Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

What do C level officers do? 11: business and industry-specific executive positions

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 11, 2014

This is my 11th posting to a series on what C level officers of a business or organization do, that specifically emerge as job requirements for the senior leadership of an organization (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 376 and following for Parts 1-10.)

There are a number of perspectives available for viewing and discussing the executive team of a business or other organization, and the one that I would focus on here represents a thread that has run through this entire series:

• The importance of getting the right people into the right chairs with all essential types of executive positions filled, but with the executive team kept lean while doing so.
• That means setting up all of the positions needed and filling them, but it means actively limiting the executive team to just those positions actually needed.

A startup of whatever type often begins with just a founding Chief Executive Officer to be, who might or might not have experience working in an executive leadership position. It is not uncommon for a Chief Financial Officer to come onboard next, though I have seen other positions filled very early on too, and particularly where specific areas of expertise are needed very early on. Just from my own direct hands-on experience with that, I have come onboard early on as a Chief Information Officer for a few Online Information Technology startups and I was once an early arriving Chief Strategy Officer in this same way; the founder was a big picture visionary but he knew that he was unsure as to how to put the pieces of his new venture puzzle together. This is all about starting small and expanding the executive team out for size and diversity as the business grows and both in overall scale and in organizational and operational complexity.

Some of the positions that I have discussed up to here are options for this type of executive team expansion that might or might not ever be seen as needed. I could cite the Chief Strategy Officer as a case in point here, even if some nascent CEO’s might see need and even early on, for bringing in specific expertise for fleshing out an overall business vision into specific day-to-day and business quarter to business quarter functioning terms (see Part 5.) A Chief Security Officer might be explicitly added to the team as a result of specific perceived risk management need and as part of a remediative response to a systems security breach (see Part 7 and Part 8.) And as I noted in Part 10 there can be significant and even pressing needs for bringing the director of Human Resources into an executive-level team too. The decision to expand or to consolidate executive positions, and the overall flow of decisions that arise and are made when rightsizing the executive team is all about making due diligence decisions. And with that in place I turn to consider business-specific and industry-specific executive positions.

Some of these positions offer obvious candidate possibilities, and to cite two of them here by way of example:

• A business that sees innovation as its life’s blood and as its primary source of strength and of competitive position might very well seek out a Chief Innovation Officer, identifying them by whatever label would make sense for that business and its culture and organization. I have seen this type of position filled under names like Chief Technology Architect too, and I have even seen these executives identified by labels like Wizard in Chief (e.g. for computer and online game producing companies.) If a business runs an explicitly organized research and development center, and once again by whatever name, its executive director is likely to serve as this member of the overall executive team too.
• A manufacturing business that has complex production line systems might have an executive on its team who is hands-on expert on all of the complexities of running that type of operation.

And this brings me to the two fundamental questions that I would seek to at least begin to address in this posting. How would a Chief Executive Officer and their more senior executive team members know when they need to add a new executive position to the overall team? And how would they determine the precise range of responsibilities and set the job description for this position? After those questions come a series of practical, detail-work follow-up questions like “what job candidate experience and training requirements would be required and why?” and “who would this executive, once found and hired, directly report to?” But for purposes of this posting’s discussion I will focus on the first two, more fundamental of this now larger set of questions. And I begin addressing them both from the same starting point: gaps.

There are two types of critical gaps that can and do arise as a business or other organization grows and both in scale and complexity, either of which can create need for executive team expansion:

• Current members of the executive team can come to see gaps in technical and functional area expertise that have started to lead to after-the-fact perception of lost opportunities, missteps and inefficiencies. This leads to bringing in a functional area specialist with executive level experience and/or potential who could fill these specific expertise gaps. This type of situation, as a case in point, can develop when a business starts branching out into what for it, is new business territory and needs to bring in some tested experience and expertise to manage and lead that new branch of the business.
• Or the executive team and its members can also find themselves confronted by gaps and by unacceptable delays in what they are doing and in how they fulfill their own core areas of responsibilities because they are overworked from having to carry out work responsibilities that have simply built up as the organization has grown. Here, the need is to step back and ask how to better reorganize and reallocate responsibilities and even if that means carving out a new job-level task and responsibilities set and filling it with a new executive.

I have seen both of these challenges play out but at least in my experience the second of them is the more common. And the most overworked executive in this situation who has to find a way to step aside from some set of tasks and responsibilities they carry and turn them over to someone else, is often the Chief Executive Officer. I have worked with CEO’s who were in fact so busy and so overbooked with next tasks to do, that they found it difficult to ever take the time needed to step back from the details to consider their organization as a whole and where it is going and how. And getting them to break away from this trap-like pattern so they can lead again calls for bring them to a point in their thinking where they can reframe what they do and what their own personal priorities have to be, acknowledging that they are not failing anyone by not doing perhaps even large areas of the work they have up to now seen as theirs to do. But that is topic for a future posting. My focus here is on the people advanced from within or brought in from the outside to fill these newly chartered executive positions in this growing organization.

• What do they do? They systematically organize and address the day-to-day senior decision making and leadership needs of sets of functional area responsibilities that if previously addressed were done so inefficiently.
• Their job is to take on and manage some set of senior executive responsibilities so they can be reliably, effectively done, and so the rest of the executive team and its members from the CEO on down do not have to worry about doing any of that work themselves anymore.

I have primarily written this posting in terms of executive team expansion, but I added in an alternative above, in one place when I used the word “consolidate” as in consolidating executive positions. I am going to at least briefly consider that possibility in my next series installment. And in anticipation of that, I add here that I will discuss how executive team positions can and do evolve as to what they encompass and with what priorities and overall business needs and priorities can and do evolve too. And of shorter timescale significance here, I will also discuss mergers and acquisitions at the executive team levels and how this can lead to need for consolidation. After that I will discuss the positions of President and Chief Executive Officer and I will further discuss the issues of creating and maintaining a well-balanced executive team. And as part of that, I will discuss situationally required executive team participation and the role in this regard of Corporate Council. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. I also include this posting in Page 2 of my Human Resources and Personnel directory and also see its Page 1 for related material.

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