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It's time to rethink the C-suite

Today's complex world has made the traditional set of C-level roles out-moded. We need to embrace a new set of roles that better match to the challenges companies are facing.

Adam Richardson
Adam Richardson is the director of product strategy at frog design, where he guides strategy engagements for frog's international roster of clients, envisioning and creating new products, consumer electronics, and digital experiences. Adam combines a background in industrial design, interaction design, and sociology, and spends most of his time on convergent designs that combine hardware, software, service, brand, and retail. He writes and speaks extensively on design, business, culture, and technology, and runs his own Richardsona blog.
Adam Richardson
3 min read

We need to rethink the traditional combination of CEO, COO, CTO, CMO and CFO. Back when companies were about routinization and optimization for efficiency and profit in stable industries perhaps this combination made sense, but in today's complex world it is woefully inadequate. As Dan Pink writes in his new book Drive, most organizations today are less based on procedural algorithms and must run on ad hoc heuristics. The tidy C-suite club of old just doesn't cut it in today's messy, disruptive, complex world.

There has been actually been quite a lot of action on this front:
Chief Innovation Officer has become more common as companies have taken innovation to be something they need to make core to their operations on a global level.
Chief Customer Officer - a position advocated by ex-Lands End exec Jeanne Bliss in her book of the same name. If customer focus is going to be more than lip service and PR, then perhaps it deserves its own C-suite position?
Chief Meaning Officer - my colleague Tim Leberecht has written extensively about shifting the M in Chief Marketing Officer to be more holistically about how a company defines itself. This is not about 1-way marketing messaging, but about co-creating an organizations meaning with its customers.
Chief Culture Officer - in a related vein Grant McCracken's recent book of the same name argues that company's need top-level dedicated focus on how they engage with the broader culture - both in terms of how they understand and incorporate it, and in how they influence it.
Chief Experience Officer - the CXO had a blip of traction a few years ago, but it is still worthy of consideration. Similar in some ways to the Chief Customer Officer role, but with more of a focus on new product and service development (which result in novel customer experiences) rather than the CCO role that is more about customer service and relations.

Chief Sustainability Officer - I don't know if many of these are still around post-recession, but it was a minor trend to start including sustainability - either as environment-focused or tripple-bottom-line - for a short time. It's still very worthwhile - design for sustainability is not going to go away despite the current economy. Designing for sustainability often requires a disruptive, start-up mentality, something which requires top-level leadership to nurture and protect.
This is a good starting point for "complicating" the C-suite to align with the complexity of challenges the businesses are facing today. Let me add a couple more suggestions, keying off themes in my own book:
Chief Convergence Officer - Creating convergent ecosystems and holistic user experiences requires blowing up the org chart. It is pretty much guaranteed that you will need to cross over multiple silos and divisions in order to make these convergent efforts work well for customers and in such a way that they provide sustainable competitive advantage. It often requires top-down leadership, diplomacy and - on occasion - arm twisting to make this happen. Otherwise divisions can be too focused on self-interest (usually because that's how their incentives are set up) rather than thinking about the benefits to the organization as a whole.
Chief Divergence Officer - Who in an organization is chartered to think about new growth opportunities? In surprisingly many companies this job is dispersed across many roles and groups. Being able to do breakthrough innovation repeatedly requires someone at the top who has the knack for spotting trends and new innovation opportunities, otherwise you run the risk of experiencing the one-hit wonder syndrome that Motorola had with the Razr. Created in a skunkworks fashion, the Razr was a huge hit, but Motorola was unable to "systemetize" that mindset and within two years had fallen down the ladder of handset manufacturers again. Contrast that with Logitech, which has quietly been able to expand into numerous new areas like media players and universal remotes by smart acquisitions that catch new growth areas just as they are hitting the mainstream. That's not luck, that's a sign of focused attention at the top.

Any other novel approaches to the C-suite that you've seen? Have they worked or not worked?