Simon Terry

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Many Chiefs. Still a Network

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These days everybody wants a spot at the top of the hierarchy. In the vain hope that sitting around the big table will fix the issues of our large organisations we are seeing a parade of CXO roles debated.  

Life began simply with a Chief Executive Officer and maybe a Chief Finance Officer.  Then we started to gather Chief Operating Officers, Chief Technology Officers or Chief Information Officers.  The next wave brought us Chief Strategy Officers, Chief Privacy Officers, Chief Product Officers and Chief Marketing Officers.  Next came the campaign for Chief Customer Officers and Chief Innovation Officers.  I saw recently suggestions that organisations needs a Chief Design Officer, Chief Digital Officer and a Chief Data Officer. Chief Culture Officers, Chief Environmental Officers, Chief Ethics Officers and Chief Community Officers cannot be too far away.

Say chief that many times and it starts to be clear that we think there is magic in a big boss.

Too Many Chiefs. Not Enough Network.

Organisations are systems of lots of people. Great performance on customer, digital, data or in any other arena is rarely the result of one heroic individual at the top of a specialist hierarchy. Great performance comes when elements across the system collaborate to deliver better outcomes. Finance, technology, operations, product and many more teams all support the delivery of consistently great customer experiences. The challenges of collaboration in execution happens a long way away from the CEO’s leadership team.

Adding chiefs around the main table can be an effective symbolic move in a system. A CXO can elevate the importance of a domain that lacks profile. However it is rarely more than the first symbol.  The real change must happen out at the edges of the silos and the edges of the system where the organisation’s networks engage with its environment. Without the support of their peers and a broader network, a new CXO is unlikely to change much away from the CEO’s table.

Great CXOs are masters of collaboration, uniting people from across the system, especially middle and frontline managers in change. They are Change Agents on an enterprise wide scale. The hierarchy is not the source of their power and the success of their agenda. Success flows from their networks and their influence as agents of change.

Don’t Hail the Chief.

Maybe it is time to move beyond titles and heroes to fix collaboration.

Any leader can start new forms of collaboration in their organisation and have a positive influence on performance the system, whether at the CEOs table or not. The higher up the hierarchy the more tools, networks and influence you have when you begin. Good CXOs and great collaborative middle managers focus on coordinating the crossover points in silos. Don’t wait for a Chief to be appointed. Make yourself a leader in your domain, network and the silo boundaries near you. Find something to change for the better and engage others to change it today.

The organisation will thank you for your initiative.


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