The New C-Suite: 3 Steps for Aligning Leadership in the Digital Age
A new breed of digital leadership is transforming the C-suite.
Technological progress is changing the business landscape beyond recognition. Now, companies must mirror this transformation inside of their organizations.
Many have identified the need to expand the C-suite and invent new roles focused on emerging challenges.
Executive titles that didn’t exist a handful of years ago — chief technology officer, chief transformation officer, chief of innovation, chief of information security, and chief data officer — are now becoming commonplace.
But recognizing the need for more specialized leadership is only the first step. The more complicated part is integrating new leaders into the executive team.
CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, and others in traditional leadership positions must be prepared to embrace new colleagues and processes. Together will need to reconfigure how the C-suite will work together on strategy and execution in the digital era.
The rise of digital leadership
Once, the CIO oversaw all things technology. But the rapid pace of technological development and rising consumer expectations has made this impossible.
One person simply cannot oversee the entire IT infrastructure, transformational needs, cybersecurity, employee and customer digital experience. Each of these objectives demands a high level of attention, resources, and dedicated leadership.
Executive roles focused on digital transformation, information security, innovation, and data are gaining traction.
Thus an important question has come up: How can all of these leaders coordinate their efforts for long-term success in the digital era?
The importance of aligning your leadership team
A closely aligned leadership team is critical to success, especially in a rapidly changing tech-driven business landscape.
But achieving high-level collaboration is impossible without successful integration.
Providing adequate support during the transition period is key to aligning your digital leadership.
The consequences of poor executive transitions
Unfortunately, only 32% of executives believe their organizations provide enough support to new leaders, according to McKinsey. As many as 83% of newly appointed executives feel unprepared for their role.
Although just 3% of leaders fail right away in newly appointed roles, up to 46% underperform during the transition period, according to CEB data on 30,000 executives.
Poor executive transitions also have a broad effect on organizational performance.
Direct reports perform 15% worse under a transitioning leader who is struggling, and are 20% more likely to be disengaged or quit, according to CEB.
But with the right onboarding support, new leaders are more likely to guide their teams to meet performance goals, lower attrition, and increase revenue.
Successful integration of new leaders demands a shift in attitude and tactics
Integration of new executives into the C-suite requires three main changes.
1. Create a formal communication structure
From the moment a new executive signs their acceptance letter, it is critical to have communication that is both routine and valuable.
While newly hired executives likely have experience in leadership roles, it takes time to learn the ropes in a new company. Expecting them to self-manage their transition is a big mistake — they still require formal onboarding. Communication within the leadership team is critical to ensuring new executives have enough support during the transition.
Beyond onboarding, frequent and meaningful communication is required for setting digital strategy and bringing best practices to scale at the enterprise level.
For example, more than half of CIOs now meet with the CEO at least once a week to discuss digital transformation and business goals, according to CIO magazine. This communication structure should be replicated between all executives in the C-suite.
2. Delegate and unlearn
As new leaders transition into their roles, one of the most difficult changes for current executives will be delegating some of their duties to a newcomer. But being territorial will not drive the organization forward.
Instead, executives should be excited about the opportunity to expand their digital leadership capabilities. Allow leaders who are dedicated to specific functions to take over certain tasks and build their own teams.
Unlearning goes hand in hand with delegating. As leaders determine which responsibilities to pass on, they can also identify which mindsets and processes no longer serve them. Shedding outdated mental models is imperative to meeting current needs and goals in the digital era.
3. Establish credibility throughout the organization
New leadership often comes with changes to organizational strategy. During any large-scale change, uncertainty about the future can lead to anxiety and resistance among employees.
You can calm employees’ nerves and help new leaders establish trust by being transparent about the change. You might also emphasize how new, dedicated executive roles open new avenues for growth in the company.
To help new leaders establish credibility among the workforce, enable them to communicate directly with employees. “Lunch and learns” that allow employees and new executives to talk face-to-face in a comfortable setting are one way to build trust and understanding. Another idea is inviting executives to attend meetings, when the participants and topics are relevant.
Introducing new leaders, each with their own ideas and experience, will create a ripple effect through the organization. But with the right attitude, support, and outlook, you’ll be prepared to handle any change and create the C-suite of the future.