Now that working from home and hybrid arrangements have become fixtures in many businesses across the globe, many CEOs are considering—or even hiring—new direct reports to the senior leadership table.
Joining the Chief Operating Officer (COO), the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), among others, are Chief Remote Officers and Chief Wellness Officers, hired to make remote work flourish, focusing on holistic practices and systems—and ensuring the less tangible aspects of organizational culture take root in home offices and on kitchen tables where much knowledge work is done. Who are these new and emerging C-suite leaders, and what do we think they should be doing? Listen in as Debra and lisa take a step back to look at what workplaces need now, and assess if these roles will help make organizations better and healthier for employees.
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Who Are The New Leaders In The C-Suite?
Debra, how is it going?
Pretty good. It’s a nice sunny day. We’ve gone through about of gray and rain. That was affecting my well-being. We’re going to talk a little bit about that. Things are going well though. How about you?
Things are going good. For those of us who are in Canada, it’s been a bit of a weird winter so far. It still feels like fall. Hopefully, for those who like to ski, some of that fluffy snow will shortly be on its way. We have quite an interesting topic we’re going to be doing. It piggybacks on the first episode we did in season two, in which we talked about Deanna Troi, who is a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. We talked about her in terms of organizations.
We wondered if having a chief wisdom officer in an organization would be a role that would emerge as people issues percolate across organizations. We’ve seen different facets of culture start coming into organizations and issues around race, equity, and those kinds of things. Who needs to deal with this? Is HR in the right role?
We thought we would obliquely build on that episode by talking about different and/or new roles that are either in the C-Suite, the Chief Officer, reporting directly to the CEO, or that we’re reading about. I’ll rattle off a few of these roles that we’re going to be touching on, Chief Culture Officer, Chief Wellness Officer, and Chief Remote Officer.
For those of you who work in large organizations, you’ve probably seen them. We have a Chief Financial Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Operations Officer, or maybe a Legal Counsel that could be the Chief Legal Officer. These are roles that we’re hearing about and that we’re seeing some organizations recruit for. We’re going to be talking about what these roles are and what needs they are addressing. Are they being set up to succeed in those organizations who bring them on? Debra, I’m going to throw this to you. What are you seeing and where would you like to take us to start this conversation?
It’s interesting. I did a quick search on LinkedIn under Chief Wellness Officer because that’s one particular title that we’ve seen come up in some articles. I found one person with that title. Other people came up in the search because maybe they were working in a wellness organization or something like that. It’s interesting to me that we’re seeing this written about.
You probably have some of those articles more handy, but certainly, there are organizations we’ve read about. Some of them are the larger consulting firms that have designated someone in this type of role. To me, all of this is an indication that there’s something missing in the C-Suite. To your point, it’s well covered.
We’ve got lots of resources and talents dedicated to the finance and the accounting. The CEO is generally very plugged into that aspect of the business. In fact, it probably comes from that area of the business. I don’t have the exact stand in front of you, but I have seen it before. What is the path to the CEO? The path to the CEO chair is not usually through anything to do with people, culture, or human resources.The path to the CEO chair is not usually through anything to do with people, culture, or human resources. Click To Tweet
The path to that role is through sales, operations, finance, and maybe technology. It lends itself to this idea that I have and I still believe that those things are important. They’re overvalued and we are undervaluing the people aspect. People still run your business. There’s something that HR is not doing for organizations. It’s become too transactional. They don’t have the teeth. They still don’t have the gravitas, the respect, the influence at the senior level in a lot of organizations that they’re able to influence the decision-making. Now, we’re in a time where well-being is a big concern. I can talk a little bit about why and what some of the evidence is to that.
Gallup has done some a lot of research on well-being and thriving. Those numbers aren’t going down. There’s a trend now that people are not doing as well. Organizations are starting to realize that we need to do something here, but what is it going to be? We need to do it at the top of the organization. It needs to be something that is happening at the most senior level of the organization.
I completely agree with your assessment that there’s a gap. Some of these roles were trending prior to the pandemic. Organizations are trying to figure out what success looked like in the so-called future of work. What are we going to need as an organization in order to thrive in this unknown future? There were aspects of employee well-being that were starting to be talked about, particularly in high-demand, high-stress jobs.
In healthcare, for instance, you would start to see more of these roles of people who are burning out at high rates. Enter the pandemic. A lot of these trends were accelerated around what people needed to thrive in work-from-home situations. It’s not that long ago where people were in a panic about what this pandemic mean when it came to work.
We talked about essential workers. In some ways, it seems like the distant past, but it’s behind us in our shadows. When I think about organizations, I sigh the biggest size I can sigh. We have known for so long that people need to be supported. We’re relying on people’s emotions and brain power in the workplace now. We’re evolving. We were in the industrial age. We were evolved into the information age.
