HOW INTERSECTING LINES OF AUTHORITY & DECISION MAKING CAN UNDERMINE AN ORGANIZATION’S STRATEGIC PLAN & GROWTH
“C-Suite Repeat” is a term I coined this past year to describe an emerging phenomenon I was observing stemming from overlapping and repetitive lines of authority among members of the c-suite in high growth environments. This includes both start-ups and established enterprises…and is an increasing challenge in the era of Digital Transformation.
Some of the issues were clearly attributable to “too many chefs in the kitchen”; others brought to light overwhelming clashes in culture, approach and personality among high-ranking executives; and the balance were simply the result of an organization’s failure to caution senior leadership that “C-Suite Repeat” is a potential threat, and enhancing that risk by failing to delineate expectations for decision-making. Regardless of the reason, at the end of the day, the CEO is (always) ultimately the accountable party for ensuring that his/her c-suite is aligned in terms of strategy, goals, outcomes and responsibilities.
I have personally held Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Administration Officer (CAO) and Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) roles. I am three-time business owner in elevated growth environments and have experienced the c-suite through private enterprises, non-profits and board involvements. Through my own consulting and advisory firm, today I offer growth strategy guidance and tactics to emerging and rapidly expanding businesses, and through that experience, I have the ability to observe widespread trends such as the increasing volume of “C-Suite Repeat”. It is truly one of the advantages of being able to interact with so many different organizations, and I share those high level observations with my clients every day. And now, (without naming names), I am sharing this particular trend observation with all of you.
THE VALUE OF COLLABORATION…AND HOW TO AVOID THE RECIPE FOR TEAMWORK BECOMING A BAD SOUP
It should be clarified from the outset that I am an unwavering advocate for team collaboration, peer review and input, and management seeking out broad-based feedback on key decisions impacting an organization. A business fortunate enough to have a diverse range of internal c-suite experts qualified and opting to openly share guidance regarding a range of strategic initiatives, investments or opportunities, is a characteristic that distinguishes the greatest of organizations. After all, group think and “yes” men/women can be toxic. A wide array of opinions is healthy in the decision-making, execution and optimization processes. More importantly, perhaps, a very number of high profile business leaders are equally adept at strategy and implementation.
Significant issues can result, however, when members of the c-suite leap over the fine line of diverse expertise, opinion sharing and constructive participation….and cross into an unwelcome, overlapping soup of confused responsibilities and authority. Teamwork and collaboration is welcome; excessive duplication and lack of clarity in decision-making is not, particularly in rapidly transforming organizations. In fact, it can be a recipe for disaster. This is my ultimate definition of “C-Suite Repeat”.
“C-SUITE REPEAT” IN HIGH GROWTH ENVIRONMENTS
As a third party growth strategist, I have seen “C-SuiteRepeat” rear its head among emerging businesses, particularly when it comes to the strategic planning process. Effective strategic planning consists of four phases and each of those phases has multiple steps or considerations – Strategic Planning, Alignment, Execution/Implementation & Refinement. If during even one such phase in the process – such as Alignment – the c-suite commits its support to the vision but doesn’t understand its role or decision-making parameters in making it happen – the entire process could be in jeopardy.
I always share with my clients that there is a fundamental and game-changing difference between an organization that knows how to obtain balanced input from its most knowledgeable leaders…and one that doesn’t know when to cut-off the collective voice and have ultimate points of accountability and decision-making. The more talented the overall c-suite, the more vivid and realistic the risk of “C-Suite Repeat” can be. At the end of the day, the CEO is always the final voice on a decision, but the more complex the organization, the more he/she needs to be able to define expectations and count on his/her senior management team to collaborate accordingly.
WHERE THE STRATEGIC PLANNING TURF WARS ARE MOST LIKELY
My experience as an advisor for rapidly expanding enterprises has shown me that there are several relationships within the highest tiers of senior management that have an enhanced risk for strategic growth turf wars. Before we discuss those, however, let’s start with a quick snapshot of traditionally accepted definitions of the most common members of the c-suite. When looked at from this perspective, particularly through a lens of aggressive growth strategy, the layers begin to overtly reveal themselves as to where overlap and repetition can harmfully take seed. The summaries aren’t meant to be an ultimate definition, but rather just enough to help make a mental note of potential flags and intersections.
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO)– Ultimate executive responsibility; highest ranking accountability and authority for company decision-making, resources, revenue generators, strategy, personnel, communications and operations.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO)– Primary executive responsibility; focus on financial related functions including accounting, revenue and expense tracking, financial controls, budgets, KPI reporting, fundraising and taxes.
- Chief Operating Officer (COO)– Primary executive responsibility; focus on successful integration of day-to-day operations of the organization including strategy implementation, sales, marketing, business development, human resources, production, procurement, distribution, client satisfaction, technology, controls, and policies / procedures.
- Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) – Primary executive responsibility; dedicated to growth, diversification and expansion by creating, communicating, executing, refining and sustaining strategic initiatives.
- Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) – Primary executive responsibility; focus on public relations, community engagement, marketing, sales, business development, branding, advertising, digital channels and client interaction.
- Chief Technology Officer (CTO)– Primary executive/engineer/architect/scientist responsibility; focus on technical issues, R&D, product development, engineering, innovation, optimization and client collaboration. Note: A Chief Digital Officer (CDO) is often included in the C-Suite, but more often than not answers to the CTO instead of the CEO.
- Chief Information Officer (CIO) – Primary executive responsibility; focus on aligning companywide goals to encompass people, channels, technology and processes and how analytics, organizational design and infrastructure can apply technology both internally and externally to the enterprise.
- Chief Experience Officer (CXO) – Primary executive responsibility; focus on providing single point of contact for experiences associated with the operation including human resources, government relations, marketing, communications, community relations, internal issues and investor relations.
- Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)– Primary executive responsibility; focus on people, talent acquisition, training, organizational development, recruiting, best practices, compensation, benefits, policies, procedures, succession planning and company culture. Note: A Chief Diversity Officer is often also included in the c-suite but answers to the CHRO instead of the CEO.
There are more titles of course, and definitions can vary from company to company, but these are among the most common c-suite roles in the public domain. They are shared to help illustrate concerns regarding overlap. Not only do the structures change from business to business (often times CMOs and CHROs answer to the COO, for example), but not all of these positions exist in every organization. And rightly so. Some entities actually achieve right-sizing of the c-suite team as well as recognizing the strengths and capabilities of individual leaders who can address more than one function. That is less likely, however in larger corporate structures. Let’s consider for a moment some organizations that didn’t get this quite right.
I am typically a strong advocate for the engagement of a Chief Strategy Officer for any organization with aggressive growth plans. The dynamic global business environment, rapid advancements in technology, and the condensing of external business life cycle timeframes are just a few of the reasons why the internal focus on the four stages of strategic planning – strategy development, alignment, execution and optimization – have evolved to be a full-time commitment for any company dedicated to true growth.
On a high level, it should seem evident that the COO exists to maintain the current operations of the business; the CSO exists to expand what that business operation entails. However, the overlaps between the two are one of the greatest emerging sources of “C-Suite Repeat” that we are finding in the marketplace right now…but it doesn’t need to be. Strategic planning previously fallen under the oversight of the COO role is shifting to an external individual/department dedicated to strategy, but the impacts across all divisions and levels that the COO has to address when the CSO is successful at his/her job are being measured with multipliers not previously witnessed in the business community. That isn’t an easy scenario to address, but it is possible. Growth is a welcome challenge, but it has wide-reaching influence. Therefore, the value of seamless interaction between the COO and CSO is immeasurable. And when collaboration is absent, it can result in pure chaos. The answer is for the CEO to work with the COO and CSO – dictating if necessary – as to how he/she expects them to collaborate and report back regarding successes and challenges.
I have seen a similar hazards emerge between both CMO/CXO and CTO/CIO roles among others. It is obvious to anyone who explores the relationship model to see that a CMO tasked with client satisfaction and a CXO tasked to improve client experience could either be the best of friends or one another’s worst nightmare. The same holds true for the CIO tasked to align goals across technology, people, channels and processes…and the CTO who oversees the generation and refinement of the technology being aligned. And don’t forget the CHRO tasked to assess every aspect of the operation’s impact on its people. And don’t get me started on the dynamic between the CXO (and its responsibilities to influence the investor relations experience) and the CFO who traverses the financial aspect of those relationships. I could go on for hours…but you get the point.
In the right environment and defined structure, these roles – COO/CSO, CMO/CXO, CTO/CIO and CXO/CFO – are one another’s greatest assets. To achieve those synergies, in my experience, the road to success all starts with right sizing the c-suite, placing people in position’s that match their expertise, targeted guidance from the CEO as to what could put c-suite relationships in jeopardy, how the overlaps and intersections in scope of work can be an advantage or resource, and a delineation of lines of authority as to who make the final call for key aspects of each.
I will be posting additional content that furthers upon these subjects and relationships.
Individuals that have made it to the c-suite offer strong leadership capabilities and sophisticated technical business acumen (i.e., if they don’t have what it takes, chances are they won’t remain in their C-level position for long). From the perspective of collaboration, these strengths and capabilities can have either a constructive and incapacitating effect, depending on the structure and delineation of the organization. It all begins with the expectations and lines of authority established among the c-suite by the CEO. How well the CEO juggles those overlapping obligations at the end of day can be what makes or breaks the firm’s strategic vision and growth goals.
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