Winning C-suite Dynamics in a Post-Pandemic World

Board and CEO AdvisoryC-Suite Succession
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Caitlin MacNamara
九月 28, 2021
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Board and CEO AdvisoryC-Suite Succession
Executive Summary
The silver lining for CEOs and CHROs is that they were given a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their C-suite team members.
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The pandemic has put a spotlight on leaders and their ability to navigate challenges. A top human resources executive said it best: “the COVID crisis was like the tide going out and you could see which of your executives still had their bathing suits on”. That summed up what I was hearing from our clients – in terms of talent, culture, and strategy.

There is no doubt that the disruptive nature of the pandemic – a crisis with no roadmap – tested leadership at every level, but this was especially true in the C-suite. Those charged with navigating companies through an immediate pivot and then an ever-shifting and often variable environment were not able to rely on past experience to support them along the way. It has been a time where leadership skills far outweigh functional expertise.

The silver lining for CEOs and CHROs is that they were given a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of their C-suite team members. The question is “what to do with that insight?” It’s a topic that I, along with two of my colleagues (Greg Hodge, a consultant in our Customer Activation and Growth practice, and Bobbie Lenga, co-leader of the Americas Omnichannel Retail and Luxury Practice) discussed in a white paper focused on how companies can structure their top-level to accelerate progress, growth and success.

Post-pandemic, the consensus is that future-proofing leadership requires solving for the right structure, the right people and the right culture. It’s not just about right-sizing the C-suite. Equally important is having leaders who can lead and a culture that allows them to do so.

To help frame a strategy discussion around where your organization is and where you should be, we’ve identified some considerations in each of these areas (structure, leadership capability and culture). We recognize that there is no silver bullet solution. These are aimed at helping CEOs and boards to be more intentional in creating the organization that can and will deliver on the vision and mission more quickly, effectively and successfully.

Structure

When designing a structure, the goal is agility and productivity. Structure is done right, where form follows corporate strategy, positions a company to succeed, which often plays out in stronger go-to-market approaches, better execution, and more efficient allocation of resources to drive the financial returns.

As ever-changing consumer demands, behaviors, and expectations have driven disruptions across consumer businesses, new C-suite roles were created and/or existing roles re-defined to augment talent in the C-suite to address these disruptions. 

However, the danger of adding roles to the top level is a bloated structure can stifle decision-making and productivity. While some vertical expertise is needed, the reality is that a streamlined structure, with a healthy balance of expert and hybrid roles, creates an environment of efficiency, accelerates innovation and drives focus on execution.

Besides the logistical challenges for a CEO to effectively manage a C-suite with 10 to 14 executives, the structure itself often forces the CEO into a more directive role.

A leaner organization is more likely to create an environment that is more collaborative, allowing the CEO to be a counselor and their direct reports to have the freedom to execute, with a deeper bench of talent with which to deliver more holistic market solutions. This has many benefits, including building a strong pool of talent for succession. Importantly, each company’s strategic needs and access to talent differs, so there is no specific template, but there should be a focus on a balance between expert and hybrid roles, ensuring leaders have a line of sight across the organization.

Leadership Capability

Over the past year, CEOs and board members have been surprised – pleasantly or not – at what they have seen from their leaders. Some leaders, who may not have been on the radar, unexpectedly stepped up, demonstrating flexibility and agility; others struggled to pivot, focus on the most important initiatives and/or motivate their teams.

Looking ahead, an important consideration for leaders who are on succession paths is how they navigated these uncharted waters. This will help identify those agile leaders who can fill the leadership pipeline and ensure you have the best players on the team when you need them most.

Culture

In this context we are talking about creating a culture within the executive team to capitalize on the lean organization. There are several keys to behaviors that can bolster success in this regard:

  • Communicate regularly and frequently, this helps move decision making along and mitigates confusion.
  • Focus on coaching to encourage collaboration and give your team the freedom and confidence they need to execute.
  • Maintain a focus on strategy, leaving execution at the operations level and allowing the executive team to prioritize strategy and growth.
  • Be humble. Leaders who believe good ideas can come from anywhere are ideal for a smaller leadership team – they aren’t too proud to look deeper within the organization for solutions.

A lean structure alone does not equal success. You will get the most out of the structure when you create a culture around it.

We’ve spent a lot of time with leaders as they try to deal with insights uncovered by this pandemic. Often times, they come to us wanting to solve for just one area that became a pain point in moving their business through new challenges. What we’ve been helping all of our clients see is that a formula of right structure, people and culture together will create organizations that can navigate the future – whatever that future happens to be.