At a glance
Dr Beatrice Hofmeyr
In our unpredictable business landscape, it is imperative that companies innovate differently, embrace digital, reinvent products and services, and transform customer experience at a breathtaking pace. It is tempting to think that adding more “C” roles will meet these challenges.
In some cases, adding a chief diversity officer, chief disruption officer, chief digital officer, chief innovation officer or chief customer officer can make a tangible difference by shifting the leadership team’s mindset and focus.
However, to thrive in this new world, leadership teams need to address more fundamental issues of agility and the elimination of organisational silos. Agility requires companies to blur the lines between product, sales, marketing, operations and technology.
The C-suite roles of the future will be those that cut across traditional silos and enable the company to look beyond the current strategic environment to envision a dynamic picture of what a less obvious future might hold.
It is helpful to start by considering which “new” C-suite capabilities you need and then identify which roles might bring these into your company. It is worth thinking about the size and governance of your C-suite, and whether it is too big and cumbersome to enable agile decision-making.
In time, it may even become apparent that some C-suite roles contribute to silo-thinking and should be phased out to be replaced by roles that enable the company to operate nimbly in an everchanging environment.
Not every business capability needs a “chief”. Typically, “CxOs” lead a department or a unit responsible for a specific business capability, such as finance, operations, IT or distribution.
However, this does not mean that every business capability requires a centralised unit or department. Certain capabilities need to be decentralised across multiple units. For example, one may argue that health and wellbeing or distribution are capabilities that every department needs.
Having these critical capabilities embedded within departments in cross-functional teams means everyone gets quick access to specialised skills and expertise with a faster turnaround time.
Also, experts embedded within the unit are closer to where the day-to-day work happens, which means they can make more effective decisions that don’t make it harder for people to do their jobs.
A disadvantage of cross-functional teams is that we often end up in a situation where everyone is doing their own thing, and there is no alignment or central vision for the capability. Many organisations implement a matrix structure to solve this problem, which means creating chapters or centres of excellence (COEs) for the distributed capabilities.
These COEs provide the experts embedded within various departments the centralised alignment, vision and leadership they need. For example, many large enterprises decide to create a user experience (UX) COE instead of having a chief UX officer. Each department hires its own UX specialists, but they all operate within the centralised UX COE.
The decision to centralise or decentralise a capability depends on the nature of the business. As businesses adapt to changing environments, they will need to make the right decisions for their unique situation.
Futurist and author
The C-suite in many organisations has changed rapidly over recent years, with the emergence of new positions, from chief digital officer to chief trust officer.
Added to this, we have seen the traditional responsibilities of chief information officers and chief technology officers taken over by other parts of a business, ranging from operations to marketing.
While there may be something to be said for adding a new title and role to the C-suite focusing on disruption, identifying and preparing for disruption is every leader’s job within an organisation, regardless of title.
More importantly, those most attuned to looming disruptions are often found on the front line of an organisation rather than in the hallowed halls of power.
Customer-facing staff tend to sense changes in the marketplace along with the threats and opportunities these developments pose long before those near the top.
A vital function of a disruption-focused portfolio must be to unearth the ideas and innovations that are buried in an organisation’s ranks and have these insights rise to the top. Simply changing the titles of executives might be a good start in seeing this happen, but it’s only a small part of the equation.
Meet the experts
Dr Beatrice Hofmeyr
Dr Beatrice Hofmeyr is founder and director of Hofmeyr Consulting, a boutique management consultancy specialising in organisational design. Over the past 25 years, she has led more than 220 organisational design initiatives with clients such as Qantas, Transport for NSW, Sydney Water, BHP and TAFE NSW. Her organisational design methodology and tool kit are the foundation of the Advanced Organisational Design course offered by the Australian Human Resources Institute.
Arash Arabi is a globally recognised transformation consultant, entrepreneur and founder of Sprint Agile, a management and training consultancy whose clients include some of Australia’s largest organisations. He is also the author of The wise enterprise: Reshape your organisation for the age of uncertainty.
Futurist Michael McQueen is an award-winning speaker, trend forecaster and bestselling author of nine books. A regular commentator on TV and radio, he has helped some of the world’s most successful brands including KPMG, Pepsi and Cisco navigate disruption.