The market demands that large companies innovate differently, embrace digital, create ecosystems and transform customer relationships at a breath-taking pace. Succeed, and the rewards may be exponential; fail, and irrelevance quickly follows. With disruption raising the stakes, shouldn’t the C-suite be optimally structured to rise to the challenge?
Yet according to research by EY, most CEOs, board directors and institutional investors from the world’s largest companies and institutions believe that the current C-suite model fails the test.
In this article, Nick Gold, MD at Speakers Corner, argues that fixing that requires more than merely adding more roles with a “C” in the title. Companies must actively address how leadership teams operate by examining fundamental issues of hierarchy, agility and the elimination of organisational silos.
Over the many years I have been involved in the speaking industry, the story of Timpson and the upside-down management structure is something that has always fascinated the world of business. Timpson provide a practical case study of a business that has been enormously successful while operating in a way that was the opposite of traditional business models.
However, certainly in the early years of my career, this was something that while the C-Suite viewed with Timpson interest and intrigue as they developed their foothold in the market, it was a step too far to re-imagine their own internal company structures and processes.
Now, with the pace of change growing exponentially alongside the rise of the domination of technology, there is a growing appreciation that the historical hierarchy of business structure is being challenged as knowledge, expertise and management is being looked at from different perspectives. Experience and length of service, which has traditionally been the yardstick for seniority in an organisation, has now got other competing factors which need to be considered in terms of the structure of the business.
The socio-economic structure of society and business is in turmoil like never before. New challenges are being made from all directions, and precedent, which is the historical markers of the direction an industry is heading, no longer provide confidence over future trends. Therefore, new ways of decision making need to be considered and with it an appreciation of the people best placed to discuss these decisions is rising.
We need to see the C-suite recognising there are new factors which need consideration in the decision making process and the people best positioned to have views and ideas about the company direction are the employees of the company at all levels, not just at the senior levels. There is now a real understanding that diverse opinions will create the best forum for new ideas.
On this basis, the C-Suite, whose role has been to give leadership and direction through laying down methodologies of working to a business, fundamentally need to review their role within the organisation. I can already see there is a real need for the C-Suite to now focus on providing the best environment for their workforce so their employees can fulfil their potential and deliver the business objectives, culture and vision that the C-Suite have ultimately set.
More importantly the C-Suite need to trust their employees and recognise that by imposing strictly rigid processes to every facet of a business it is seen as an arrogance based on a thought process that the right way is the old way that the company has always acted. The leaders of the business, or the traditional C Suite, needs to be enablers for the employees to thrive and understand that their role is to utilise their knowledge, experience and expertise to scenario issues and work with their teams to mitigate these rather than a ‘just say no’ approach.
Challenging the alpha stereotype
This new way of thinking is a challenge both in terms of company structure and processes but also for individuals within the company. It throws up the question of progression within a company and the accepted wisdom that seniority and authority comes with status and position within the company.
Taking this a step further and discussing practicalities, this would also have an impact of financial rewards, if the C suite no longer own the final decision making process and the ultimate responsibility of success or failure becomes a more meritocratic workplace, then surely this will influence pay structure and reward.
But we are living and working in times where senior leadership teams are being challenged in ways of thinking that doesn’t just shift the paradigm but potentially throws it out all together and asks us to consider ways of working like never before.
The C Suite and the traditional stereotype of alpha individuals demonstrating positive dominating attributes in order to show assertiveness and strength of character is something that I feel needs to challenged.
Those individuals who are at the top of the company decision making process need to start reflecting the societal position where vulnerability and openness is seen as strength. The start of collective responsibility towards the mental health of all of us as individuals is an area which can only benefit individuals and society.
An aspect of this comes from an understanding that traditional stereotypes needs to be subverted and in the case of the C Suite, they need to start recognising that strength can be drawn from true delegation. That the attributes and personalities of individuals within the team are much more suited to making decisions on specific ideas based on their expertise.
This is even more critical if we factor in diversity of a workforce generating opinions and ideas based on actual experiences and knowledge rather than perceived assumptions. This relies on the C Suite understanding their role has shifted to an inclusive role which champions enabling rather than leadership by instructions.
It may well be the likes of Timpson were far sighted to see that this way of working was the inevitable for business. The fact remains there is a seismic change being undertaken in the business world and companies who don’t adapt quickly will inevitably fall by the wayside. The challenge for the C-Suite is how best to embrace that change and re-position themselves so their value remains.
Nick Gold, owner and Managing Director, Speakers Corner