The ‘Symphonic C-suite’

Future of Work insights

As the business environment becomes more competitive and digital disruption continues, organizations have needed to become more team-centric, networked and agile. Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends report highlighted that this trend has now reached the C-suite.

In our 2018 Human Capital Trends report, we introduced the concept of “the symphonic C-suite”. Since the 1980s, the C-suite has evolved to consist of independent experts providing specific know-how and skills; however this autonomous approach will not succeed in the digital Industry 4.0 world. Top leaders have to rethink their approach to working and communicating in order to become a highly sophisticated collaborative team. This is what we term the “symphonic C-suite”. In other words, the complex challenges faced by top leaders today are not amenable to a group of stand-alone experts. To tackle the constantly changing business environment and address cross-disciplinary problems, the top team in an organisation has to be agile, collaborative and communicative. A pattern of increased collaboration, strategic alliances and shared purpose has emerged across many organisations, resulting in some companies already informally recognising the value of more integrated, agile and joined up working at C-suite level.

The challenge

What does this new world require of the C-suite? The demands on top leaders have changed. Organisations now need people who can ‘Think, Act and React’ differently, providing the leadership necessary for success.

Leaders need to Think Differently. They can no longer rely solely on their experience and prior thinking, the world around them is changing at an unprecedented rate creating much greater complexity. They need to think more broadly, quickly and innovatively to conceptualise future possibilities. They need to Act Differently. Power and influence structures are more far-reaching, subtle and less visible than they once were. Leaders can no longer rely on hierarchy and status, but need to influence through a sophisticated and flexible repertoire of people skills. Thirdly, leaders need to React Differently, demonstrating tolerance for ambiguity and courage when faced with adversity and setbacks. The C-suite requires this flexibility across its leaders to enable it to be agile, collaborative and communicative.

The evolution of C-suite behaviours

Successful symphonic C-suite leaders have moved from a position of providing answers and clarity, to a position of harnessing organisational capability. They have moved from providing a strategic vision for the organisation, to a place where they need to know how to involve people and teams in co-creating a vision that works for and energises them. They have moved from driving market competiveness to a place where through relentlessly seeking to disrupt, they provide conditions for people to innovate. The organisation sees leaders who are confident in their decision-making, and who move with a fluidity amongst strategic and operational challenges in fast changing markets. These are the leaders whose people feel empowered to take forward novel ways of working, and feel included and energised through engagement with a motivated, purposeful and authentic leader.

While the underlying personal factors that underpin human behaviour have not changed the emphasis has shifted and the manifest leadership behaviour looks very different. Consequently there is a need to capture these evolving behaviours in new frameworks if we are to successfully identify and develop the c-suite leaders of tomorrow.

The successful symphonic C-suite leader

How can organisations recognise the people who will succeed as flexible, agile and adaptive leaders? Adept at energising and empowering their individual areas, they also need to connect with the other C-suite leaders to deliver cohesively across diverse initiatives. We all know people who are technically great at what they do. However, what is it that sets apart the people who can succeed in a symphonic C-suite? In the future, it will be about an individual’s capacity to Think, Act and React differently, combined with the motivation and drive to lead. In fact, the Millennial cohort are eager to take on more influence, which challenges the rather more ‘time served’ mind-set of many Baby Boomers, and requires processes that are fluid and sophisticated enough to spot the adaptable leaders of tomorrow. This calls for strategic succession planning to be aligned with the vision and values of the company. This will provide clarity around the culture of the organisation and identify leaders who will deliver purpose, combined with the readiness to promote on the basis of aptitude and ambition.

Leadership selection has to identify the smart, quick Thinkers who can create the compelling and visionary sense of purpose to take the organisation forward, be innovative and future focused, open to different possibilities and decisive when faced with ambiguity. But this has to be achieved in conjunction with others. It is equally key to draw out the critical people skills to Act differently, finding those who can collaborate naturally and ubiquitously, who are ready to hold difficult conversations and take the lead in driving change. Finally, there has to be a means of assessing the emotional resilience required for Reacting differently, drawing out those who can read others well, control their reactions and have the grit to bounce back from adversity.

Processes using deep psychological assessment, including reliable and valid psychometrics, wide-ranging interviews and stakeholder feedback can help to identify the people in the organisation with the motivation, aptitude and strengths to be effective symphonic C-Suite leaders.

Creating the conditions for success

However, recognition of key talent isn’t the whole answer. Skills need to be cultivated and practised to create the conditions for success. To be fully effective symphonic C-suite leaders, development needs to support the team as a whole, not just as individuals. This is about the C-suite working and operating as an agile, connected, collaborative group, capable of working closely with different members at different times and for different engagements. This calls for honesty in communication, and a trustful culture that allows for openness and challenge. Execs will need to be far more accepting of ambiguity and emotionally intelligent in their dealings with others. Overall, there is a call for more team based approaches, using values as a basis for connecting. To create the conditions for success, leaders’ development needs to be rooted in the dynamics of the team, with an increased emphasis on joint activities. Leaders must instil a sense of ‘who we are’ as a team, what ‘we’ stand for and the underpinning values of the company. Executive coaching has a part to play with tackling individual blocks, but the overall ethos is on agile, team based activities to build trust, motivation, engagement and connection.

And in reality…

Recently, a Financial Services client asked us to help them do just this and support the development of their top team. We used deep psychological assessments as a starting point, and worked with individuals through a ‘Discovery Phase’ to help them to address any personal barriers to thinking, acting and reacting differently. We then worked with the team in a ‘Lab’ to explore their collective strengths and areas for development. We helped them to create a shared vision and sense of purpose for their C-Suite, using a Team Charter to work on identifying and articulating common goals. Various collaborative initiatives were introduced and the team were coached through ‘live Sprints’ of activity with specific business outcomes, meaning that any barriers to delivery were addressed in the moment. This sent a powerful signal to the rest of the organisation that the expectation is about collaboration and agility.

In summary

  • The need to become more team-centric, networked and agile has hit the ‘C-suite’
  • Leaders must ‘Think, Act and React’ differently
  • In the short term organisations need to facilitate this for existing C-suites through working practices and new behaviours that encourage more flexibility, collaboration and communication
  • For the longer term organisations need to put processes in place to identify those who can think, act and react differently and cultivate a collaborative culture through encouraging honesty, trust, openness and challenge 

Deloitte Leadership offers a number of tailored assessments and development options, providing support and interventions to get your leaders ready to operate as part of a ‘symphonic C-suite’.

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FoW Insights
Future of Work
Future of Work
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