Evolution of the C-Suite in 2020: Top 8 Trends

The events of 2020 — from managing through a global pandemic to weathering an economic downturn and backslide on global development, navigating through a reckoning on racial equity and experiencing the growing impacts of climate change — have tested the C-Suite like no other time in recent memory.

By Kate Olsen

The geopolitical and cultural reality ushered in over the past year has accelerated the rate of organizational transformation to meet the moment and prepare for an uncertain and volatile future. Companies across sectors are navigating a reset on leadership priorities, redefinition of management roles and recalibration of decision-making lenses, especially around climate and equity issues. This context is reshaping the C-Suite in profound ways. Some roles are being elevated and redefined, while others — such as the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Remote Officer — are being created to address new demands for remote and hybrid working.

Here are eight key trends to watch:

C-Suite Roles Meet the Moment

Chief Sustainability and Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) Roles are Elevated

Climate and equity are cross functional lenses that impact the whole of the C-Suite and strategic decision-making across organizational development, end-to-end supply chain sustainability, innovation and long-term value creation.

DEI Considerations Drive Strategy

CDOs are reporting directly to their CEOs to make DEI more central to the overall business strategy and ensure companies are making tangible investments and impact against stated values, policies and commitments.

CHROs Wear Two Hats

CHROs face a dual challenge of demonstrating to existing talent that they are valued and essential (the more traditional role), while simultaneously framing strategies to reskill and upskill the workforce for the virtual and hybrid future of work.

CHROs Navigate Changing Expectations for Work

While CHROs are constantly working to manage expectations of the current workforce and adapt talent management in real-time to pandemic realities, they must also predict the future and scenario plan for unpredictable “new normal” considerations post-pandemic.

CEOs Embrace Agile Leadership

CEOs are being called upon to act differently with their people and society as a whole, and to bring more of themselves to the workplace. The focus is on stakeholder capitalism and the changing role of business in society. As such, CEOs are increasingly looked upon to take positions on societal issues.

CEOs are Making Bolder Moves at Faster Speeds

At the onset of the pandemic, CEOs were called upon to act with an agility that should be maintained post-pandemic to continue to navigate climate change, DEI expectations and changing geopolitical dynamics that make the decision-making environment volatile.

CEOs as Changemakers

CEOs are being called upon to act differently with their people and society as a whole, and to bring more of themselves to the workplace. The focus is on stakeholder capitalism and the changing role of business in society. As such, CEOs are increasingly looked upon to take positions on societal issues. Within the context of social and political division, CEOs need a more holistic strategy for issues management, informed by a mix of internal and external stakeholders across the C-Suite, communications function, public and government affairs, employees, customers, community partners, and shareholders. They must also decide when to stand up alone, and when to join a coalition of voices to advocate for stakeholder priorities.

C-Suite Leans into New Skills & Fluencies

Digital and Technology Expertise is Table Stakes

The ability to understand how data, digital and deep tech are reshaping the context in which businesses operate is a core competency today and all C-Suite roles must be able to seamlessly move between and connect the digital and physical worlds.

Empathy is the Power Skill

The realities of the economic, physical and emotional well-being of stakeholders — especially employees — are no longer seen as separate from business concerns and C-Suite leaders are expected to deploy emotional intelligence and empathy in how they communicate and lead.

Kate Olsen

Author

Kate specializes in developing strategies and integrated engagement campaigns that help purpose-driven clients build brands and advance sustainable development.

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