Now, we’re far more in a social age where people need the relationships around them. They need support for the work they’re doing. Our brains need good environments in order to thrive and have good relationships. Some of these roles are partly coming online to address this. I do want to say something that makes me a little cranky to start off with.Our brains need good environments to thrive and have good relationships. Click To Tweet
There are roles that could be appearing as new roles at the C-Suite that are basically like mutton dressed as lamb. I hope that’s not an offensive term anymore. The idea that our Chief HR Officer is now the Chief People and Culture Officer, or the Chief Talent Officer, or the Chief Culture Officer. Meanwhile, they’re doing the same things they did before. You talked about HR, which is largely transactional.
Are people doing their performance reviews? Are we getting rid of the poor performers? Are we making sure people’s pay and benefits are aligned with the market? All that stuff is a bit cut and dry, but we’ve known for a long time that people do need support that we haven’t seen in organizations.
I’m happy that the pandemic has accelerated some of the need for this, but I’m concerned at the same time that this is not being done with the depth of sincerity that organizations need to do. The profit motive is still number one in many organizations. I’m not entirely sure if these roles are going to have the teeth to have an influence on the culture and to take care of people’s brains.
If you’re going to have this role, it needs to have the teeth. The head decision-maker has to listen. The directional arrow needs to change as opposed to the CEO saying, “Here’s what I want to happen.” That Chief Wisdom Officer or the Chief Wellness Officer, whoever it is, has to go make it happen. An example would be, and I’ve heard this a couple of times.
The Head of HR says, “The CEO wants people back in the office. It’s my job to make that happen and convince people that this is a good idea. Convince the employee base that there’s good reason to want to be in the office,” as opposed to educating the CEO. This is what I mean by, “The arrow needs to change.” The arrow needs to go up to say, “This is what the best practices are. This is what the research is showing us. This is what organizations that are doing new and creative things and having success are doing. This is what we’re hearing from our employee base. This is what our actual employees are telling us that they need in order to thrive.”
Do we need to then think of it outside the box? Do we need to start getting a little bit creative and thinking about new ways to work? Do we need to re-look at our workplace practices to find problematic areas and think about how we can change them? It’s going to require a new way of thinking about things. It’s going to require a lot of openness and willingness to listen and to rethink about how we work.
I’m very optimistic. I see this as totally doable. It just takes a shift. As we see generational shifting in leadership, we will start to see this. I feel like there is a need to accelerate it a little bit because we’re seeing so much social change. I can speak to a little bit about why paying attention to employee wellness specifically is important. Where do you want to take us next, lisa?
Let’s come back to that in a moment. I do want to dig into that. I find it fascinating. I’ve stolen this line and used it indiscriminately behind your back. When you once said to me that, “Are leaders science deniers? Are leaders data deniers?” There is so much evidence. We can pull stats. You want to look at Gallup stats on employee engagement.
You want to look at the thing that influences employees’ behavior the most in the workplace. It typically is reporting to a supportive or non-supportive boss. It’s going to change how you approach your job. We know all of this stuff. The resistance to this is exemplified in what you said about the CEO wanting everybody to come back to work.
Is your business in the business of people being in an office, or is your business in the business of creating a service or product? The people who do it or support it have the ability to do their best work, regardless of whether they’re in their pajamas on their sofa or sitting in some uncomfortable clothes in an office in an open concept where they can’t concentrate. I find this preposterous idea of leaders knowing best or senior leaders know best. By the way, not all leaders. Many are open-minded and are creating environments for people to grow and thrive. This is a point that is bewildering to me.
I love seeing the research that’s coming out about The 4-Day Workweek. You interviewed Andrew Barnes on this topic where people are working one day less. They’re getting the same salary, and their productivity is going up anywhere from 7% to 25%. This is good news for business. Yet somehow, people are seen as slackers because they’re not working a full week.
Again, the data is saying all these great things about nurturing people, and yet the practices have been slow to follow. Before we talk about wellness, I did want to touch a bit on this role that I’ve been seeing now that organizations are in hybrid or remote mode. They’re calling this the Chief Remote Officer. What I find fascinating about this role is that it bridges many different aspects of the C-Suite.
It touches on technology. Do people have the technology to work properly from home, to participate, whether it’s through channels like Slack or written communications? Do they have the proper technology and updates around video communication? Do they understand how to participate in a video? I remember all this stuff where people are still doing like, “You’re on mute,” or telling people to raise a hand before. Learning how to use technology.
The Chief Remote Officer is a bit in that business, but they’re also in the business of culture. Regardless of their title, part of their role is to help people feel a sense of belonging in the organization. Some of the most interesting data coming to me, because I am passionate about organizational culture, is that remote workers feel closer to the organizational culture than people who come into the office.
