Published on December 5th, 2007 by Alan L Sklover
“I am not supposed to be an expert in every field.
I am supposed to be an expert in picking experts.”
– Moshe Dayan
ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Twice this year we have been retained to negotiate employment agreements for senior executives with a new corporate title: “Chief Continuity Officer.” One was for a new hire; one was for a promotion. This new title – “Chief Continuity Officer” – is a clear reflection of our perilous times. This new title may also yield insights to a subtle yet significant change in how organizations are reshaping themselves. Regardless of your own position and industry, you may find advantage in understanding where this new title came from, and how and where other such “chief officer” titles may arise, perhaps even in your own special area of special expertise.
What are the primary functions of a “Chief Continuity Officer?”: identification, evaluation, and preparation for all possible events and circumstances that might threaten the continued operation, or very survival, of the organization. With some variations, the Chief Continuity Officer is tasked with, first, identifying risks to the continued operation and existence of the organization, and, second, establishing plans, procedures and priorities to alleviate or eliminate those risks. Examples of catastrophic events that might imperil the continuity of a large organization would include terrorist incidents, internet interruptions, leadership succession stalemates, natural disasters, civil disorders, loss of critical confidence or funding, utility blackouts and credit meltdowns. Chief Continuity Officers are responsible for imagining the unimaginable, and advocating for resources to address potential problems that may never exist. Surely not an easy job, but what job could be more important?
It’s been only a few years since many companies starting hiring “Chief Risk Officers,” who are responsible for management of operational, market and credit risk. According to a recent article in American Banker Magazine, at the end of 2006 76% of the top 25 U.S. commercial banking companies had a Chief Risk Officer; just five years earlier, only 28% did. That’s a 48% increase. Chief Continuity Officers have a narrower purview, but a higher calling; they do not address all risks, or even most risks, but only those that might threaten the company’s continued existence. For example, in early 2001 most companies looked favorably upon having all personnel (or at least all senior executives) work together in one location, on a high floor, of a landmark building; since 9/11, that is considered imprudent if not foolhardy, reckless if not unforgivable. Shareholders deserve better, Boards demand better, and companies and organizations are thus hiring people to “think in a different way, and don’t let that happen again.” New concerns arise in new times. New times demand new titles. New titles are intended to address new concerns.
LESSONS TO LEARN: What’s in a title? Potentially, a lot. And a lot can also be learned from observing trends in titles, too. In my experience over many years, I find that titles are vastly underestimated as objectives during employment negotiations. Improving a title, adding a second title, and negotiating future title enhancements, should each be attempted more often than they usually are. In the same way that a prominent street sign can improve the fortunes of a roadside business, a more prominent title can enhance the probability of future career advancement and job security. But you must be “ready, willing and – most importantly – able” for the job, whether it’s an established title or a newly-minted one.
This new Chief Continuity Officer title will be of some interest to many people. To many others, this new title offers valuable insights into how a company’s needs can be foreseen, and in this way your career path adjusted. “Better data, better decisions.”
A. Observe Titles, Changes in Titles, and Newly Created Titles: Companies must be aware of their customers’ needs and desires. We all know that the best companies even anticipate their customers’ future needs and desires. So, too, should employees strive to anticipate potential growth areas of concern and opportunity at work. Companies continually strive to achieve greater effectiveness through reorganizing and reassigning duties. The most successful executives pay attention to these trends, and so can you.
Such new titles can also shed light on changing values and priorities in a particular industry. Did you know that more and more major medical centers are creating the position of Chief Nursing Officer? This seems to be a sure acknowledgment that the recruitment, retention and motivation of quality nursing staff is of paramount concern and primary importance to medical institutions.
Observing changing titles at work, and what they tell you about what your Board of Directors or your industry views to be important, can help you be in the “right spot” when significant opportunities arise, and be better prepared to accept those duties that your company considers to be of “Chief Officer” value.
B. Aspire to Higher Titles: The new Chief Continuity Officer title represents an adaptive response to new challenges – through the transfer of workplace responsibilities, functions, and resources. Some might say it is the “Secretary of Homeland Security” of the corporation. There’s no doubt, it’s a power shift, entailing a new distribution of scarce resources to a new and potentially important person with a front row seat at the senior management table.
This adaptive response also reflects a growing tendency by Chief Executive Officers to assign more of their own duties to experts in distinct fields. We have seen this before, in the recently-minted, now-common titles of Chief Information Officer, Chief Investment Officer, and Chief Marketing Officer. Generals cannot be experts in all aspects of military strategy and operations; they must locate and empower others with such expertise. Focusing your career and skills toward such elevated “Chief Officer” titles is the best way to get one.
C. Prepare Yourself for New, Higher Titles: Many of these new “Chief Officer” titles require three things: (1) special expertise, (2) broad-spectrum understanding of other functional areas, and (3) the uncommon ability to communicate across a multiplicity of perspectives. For example, a Chief Continuity Officer must have working knowledge of information technology to discuss computer systems, real estate costs to discuss back-up facilities, and corporate governance issues to discuss what to do if senior-most management is unexpectedly indicted, or perishes in a catastrophic event. Likewise, Chief Nursing Officers must understand and be able to negotiate union contracts, accreditation issues and government reimbursement policies.
