Symphonic C-suite: It’s not lonely at the top anymore

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It is the latest leadership model that helps leaders understand, manage, and respond to the new-age, complex social capital issues.

In any organisation, from the beginning of the industrial revolution days, the CEO stood alone at the top, making most of the important decisions and delegating responsibility to functional managers in the business.

As other function heads gained importance in the system, ‘C’ was added into their title and they became CXOs – chief financial officers, chief information officers, chief human resources officers and many more.

Now with the ‘C’ in their title, these CXOs started becoming more independent, and working in siloes.
Each CXO was given responsibility to ‘own’ his or her domain, operating under a ‘divide and conquer’ model. It was era of super specialisation where every CXO had their domain knowledge and could managing and find solution to the problems in their domain.

This model worked well in a relatively static and predictable business environment, where most problems had readily identifiable root causes, were limited in scope, and required deep functional expertise to solve.

The world has changed now. Frequent marketplace disruptions, a global economy, and the accelerating rate of technological change mean that the problems companies now face are more difficult, more complex, and more multidimensional than ever. More and more problems are of the ‘wicked’ variety—problems with multiple roots and drivers that cannot be effectively solved by one party working alone.

This has given birth to a new leadership model – symphonic C-suite. It is the next stage in the ongoing evolution. It helps leaders understand, manage, and respond to the complex social capital issues that organisations face, enabling them to tap opportunities, manage risks, and build relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

It requires CEOs to break down functional hierarchies and build a more networked, team-based organisation as a key trend.

A report by Deloitte suggests that behaving as a social enterprise and managing the external environment’s macro trends effectively demands an unprecedented level of cross-functional vision, connectivity, and collaboration from C-suite leaders. Therefore, the top executives of organisations work together as a team, while simultaneously leading their own functional teams, all in harmony.

In this model, C-suite members not only lead their own area of responsibility, but also collaborate with other functional leaders, work in teams that affect the enterprise’s strategic direction, and influence and inspire networks of teams throughout the organisation. On the contrary, globally, a striking 73 per cent said that their C-suite leaders rarely, if ever, work together on projects and strategic initiatives.

Senior leaders must get out of their silos and work with each other more. To navigate today’s constantly changing business environment and address cross-disciplinary challenges, a company’s top leaders must act as one.

“As society grapples with daunting demographic, technological and social challenges, people want business leaders to fill the gap, but our research shows they have a long way to go,” says, Erica Volini, principal and US human capital leader, Deloitte Consulting LLP.

“This year’s report is a wake-up call for organisations to look beyond their own four walls and reimagine their broader roles in society. Integrating the C-suite to build a more social enterprise will be a differentiator for businesses to attract the right talent, drive customer loyalty and sustain long-term growth,” she adds.

However, the transition of C-suites to full ‘symphonic’ mode still appears to be in its infancy. 54 per cent of the respondents in this year’s Global Human Capital Trends survey said that their companies are not ready, or only somewhat ready, for the level of executive-team collaboration they believe is now required.

Now, in order to bring about a change, the first step is for the CEO to review priorities for each C-suite leader and determine how each can have a broader impact across the organisation. The report suggests that achieving C-suite collaboration also requires performance-management systems and career paths that facilitate teaming and give leaders cross-functional experience. For example, the L’Oréal Group has reimagined its performance-management systems to emphasise the importance of teamwork, adopting a new credo: “The team is the new hero.”

That said, in the next few years, the need for ever-greater cross-functional collaboration will drive continued evolution in the C-suite, as well as in the leadership development pipelines that feed it, and this is why symphonic C-suite is proving to be one of the most powerful and urgent trends for organisations worldwide. It is certainly going to be the most effective way to tackle the complex issues businesses face today.

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