. In today’s competitive landscape, it is important that a CEO takes as much time and consideration with their internal communication as their outward communication. Our most successful CEO’s believe that corporate culture starts at the top. They drive the values of innovation and collaboration. They communicate the values both in their words and their actions, creating an environment where employees are encouraged and empowered. This leads to long tenured, happy employees, who have a vested interest in the company vision.
Today’s most successful CEO’s have the ability to not only develop, implement and execute a business strategy but couple that with an emphasis on innovation. They do not rest on their accomplishments; they look for what is ahead. They are forward thinking; study market trends and they take advantage of the intellectual talent around them and form focus groups to evaluate areas of opportunity.
Chief Financial Officer
In today’s corporate landscape the line between CFO and COO has been blurred. In fact, in some smaller companies the traditional responsibilities of a COO have been completely absorbed by the CFO role. No matter the organizational chart, it is fair to say that today’s most successful CFO’s have a more operational approach.
The ultimate responsibility of a CFO remains the same – fiduciary. To validate the strategic objectives of a company through the application and interpretation of historical financial data as well as planning and projecting for future financial growth. It is harder than ever to drive profit and the most successful CFO’s have taken a more dynamic approach. Proactively working with department heads to encourage them to utilize the finance team as a resource and to explain financial implications to employees in layman’s terms.
Chief Operations Officer
The role of COO has often been looked at as the right hand to the CEO, there to lighten the load of the CEO to focus on “big picture” initiatives. As organizational charts have flattened and the development of corporate objectives has become more collaborative, defining the responsibilities of a COO is hard to generalize. The responsibilities of a COO can vary greatly depending on the organization, as well as the core competencies of the executive in the role. For example, a heavily sales driven company may lean towards a COO with a background in sales. In a turnaround company, a COO with an orientation in finance may bring added balance. Today’s most successful COO’s have been elevated to their positions because they have proven their ability to take on broader responsibility outside of their functional discipline. They have strong leadership skills and have the ability to tactically lead a business through the day to day operations. They are implementers of strategy that can work cross functionally to gain consensus and drive results. COO’s add depth and bench strength to an organization. Not existing to simply lighten the load but to directly contribute to the success and profitability of an organization.
Chief Marketing Officer
In tougher economic times, the Chief Marketing Officer was one of the most vulnerable positions in the C-Suite. Today, the role of CMO is more important than ever. They are directly responsible for driving the brand identity of an organization across multiple platforms. Organizations know that maintaining a positive brand identity and image can provide a strong competitive advantage and are making the investment in top talent in the CMO role.
While having a foundation in traditional marketing is still valuable, to be a successful CMO in today’s world requires a solid understanding and appreciation for digital marketing and social media and how it impacts revenue and ROI. Regardless of industry, all companies maintain a certain online presence. A good CMO knows how to capitalize on trends and react quickly to drive business. Marketing is closely aligned with IT. The ability to leverage real time data to course correct or validate the success of a marketing campaign is critical to maintaining ROI. Good CMO’s work collaboratively with CIO’s in the development of their marketing strategies, to ensure all parties are in alignment with goals and objectives.
Chief Information Officer
The Chief Information Officer (CIO) used to be seen more as a back-office role, responsible for the internal hardware and software needs of a business. A true technologist. Today’s most successful CIO’s are more balanced. They are business leaders who possess the ability to translate technology and create strategy in conjunction with corporate objectives. CIO’s are visible, prominent members of the executive team as their expertise and counsel is needed throughout an organization. Technology is the heartbeat of a business and the CIO is charged with keeping a finger on its pulse. Predicting future trends, protecting a business from outside threats and maintaining the integrity of data collected. They must maintain a heightened sense of awareness in an ever-changing environment. Given the disruptive nature of technology, CIO’s must have broad based leadership and communication skills to manage organizations through times of change. Today’s CIO’s have a seat at the table and a unique skill set and perspective that allows them to influence strategy in almost every aspect of a business.
Chief Human Resources Officer
As companies continue to realize the value of retaining intellectual property, the role of the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) has become increasing valuable. The CHRO has always been tasked with promoting the culture of a business. But today, top CHRO’s have the ability to influence that culture by ensuring key C-suite colleagues are aware of what drives employee satisfaction, such as diversity, inclusion and social responsibility. They work as a strategic partner with various departments to develop programs and initiatives to address their specific needs while keeping the corporate objectives at the forefront. In companies experiencing change, a good CHRO will help manage the internal disruption, while also mitigating exposure and risk to the organization. They are intuitive, proactive and provide balanced communication to employees at all levels. They have an eye for talent and expertise in strategic recruitment in this highly competitive environment. They partner with executive search firms to align recruitment with the business strategy and are masters at designing competitive, equitable compensation structures to attract and retain talent. Good CHRO’s are true generalists, able to apply their skills across various industries and provide both strategic and tactical support to a company’s mission, while making sure that mission is on track.
Evolving Towards the Future
Today’s C-suite is more collaborative and interactive than ever before. While in years past achieving profit maximization could occur with functional leaders operating in a siloed environment, this is no longer the case. Overall success of an organization is interdependent on its parts. Leaders must balance their “hard skills” with their “soft skills” in order to maintain stability and encourage creativity and innovation.
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