With these new “chief officer” titles, and the people who are tapped to fill them, we see the culmination of years of effort to develop a deep, yet broad set of “unique human capital” in one person. We also see the kind of multi-disciplined “bridge person” who is often tapped to take the top spot in large organizations. Those who aspire to elevation of those top spots, and those too who seek true job security, would be wise to consider such trends in their industries, and consider whether they are perceived to be deeply skilled, multi-disciplined, and grand communicators by their management.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are seven points to ponder, to gain both insight and advantage from the new titles in your field:
1. Be an expert in one developing discipline. There is no better way to rise in your company and your field than to be known as “the go-to person” on an important area of concern. Everything starts with others’ perceptions of your “unique human capital.” This is a fundamental building block of career negotiation, and the first step in our own “QVP” Method of workplace negotiation. No matter what a “Chief Officer” does, he or she is always first known for special expertise in one specific area.
2. Avoid the “silo effect”: Know what is going on in other areas. At the same time, avoid what is commonly called the “silo” effect. You always need to have a clear idea of what is taking place in other areas of your department, your division, your company, your industry and your world. No person and no endeavor exists in a vacuum. For example, if you work for a financial institution, it would only help if you knew and understood the workings of trading, retail and investment banking.
3. Seek out and take on cross-functional assignments. The best general contractors – and CEO’s – can draw upon experience in the different functions of the enterprise. Those who are offered cross-functional assignments where they can both learn from others, and share their own knowledge, are being tested – consciously or subconsciously – for greater responsibilities and higher titles in the future. Seek them out, and take them on. For example, if you work for a publishing concern, it can only help you climb the corporate ladder, and have true job security, to have experience under your belt in finance, operations, editorial and sales. A single assignment entailing cross-functional efforts can provide just such experience.
4. Observe what new areas of concern and interest are “bubbling” in your industry. If internet sales are the hottest topic of discussion, or if product placement in personal websites is the new trend in your field, “go to it quickly,” if only to be able to discuss it if and when the topic comes up. Even limited understanding of a subject area may make you the company expert, and the one to be assigned coverage of the area. Sooner or later you may be tapped to be the new Chief Officer in that “space.” Seek out others’ ideas about the “next waves” and consider catching them. Don’t be afraid to ask others – especially those at the forefront of your industry – what the industry will look like in the year 2020. They just might have insights that you can take advantage of to bring the industry to that place in 2020.
5. Seek title enhancements as an “alternative reward.” In negotiating employment issues, we encourage our clients to consider what they might request if the salary, bonus, equity, or other element(s) they are seeking are denied. Consider enhanced title as an “alternative” reward in these circumstances, and in other circumstances, such as after a bonus disappointment. They don’t cost the employer a penny, but to the employee they are priceless in both long-term advancement and overall job security.
6. Don’t be reticent to make up your own new title. “The world belongs to the bold.” If your employer or would-be employer uses only vice president, senior vice president and executive vice president, don’t be afraid to ask to be named “senior executive vice president.” While politics may intrude, if you represent sufficient value, the title may be yours. Likewise, in companies with directors and managing directors, don’t be too shy to ask to be named “senior managing director.” If you hear that “We have never done that before,” your retort is a simple “Precedent often means progress.”
7. If you are given a newly-minted title, insist on a clear, publicly-expressed mandate. If there is one “trap door” to a newly-minted title, it’s not being given the mandate, authority and resources to “make it happen.” For example, a few years ago, senior-most management of a large investment firm observed that words such as “revenue,” “profit,” and “loss” meant different things to different departments within the company. A decision was reached to pursue the goal of uniform wording across the entire investment platform. Our client was hired to be the Corporate Lexicographer, and given the responsibility to get the job done. Unfortunately, she was given the responsibility but not the authority she needed: clear, strong expression of a mandate from top management that directed everyone to cooperate with her. Unfortunately, from day one the bond traders resisted the notion entirely, as did the investment bankers; worse still, the corporate tax department claimed it might violate federal tax regulations. The effort was soon aborted, and a severance package was offered to our client. Without the clear, strong, public mandate to get the job done, she didn’t have a chance of success, with or without the title she was given.
SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. It’s wise to consider, understand and take every advantage of what a title may offer you. Though others may see no great significance or opportunity in titles, you understand that they are a matter of perception, and perception is sometimes more important than reality. There’s opportunities and problems in every aspect of life. Intelligence in taking advantage of, preventing and resolving opportunities and problems may make or break your career. Gaining maximum rewards without unnecessary risks is what business is all about. But it takes more than luck to make that happen. It takes forethought, care and prudence, the essential ingredients in good negotiating.
Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be aware. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.
A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.
Please Note: This Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.
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