Working your way up the career ladder until you reached the upper echelons of senior management used to be the aspirations of many workers. But times have changed, and now, a seat at the (boardroom) table is no longer the only option for career-driven people. Indeed, the boardroom itself is facing some huge changes with the C-suite set to become a shadow of its former self.
Of course, the evolution of the C-suite was always going to happen. Millennials are starting their ascent into management and will eventually become the CEOs, CMOs and CFOs of the future.
This generation, in particular, are well-documented to be vastly different to the generations that have come before. For one, they are less financially driven and more concerned about wider environmental and wellness factors.
Indeed, ask a Millennial what they think of current CEOs and most of them will answer that, within a decade: "the CEO role will no longer be relevant in its current format."
This attitude shift towards the C-suite is already beginning to appear. CEOs, for example, are expected to have a remit beyond the traditional measures of financial performance.
The public want organisations to act ethically, in a trustworthy manner and to be sustainable. Eight out of ten Millennials state that, to them, "a successful business will have a genuine purpose that resonates with people". And that's something that the CEO will need to spearhead and fulfil.
Therefore, priorities among the C-suite are changing to becoming more holistic. The wellbeing and happiness of employees, for instance, is becoming a board-level issue.
Likewise, consumers are stating that they want more organisations to take a clear stand on wider societal issues such as climate change.
These wider responsibilities bring more potential pitfalls for the C-suite. Former Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn was recently arrested for consistently under-reporting his pay and transferring personal investment losses onto Nissan’s books. Several other members of his board are also being investigated.
However, some would argue that he had it coming. Ghosn had recently rattled shareholders of both Renault (a partner with Nissan) and Nissan over the size of his pay package.
Furthermore, he was known for his cut-throat approach when boosting profits. Under his management, 80% of assembly workers in Renault were put onto temporary contracts. He also cut many jobs and closed factories in his cost-cutting drive.
Putting profits before people, in the case of this particular CEO, was a short-sighted approach.
As Associate Vice President at Cognizant's Center for the Future of Work Euan Davis explains: "We are in the midst of a major economic shift, in which business value increasingly accrues at the intersection of the digital and virtual worlds. In this new competitive landscape, a new 'machine' for work is emerging, powered by data, algorithms, automation and artificial intelligence (AI)."
The future C-suite will have to understand data and new technologies such as AI in greater detail than before. It won't be enough to be at the sidelines of the change coming - tomorrow's leaders will be expected to be at the forefront of it.
More collaboration, more complexity
At the same time, C-suite roles are becoming more collaborative. Organisations are adopting cross-functional processes and teams, which are beginning to filter up into the C-suite.
It’s not unusual for C-suite members to require knowledge of their peers’ functions. A CIO, for instance, might be asked to consult with the CMO on marketing attribution and use of machine learning, or the CFO on the financial risks associated with breaching GDPR.
A rotating C-suite
Some companies are taking this fluidity to a whole new level, by regularly rotating CEOs and other C-suite executives in and out of their roles.
Huawei has been doing this to its CEO every six months since 2012. The reasoning behind it is that it stops CEO burnout and ensures that whoever is in charge is healthy and has enough energy for the job.
This kind of tactic can also help to prevent the formation of a ‘founder culture’ that is solely focussed on the person at the helm.
New roles enter the C-suite
Organisations have seen a heap of new roles created over the past few years, such as social media strategists and digital transformation consultants.
The C-suite will also experience a roster of new members, hired to lead the organisation in a number of new, specialised areas. Here are some that we think will emerge:
The Chief AI Officer: The CIO has been around for decades and the Chief Data Officer (CDO) is fast finding his or her feet. But neither has the requisite knowledge or skills to effectively lead an organisation in its use of artificial intelligence (AI). Enter the Chief AI Officer, who may soon become a common feature in the boardrooms of companies seeking to make the most of AI.
The Chief User Experience Officer: User experience has become an increasing priority for many companies. What was once an afterthought is now being considered in all areas of operation. Which may soon translate to an extra person in the boardroom: the Chief User Experience Officer.
The Chief Automation Officer: Automation is coming for every industry, promising widespread efficiency savings and job losses in equal measure. The Chief Automation Officer will be in charge of finding opportunities for their organisation to gain an edge through automating more processes.
The Chief Freelance Relationship Officer: By 2020, half of the U.S. workforce is expected to be freelance. Companies are increasingly using freelancers and contingent workers to fulfil work, making the market for freelancers more competitive. That means organisations will have to appoint a senior person to engage with the contingent workforce, build relationships and grow its reputation within the freelance community.
Davis offers another option: "There are entirely new roles that the C-Suite needs to think about undertaking. For example, expect to the rise of a 'Chief Trust Officer'. I think ethics will increasingly shape decision making in 2019 as concerns about the ethics of artificial intelligence and the ethics surrounding the use of customer data accelerate. Expect to see firms forming new multidisciplinary boards to oversee the strategic use of data."
There may be no C-suite at all
A final option for the C-suite may see their complete extinction. Blockchain technology is making it easier for a decentralised organisation to exist. One where each worker is given power in the decision-making and governing process.
Similarly, more organisations are experimenting with flat, manager-free structure. Online retailer Zappos has adopted this approach, with a ‘holacracy’ designed to empower each employee.
Change is coming to all C-suites
Whatever the future may hold for the C-suite, one thing is certain: this change is a good thing for all organisations. The future of work will exert many pressures on companies to evolve and respond to changing market or consumer needs.
This evolution may as well start at the top. After all, good management isn’t about telling people where to go or what to do. It’s about leading the way.
Photo by Jenni Jones on Unsplash.