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Is the C-Suite the new sweat-shop? …And why it matters to you! – Part 1

Watching career trends is one of the most important activities for every jobseeker. This isn’t just for those who are looking for their next job, but also the job after that and the one after that. As we move deeper into the global, technology-driven economy and as we engage in a labor-on-demand workforce, this activity will easily make or break any career track.

So everyone who wants to work should begin some form of trend- tracking to identify possible options to remain employed in his or her future. As a career advisor, I spend hours at this every single day.

Why this matters to every jobseeker.

Most people will agree that leadership sets company culture. And most jobseekers will tell you that they want a professional workplace that has a reasonable emotional climate. So watching the leadership trends becomes important for everyone who wants to work in a reasonably agreeable culture.

Lately, I’ve been talking with Neil Patrick about a few observations. Subsequently, he wrote this article pointing out why so many C-suite titles are changing and what this really means.

Following his lead, this article is about the disappearance of and changes regarding the traditional roles in the C-Suite, especially the CEO. Before you think that this article is for aspiring CEOs, remember that for the remainder of your career, in every place you work and every position you hold, these individuals will be influencing the quality of the culture where you work.

This is so serious that Glassdoor includes a ranking for CEOs for every company. If you’ve spent any time on that valuable website, you know that when employees comment about the culture, they invariably talk about the leadership. This is of vital importance! It is critical! And the impact to your emotional health in your work environment may depend on the nature of the role of the CEO. I hope you are still with me on this.

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The traditional C-Suite and some important observations

In general, when we think of the C-Suite, we think about the CEO, CFO, CIO, and the COO. That refers to the Chief Executive, Finance, Information, and Operations officers. As Neil points out in his article, the list of new titles has expanded beyond the imagination of even the most creative among us.

Over the past eight years, as I’ve worked with numerous executives, I started to observe changes in their roles based on the responsibilities outlined in the job postings. COOs and CEOs seemed to take on the responsibilities for the CFO—who seemed to disappear. I noticed their tenure had diminished significantly when in my own practice, several C-Suite clients were coming back after only two or three years. Their job had ended.

These observations were supported by the statistical snapshot of CEOs by the Wisconsin School of Business. Their research indicates that the average age of a CEO in the U.S. has been trending younger and the average age is now in the mid-50s for S&P 500 companies. Additionally, the average length of tenure for a CEO is declining as well.

Potential reasons for changes in the CEO role:

I have a few theories about what’s happening.
  • Long-term thinking: Is it possible that prior to the Great Recession, Boards of Directors were concerned with the long-term growth of their companies, which in turn brought long-term thinking? This means that there was long-term commitment to grow the company over decades of careful strategic collaboration amongst the board.

    Today, CEOs are often given quarterly revenue targets and when they miss their target, they lose their job. This means that the CEO is no longer a visionary. They do not have the luxury of making a mistake and no longer have the opportunity to build a legacy.

  • Short term drivers: With the pressure of meeting the revenue targets, is it possible that CEOs have no alternative but to set their course for short-term results and drive everyone under them to meet these goals?

    This has a trickle-down effect and creates a “deliver-or-else” culture at all levels of the organization. Just before the Great Recession, one Fortune 50 instituted a cultural brand entitled, “It’s what you can deliver.” This change in focus to meet impending revenue results affects for-profits as well as the non-profit sectors.

  • Reduced salaries and benefits: Most of us think that CEOs roll in the money with six-digit figures of $500K and higher, and additional perks for a separation agreement. However Payscale indicates that the median salary for a CEO is $154,000. That doesn’t go very far. The really high salaries are at large companies. They constitute only a small percentage of the CEO world.

    This means that when a CEO is laid off or fired for poor performance, they cannot likely withstand extended unemployment. There are far fewer job opportunities for CEOs so the competition is significantly greater. Check out these numbers. Job opportunities by title (nationwide U.S.)
    • CEO: 2,758
    • VP Enterprise Sales: 15,351
    • Director of Business Development: 80,367

    Granted, this comparison is not exactly apples to apples. But I believe the point is still valid that CEO positions are harder to come by. The number of jobs to jobseeker is greatly reduced.

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  • A Change in Requirements: CEOs used to be chosen for their visionary and leadership capabilities. Today, with the focus on immediate revenue goals, CEOs are required to have significant industry experiences. The role has changed and the requirements reflect it. Note the type of activities found on CEO job postings. How many actually reflect the role of visionary and leader?

    Here are some quotes from CEO job postings:
    • Manage all financial affairs and service contracts
    • Oversee planning and evaluation activity
    • Responsible for the financial integrity and operations
    • Oversee fundraising efforts
    • 7+ years experience in a health plan, leading and managing people
    • A bachelor’s degree with more than 5 years of management experience
    I hope my point is supported that these expectations reflect a change in the function of the CEO.

  • Being the CEO may NOT be a place of job security: At this point, I hope I’ve made the point that the CEO position can be more like a sweat-shop than the traditional visionary of the past. For those who aspire to this position, there may be more amenable alternatives. (If you are a jobseeking CEO and you can’t think of any, then please call me!)

  • “This position reports to the CEO” …maybe that’s not a good place either. It sounds important however; it may not be a safe bet. With CEOs changing jobs so often, and since many CEOs—when they find their next position—bring their own people with them, reporting to a CEO may not be a secure a position as it once was.

  • CEO alternatives: Since CEO positions are harder to come by and take longer to land, what are the alternatives? Once a person has been a CEO, it is a hard sell to move down the ladder to a reporting position on the organizational chart. There are ways to manage this on the résumé, but it is one of the most difficult job-search challenges that I’ve had to address.

Is the CEO happy?

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” That applies specifically to the corporate culture. Leadership sets the tone and it affects everyone—even if they never meet the CEO.

The stresses and professional demeanor of the CEO sets the tone and culture throughout the organization. So when you check out a company, it can be well worth your while to research the pressures of the CEO as you evaluate the culture.

Hope is on the way.

Perhaps you aren’t sure what this looks like in the job world. Next week, in Part 2, I’m going to tackle the non-traditional C-Suite titles and give Tips for jobseekers, from entry level to senior strategists on how to carefully evaluate the culture of a company. I have an example of what it should look like and how you can find these gems.

Do you need help? Call me. (860) 833-4072.

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