An intriguing set of recent surveys from top business analysts has lifted the lid on what effective leaders do – and, indeed, how sometimes they are scuppered in their ambitions.
We don’t really have a matching term for the American ‘C-Suite’; and that’s a shame, because the C-Suite doesn’t quite match the idea of a British ‘board’. The C-Suite is designed around the idea of responsibility rather than role, so it rightly includes senior civil servants, functional experts (even when sometimes they are non-executive) – all the people who fundamentally need to shoulder management burden, whether they are credited with it or not.
Analysts McKinsey examined what happens when individuals move into the C-Suite. Of course, everyone wants to make their mark. Everyone has a strategy. And yet, nearly half of top executives surveyed reported that they were not effective at earning support for their new ideas when they moved into C-suite roles. But those same respondents pointed out that successful transitions don’t require new executives to have all the answers. McKinsey’s C-suite commentators prioritised the following activities to engender a positive transition and gain traction with staff:
- Create a shared vision and company-wide alignment around your strategic direction
- Clarify what you will (and won’t do) – and then honour it
- Engage with your direct reports and wider team
- Understand, measure and, if necessary, materially change your corporate culture
- Prepare yourself for the role
Not one of these challenging issues concerns, say, sales. Every one is a people-issue: the essential crossover between HR and Communications that we at A2B Excellence think are the knottiest challenges (and therefore also the biggest opportunities) in improving corporate outcomes.
And these issues are not going to get any easier. Another report, from Deloitte, suggests that the C-Suite is in limbo. In the Wall Street Journal Online, the Deloitte team reports: ” The original top leadership group comprising a handful of general managers dates back to the 1920s when businesses were gaining unprecedented scale and shareholders and regulators were demanding more accountability… In C-suites today, functional specialists—including chief information officers, chief financial officers, chief marketing officers, and others—far outnumber generalist heads of business units… The problem is, the current model is ill-matched to a global business environment in which companies must continually transform to remain competitive. In this new era, teams of functionally-oriented executives sometimes struggle to formulate and act on integrated, coherent strategies for future success. Functional depth in the C-suite has come at a cost, particularly as organizations grapple to stay ahead of fast-moving, complex changes brought on to no small degree by technology.”
So: functional specialism is needed to handle the permanent state of flux in which most businesses find themselves in order to remain competitive. But management needs generalist talent to integrate, refine and prioritise expert strategies. Not only does this require the sort of collaboration that will be anathema to some of the more competitive, empire-building or alpha-male management teams; it also requires further effective and articulate communication – both across the C-Suite and down to the shop floor.
The demand for shareholder (or stakeholder) accountability has not diminished – indeed on their behalf, regulatory oversight has ballooned across hundreds of sectors. But oversight won’t oil the wheels of smart management. With transformational change the new normal, teamwork and talent management deserve to be the new currency of competitiveness.