Are Companies Hiring Too Many Chiefs?

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Call on the CXO!

Not long ago, that meant connecting with a small, select group. By simply substituting an E, F or O for X, you could construct the job titles for any organization’s most influential movers and shakers. Later, when advances in information technology brought I and T into the mix, the CIO and CTO were allowed into the exclusive CXO suite. “They don’t speak our language, but why not? Welcome! Here are your keys to the executive washroom.”

Such titles are relics of simpler times, before popularized fuzzwords spilled onto organizational charts like alphabet soup. Want to become the first Chief Alignment Officer, Chief Engagement Officer, or Chief Experience Officer? Too late! These titles have already been coined!



What about Chief Growth Officer, Chief Value Officer, or Chief Synergy Officer? Sorry, taken. Yes, even Chief Visionary Officer. Hard to imagine any company surviving in this economy without a CVO on the payroll. And back in 2000, Palm had a Chief Competitive Officer. A puffy title, considering all the good it provided the company. On February 9, 2011, Hewlet Packard, which bought Palm, killed the brand.

If you instruct your sales team to call on the CCO, you’ll need to be more specific. A septet of job titles, plus a few more, share that acronym, including Chief Communications Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Consulting Officer, Chief Compensation Officer, Chief Creative Officer, Chief Community Officer, and Chief Content Officer. OK, I get Chief Creative Officer. But don’t roll your eyes—social media has been around too long for Community and Content not to receive their fair shares of organizational gravitas.

Performance, Listening, Thinking, Innovation. It’s hard to call out a strategic corporate need that lacks a corresponding Chief. (I could not find a Chief Punctuality Officer, but wait a month.) Has executing strategy become so troubled that we need chiefs for these? It’s odd just to include the words in a job title. Chief Happiness Officer? Yep. TED’s got one. Maybe the company’s on to something.

There are some up-and-coming CXO positions that make sense, including Marketing, Sales, Security, Privacy, Logistics, Procurement, and Quality. After all, managing these contemporary issues requires specialized knowledge and tight corporate governance. I’ll make the same case for Chief Revenue Officers.

But Chief Digital Officer? Replace Digital with Strategy, Social, Diversity, Ethics, Trust, Learning, Globalization, and Opportunity, and you recognize that CXO provides organizations a near-inexhaustible number of title permutations, astonishingly simple to create.

These newfangled titles conjure images of unsmiling bureaucrats with thinning hair, inhabiting drab, windowless offices, painted institutional green. I never lived in the USSR, but C-Anything-Officer designations might help replicate the experience. Bureaucracy ascending to new heights, and organizational boredom enveloping everyone and everything below.

The difference is that our capitalist economy enables us to invent titles at will. They sure look impressive on business cards, and there’s no need to ask the Politburo for permission. “Chief Decision Officer! Cool!”

Companies have hired Chief Customer Officers, Chief Customer Loyalty Officers, and Chief Brand Officers. Has the adoption of these grandiose titles yielded better outcomes for employers or customers?



Voila! I’m a Chief Change Officer!

What? Don’t tell me! That one’s taken, too . . .

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