A Sea of C’s

A Sea of C’s

By Barry Dalton

Barry Dalton is chief strategist driving multi-channel customer engagement for Telerx Marketing. From the Switch & Shift blog.

Executive, Finance, Information, Marketing, Operating, Customer, Collaboration, People, Learning, Data, Analytics, Linguistics, Community, Innovation, Creative, Staff, Adoption, Medical, Compliance, Administrative.

This is just a sample of the “chief” titles I’ve come across in various organizations. Google it—I’m sure you could find even more.

Now, let me say: I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone who holds one of these titles. I don’t assume to know all the possible personal motivations that come into play when one accepts a job. Or all the effort put forth by those who take on these roles intent on making a difference. Anyone who does anything with that ultimate objective in mind—to make a difference; to leave behind something better than what he found—has a place in my Human Being Hall of Fame.

A few stark questions hit me the other day, however, as I was watching an interview with a company’s chief linguistics officer. Are we drowning in a sea of C’s? What are we trying to solve for? And what does this say about big corporate structure? Has the traditional corporate operating model become so dysfunctional that we need a seat in the boardroom for every conceivable function?

I’m not really sure what a chief linguistics officer does. However, if the communication chasm within big organizations has grown so wide that a C-level executive is needed to provide interdepartmental translation services, it’s no wonder deeper connections with customers is such a challenge.

I’ve spent a good part of my career solving business challenges through enabling technologies. Where enterprise technology projects fail, it is largely due to implementing technology before a related compelling business problem has been adequately defined. This seems to be where organizations are with respect to the proliferation of chief officers. We’re applying solutions to challenges that are not clearly defined. Or perhaps the challenges may not even exist.

At a time when business models are decentralizing and enterprise technology is disintermediating, traditional hierarchies are less effective as management tools. Through my unscientific observations of a wide variety of businesses in different industries, I have concluded these trends are one of the key drivers of excessive “chiefdom.” I believe many companies are struggling to cross the chasm between control and real empowerment.

Adding fuel to this fire is time compression and rapidly changing market pressures eroding the value created by long-term strategic planning. As markets drive companies to change gears, and often direction, more swiftly than ever, very few are able to absorb these changes and positively respond within the core organizational DNA.

As a result, organizations find themselves in need of yet another senior officer to develop a response.

When innovation is necessary for survival and growth but isn’t woven into the fabric of a company’s culture, executive teams bring on a chief innovation officer to fix that. When customer-driven communities are driving more and more customers away from a brand’s owned media, the chief community officer is hired to figure out how the brand should participate in the community, as the marketing folks have enough on their plate managing the promotional calendar.

The common thread seems pretty clear to me: reaction vs. prediction; shiny object vs. clarity of purpose and direction. In contrast, when I think of the most innovative, customer-engaged, creative, collaborative, or analytical brands, I don’t see them drowning in a sea of “C.”

Perhaps a better approach would be for the CEO to ensure that her vision is clear. And that the troops are given the tools and rewards to execute on that vision. It really is that simple.

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