C-Suite soup: Win with actions, not titles

Published on the 18/08/2015 | Written by Owen McCall

c suite soup

Every function, discipline and sub-discipline aspires to be in the C-Suite, says Owen McCall. But it is outcomes and not titles that count…

While a C-Suite title may sound cool and make you feel good, having a title or position is not the same thing as being a leader. It is also no guarantee that you can or will make a positive contribution. And in my book, making a positive contribution is what it is all about. The title doesn’t matter, it is the contribution that counts and, in the long run, it is our ability to contribute that earns respect and grants influence.

So, while all and sundry may obsess about what is the cool or perhaps right title, individuals are much better off focusing on how they can contribute to their organisation’s goals and aspirations.

In many cases, business functions don’t just want one C-Suite member, but require multiple iterations of them. Look at the technology department, for example. There’s the traditional Chief Information Officer (CIO), the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and the Chief Security Officer (CSO). On top of that, there is the emerging Chief Digital Officer (CDO).

There are many more, but you get the point – and this still excludes the variety of C-variations (is the I in CIO ‘information’ or ‘innovation’? The D in CDO ‘digital’ or ‘data’?) and the concatenations (anyone for a CISO?) It does become a little ridiculous, a veritable alphabet soup of C-Suite executives.

It makes me wonder: why are we so caught up in the CxO titles?

I reckon it is because a ‘C title’ represents power and prestige. If that’s a little confronting, then perhaps ‘respect and influence’ is a more acceptable descriptor. Be that as it may, it’s all the same, and you know you’ve made it if you’ve got a C title.

The good news is that technology professionals can contribute to organisational success in a number of ways including:

1. Facilitating the smooth and effective operation of the modern organisation

If an organisation’s systems were to shut down how long could most companies continue to operate?
Not very long, even if you do have extensive business continuity plans. Technology is so embedded in everything that we do today that without it, most organisations would grind to a halt. The first obligation, and the first area of value added, is keeping the organisation working day-in day-out by running an efficient, reliable and effective set of systems.

2. Optimise the organisational business model

By really understanding how any given organisation adds value, it is possible to do a lot more than simply facilitating business. Technology professionals can enable the organisation to get better tomorrow by making smart investments that drive efficiency and effectiveness. Technology provides two major levers. The first is to make processes more efficient, convenient and easier to execute. This can be done for internal teams, for customers and for suppliers. In the extreme, some processes can be completely automated. The second is to get the right information to the right people at the right time in a way that helps them make better and more timely business decisions. Again, this can be done for our team, our customers and suppliers. In the extreme, technology can make some of the decisions automatically.

3. Enable completely new things

As technology gets increasingly more powerful and cost effective, it can be used to do completely new things. These disruptive business models that we hear so much about can add huge value, particularly when you’re in the position of disruptor rather than disrupted. This can mean creating new products and services not before possible; accessing new markets and customers; or serving existing customers in new and better ways.

Whatever it is, this is the ultimate expression of value from technology, if you’re good enough to do it.

If you’re good enough. That’s the catch. And to be good enough, you also have to be influential enough in your organisation. A fancy C-Suite title won’t do it for you; instead, consistently contributing to your organisation by delivering on the first two streams of value (facilitating day-to-day business and supporting business model optimisation), will.


Passionate about using technology to make a real difference to businesses, communities, families and individuals, Owen McCall has focused his career on understanding and answering this question: “How do you harness the power of IT to deliver value?”
An independent IT consultant, he is a former CIO of The Warehouse.

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