The C-suite is growing, but conflict doesn’t have to

The C-suite is larger than it has ever been. In fact, a Harvard Business School study published last year revealed that executive recruiting is booming and CEOs have double the direct reports today than they did in the 1980s. With so many more people in the equation, is it any wonder that tension has a tendency to crop up from time to time?

“A serious tension exists in many leadership teams: They need to implement specific (and often technically complex and mission-critical) changes and simultaneously achieve systemic coherence in transforming the overall business,” wrote Eamonn Kelly, director with Deloitte Consulting and CMO of the company’s Strategy and Operations practice, in a piece for Deloitte University Press.

CIOs, CMOs often at odds

The dynamic between the CIO and CMO is often cited as a prime example of strained C-suite relations. An Accenture Interactive study conducted last year revealed that many C-suites sustain damage as a result of less than stellar CIO/CMO relationships. Indeed, noted Accenture Partner and Senior Executive Glen Hartman in an article for the Harvard Business Review, many CIOs and CMOs “do not trust each other, understand each other or collaborate with each other.”

The resulting tension affects far more than just these two individuals, impacting not just their departments but the company as a whole.

“When IT and marketing departments work at cross-purposes, the results are inefficiencies and mishaps and it is customers who suffer,” Hartman wrote. “Potential buyers simply don’t have the time or energy to do business with a company that makes things harder for them.”

Could tension further increase?

With some firms adding new positions to oversee niche aspects (Hartman offered the examples of chief experience officer and chief data officer), there’s potential for the C-suite to become even more populous and fragmented. This doesn’t bode well in terms of trying to establish synergy and collaboration.

So, what can companies do to promote integration and mitigate friction among C-level executives? Kelly recommended a four-pronged approach:

1) Ensure the business’ overall direction promotes the coherence of different types of strategies, including those related to talent, customer management, technology, finance, innovation and government relations.

2) Identify the company’s core strategic capabilities. Explicitly define these to the C-suite and ensure all executives and departments are working to nurture and protect them.

3) Recognize and incorporate informal networks of influence into corporate operations.

4) Use the Three D’s of data, diversity and dialogue as the foundation of decision-making.

Reducing CIO/CMO conflict

With regard to mitigating the tension between the CIO and CMO positions specifically, Hartman presented the following suggestions:

– Identify the CMO as being the “chief experience officer” to underscore his or her role in promoting a top-notch customer experience across all areas of the company.
– Position the CIO as the CMO’s strategic partner, rather than merely the main provider of the firm’s technology platform.
– Encourage collaboration between the two executives when it comes to marketing and IT integration issues such as security and customer data availability.
– Break down skill silos by educating the marketing department about IT and vice versa.
– Promote the idea of extending trust to other business units. The circle of trust has to start somewhere, and Hartman advocated the idea of developing trust by trusting first.

Of course, these steps aren’t an all-purpose silver bullet for erasing CIO/CMO tensions, but they should help to reduce conflict to a manageable level.

“You may never turn your CIO and CMO into the best of friends, but you should be able to convince them they are natural allies,” Hartman wrote. “If a little competitive rivalry gets them both to bring their best games to work, so be it. But everyone needs to realize they are part of a team, their job is to make it stronger and the real competition is out there in the marketplace.”

The same can be said of other positions within the C-suite. Although each executive represents a sector of the corporation with its own unique agenda, no department exists in a vacuum. Tension can be mitigated through frequent reminders that everyone should be on the same side, and the ultimate goal is helping the company to succeed.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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