In the business world, the C-suite is the endgame. You want to end up as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company or help shape its path as the Chief Operating Officer (COO). Beyond these two titles, the C-suite is a crowd of other ‘chiefs’ with business savvy and intellectual largess, responsible for shaping business success.
The C-suite is an exclusive club, but it’s one that’s growing bigger as more important roles arise in companies big and small. These days, companies like Google have a Chief Happiness Officer (CHO), while Facebook and others have Chief Workplace Officers (CWO). The C-suite is becoming much more diverse!
But how many of these new chiefs are critical team members vs. publicity stunts? Does your business really need a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) or a Chief Customer Officer (CCO)? It’s time to take a step back and figure out who’s an essential member of the C-suite and where the ‘chief officer’ title is being stretched.
The original three and early members of the C-suite
The original C-suite was the epitome of exclusive: it had just three members. Enterprise companies needed a Chief Executive Offer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO) and a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to keep the ship moving.
As businesses became larger and more complex, the C-suite grew to accommodate new concerns. Positions like Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Human Resources Manager (CHRM) rose to prominence—not only because they were essential, but because these areas of business began to evolve.
Today, some companies stick to the big three, while others have a diverse C-suite spanning a dozen or more members. The question is, which positions are most important outside of the CEO, COO and the CFO?
Consider your business’ executive needs
The truth is, not every company has the same demands of its C-suite. A multinational brand will have a larger executive team than a growing local company. A Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company will have different priorities than a retail apparel company. The size and type of a business are two factors that influence C-suite selection—there are many more.
It’s easy to scoff at the Chief Happiness Officer (CHO) title, but if a company has a morale problem that affects its success, a CHO might be exactly what the doctor ordered! The same goes for any seemingly-outlandish executive title. It all comes down to need.
If you’re concerned about your business’ environmental impact, you might appoint a Chief Green Officer (CGO) or a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO). If your company lives and dies by data, a Chief Data Officer (CDO) or a Chief Analytics Officer (CAO) makes sense. It’s not so much the title that matters—it’s the responsibilities and duties of the executive you bring to the C-suite.
5 C-suite titles with growing importance
With this in-mind, let’s take a look at five of the fastest up-and-coming executive titles across businesses today, and why they’re so prevalent.
1. Chief Product Officer (CPO)
From software companies to tech startups, how people feel about your product is important. So important, in fact, it deserves executive oversight. A CPO—also known as VP of Product—leads the product development segment of business. They’re responsible for ensuring a market-ready product that’s distinguished and well-received.
In an era of intense competition, CPOs ensure what you’re bringing to market is unique—even if it’s not an original idea. Duties under the CPO span the entire product life cycle, from conception and creation to distribution and iteration. It’s not a bad idea to have someone in the C-suite whose entire focus is on the success of your revenue-generating offerings!
2. Chief Innovation Officer (CINO)
The old saying goes, “if you’re not innovating, you’re stagnating.” These words ring true in today’s marketplace, which is why the CINO is quickly earning a spot in the C-suite. The duties of this executive are largely rooted in market research. How can we do what we’re already doing, but better? What new opportunities can we explore?
CINOs keep companies relevant and ahead of the competition. They’re constantly looking into new tech, emerging market trends and new demographics, to inform the vital actions of the company. From tech to operational practices, the CINO marks a dedication to staying relevant.
3. Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)
We live in a world where environmentalism and sustainability are on the rise. Consumers care about how brands and companies treat the planet, and environmental responsibility is a big deal! The CSO’s duty is to ensure everything your business does is kosher with the environment.
The CSO isn’t a fad or a publicity stunt, either. As of 2007, the top 150 companies worldwide had a CSO as part of their executive team. Whether it’s sourcing Fair Trade materials or establishing recycling processes, the CSO ensures a company is being good to the environment and operating as a steward for sustainability.
4. Chief Experience Officer (CXO)
More than a product or service, companies need to provide an experience. How consumers interact with a brand leaves a lasting impression on them. A CXO ensures that experience is a good one, and that consumers become brand advocates as a result. CXO is a unique C-suite addition because they’re important at every level—from multinational firm to local company.
CXOs handle everything from focus group surveying, to rigorous product testing, to soft product launches and more. They work hand-in-hand with developers, marketers and innovators to ensure customer experience goes beyond a product or a moment, and that it creates brand ethos.
5. Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
Technology governs everything we do today, and it’s growing more and more intertwined in businesses. It’s hard to understate the importance of a CTO. Turn to the CTO to help establish a business cloud and oversee migration to it. Let them configure your software ecosystem and make executive decisions about data sharing and security. If it involves tech, it falls under the gaze of the CTO.
The CTO is perhaps the most ambiguous of the new executive titles, yet is also the most important. Don’t think of them as a glorified IT manager—realize them as a mission critical contributor to everything from the company’s digital infrastructure to its digital productivity.
The C-suite is getting bigger AND better
As companies grow and evolve, so do their needs. Expanding the C-suite is a natural byproduct. 100 years ago, we didn’t have the business cloud or an Internet of Things (IoT), so we didn’t need a CTO. Likewise, environmental activism facilitated the rise of the CSO. The C-suite grows as it needs to, and it depends on the needs of each organization.
As you’re building your company, give some forethought to the C-suite and the positions that comprise it. What’s important and what executives fit those needs? Whether you fill those positions through careful promotion or hire an executive search firm to do it for you, build your C-suite to embody the most important aspects of your organization—from employee happiness and technological innovation, to customer experience and sustainability. The long-term success of your business depends on it!