Who’s in the Cockpit?

posted by Administrator on 03/22/2023 in Blog Posts, Uncategorized  | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Part One

In just over a century the field of aviation has evolved from near-reckless adventurers flying rickety single-seat planes by “the seat of their pants” to incredibly sophisticated behemoths flown by professional crews following rigorous procedures. This evolution has made flying one of the safest modes of transportation in history.

Likewise, in just over a century the world of business has morphed from small businesses run by entrepreneurial individuals seeking to eke out a profit in their own little niches. Today we see the mega-corporations managed by professionally trained executives following disciplines that utilize massive resources of automation, data, marketing, and other skills. This expansion of the scope of business has also fed the growth of millions of smaller and mid-sized businesses that, to one degree or another, use some form of those resources and disciplines.

Setting the Course, Flying the Route

Each flight of those modern aircraft is carefully planned and followed by those professionals in the cockpit. Today’s corporations are also committed to laying out their path and relying on professionals to guide the journey to reach the desired destination. For the largest of these, we often refer to the C-Suite, or those officers of a company who have “Chief” in front of their title: Chief Executive, Chief Operating Officer, and a growing number of “Cs” that indicate a specific area of responsibility and skill set.

While smaller and mid-sized businesses don’t have as many individual titles, those responsibilities are still carried out by specific individuals. More often than not, the scope of work of several of those “titles” are invested in just one executive.

It is easy to think this is how business has always operated, but that is most certainly not the case. The consulting group Deloitte has carefully studied the evolution of the C-Suite concept. They contend that this business paradigm has gone through three distinct phases.

The earliest phase was primarily focused on “Command and Control.” This was a time of generalist management, where personal leadership skills and general business acumen were the priorities. Then, with increasingly sophisticated approaches to the business
process, the “Divide and Conquer” aspect of management reshaped the C-Suite. This period saw an increasing focus on finance and, thus, many financial executives found themselves leading enterprises. However, the latest shift is again focusing on the concept of coherence and strategic alignment, with a keen focus on people and working environments.

This shift is not a total return to the idea of command and control, but more on the creation of a cohesive team that is working together, down to the “factory floor”, to respond to hyper-competitive markets and limited people resources in achieving specified goals. (It is worth noting that cockpits have also seen such an evolution. Where pilots were once the autocratic authority, many attribute the increased safety of aviation to a “cockpit resource management” approach that seeks and utilizes the input and views of all those involved with flying the plane.)

The Only Constant

Just as most planes now fly much of the time on “automatic,” many corporations have reached the point that many day-to-day functions are automated and executed in a systematic and reliable manner. However, it is for takeoffs and landings and when turbulence occurs, or the system breaks down that experience and training come into play. Today’s business enterprises, from the smallest to the largest, have lost the security of “normal.” (If there ever was one?). The common experience for all leaders and executives today is dealing with change and change at an ever-greater pace. These changes range from seismic shifts such as the pandemic to the less visible but equally transformative such as changing employee expectations.

Thus, those companies seeking to maximize the effectiveness of their C-Suite, and especially those smaller ones who have executives performing multiple functional tasks, must clearly understand what is expected from each position. Moreover, the communications between those officers must be developed in a manner that allows maximum efficiency when those changes, turbulences, and emergencies arise. Since most of those situations involve people, the focus on good leadership and people skills is more important than ever, according to an article in Harvard Business Review.

In Part Two, we will explore the C-Suite roles, with a particular focus on the CEO and COO.