Another responsibility is ironing people through synchronous and asynchronous work. You have access to a broader pool of talent. If you have remote employees, people can be in different time zones. How do these Chief Remote Officers ensure that people are able to work together when it’s time to work together, and when do they have the liberty of setting their own hours and flexibility, whether it’s a time difference or not?
I know many organizations that have created this future of work committees. My suspicion is that organizations that take on this Chief Remote Officer are in fact the future of work. Hybrid and remote is here to stay. How are we going to create organizational cultures that are healthy for people to make a contribution? I’d like to go to the wellness piece on this. Whether people are in office, home, or a combination of the two, what is it that people need to see and how might a Chief Wellness Officer be able to step into a role like that?
I want to share a quick story that’s related to working remotely. This is an experience. I’ve had a few clients I was doing some career coaching with. They’re actively interviewing. I’ve had a couple of people share an experience with me where they did a virtual interview. Another trend that’s here to stay is that we’re not going to see in-person interviews very often, especially in the first round or two.
You might eventually have an in-person interview and that’s probably when it’s doable, a smart move. It doesn’t necessarily need to be the first conversation or two, depending on what the selection process looks like. I’ve had a couple of people tell me about an experience where they were interviewing with two people from the company. Maybe 1 of them was 3 people, and they were not on camera.
They were interviewing a candidate for a position in the company. You can imagine what it’s like when you interview. Even when it’s virtual, you think about your hair, your face, what you’re wearing, your environment, and your background. You’re looking to present yourself. You’re putting a lot of thought into that. You’ve prepared for the interview. You get on.
The people interviewing you are not on camera, and you are on camera. There’s something about the etiquette of how remote work is happening, and this is one example. I was surprised by that. I would imagine that would be a terrible experience as an interviewee. It illustrates where you’re going. That was a red flag to those people who interviewed. There might be aspects of this job that look interesting, but that is in the negative column.
As I might be in some context, that is recruiting. They have a need. They want somebody to come and do some work for them. This person has gotten to a stage in the interviewing process where they’re meeting with these people. What they’re doing is making this person feel uncomfortable. Maybe I’m wrong here, but unless I can see who I’m speaking with, I’d rather reschedule until a time in which I could.
That would be a terrible experience as an interviewee. It’s a huge red flag. All that to say, that’s an example of remote work. Organizations that are moving into that hybrid. It’s here to stay. How are we going to work differently? How are we going to work in a way that we can still feel a sense of belonging in the organization and we can still collaborate?
The data is not showing that those areas are being diminished because people are working remotely. Productivity generally is up when people work remotely. We do need to think about the way we’re working and work a little differently. That requires openness. It requires being inquisitive, curious, and being willing to take that information that’s coming from best practices and research but also coming from your employee base and being willing to change accordingly.
Do organizations want to have productive, effective, and successful employees in order to have a productive, effective, and successful business? Part of the challenge, as you’ve identified it is, people hold very tightly to what they know. If they know finance, technology, or those harder technical skills, often this is where the emphasis is in organizations.
It is not necessarily easy for people who resist the idea of nurturing people to start creating either the roles or the programs in organizations to support people. I would argue that any future of work initiative needs to start with the people doing the work. Regardless of what the technology is, you still have people doing the work, unless you’re going to go completely artificial intelligence. Hopefully, I don’t lose my own job as a coach and facilitator to AI.
There’s resistance, but there’s an increasing acknowledgement. Where I’m a little apprehensive is in putting roles in senior teams that look good, but don’t have the resources. I’ve often heard, “What matters gets measured,” but also, what matters gets funded. I’ve seen challenges in some organizations that have brought on Chief Diversity Officers in order to support more equity, belonging, fairness, and inclusion.
The resources just aren’t there, nor is there a comfort or a willingness to get uncomfortable and be open to changing the organizational culture, to address these issues. I’m optimistic, but I’m also a little hesitant to be fully optimistic as I see organizations start to grapple with what’s missing in the C-Suite and what kinds of roles would address it.Organizations start to grapple with what's missing in the C-suite and what kinds of roles would address it. Click To Tweet
The last point I’ll make on this is, do organizations need new roles, fancy new titles, and all of that? Do they just need to start dealing with the things that are problems and challenges in their organization and not necessarily pin it on one person or one role? Sometimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction. “We need to have this person representing a particular portfolio.” Can these tasks be performed without the dog and pony show of, “Look what we’re doing. We’ve created a new role? ” Whether it’s wellness, culture, diversity, that would be a question that I have for organizations that are working to change their culture and to create healthier, happier workplaces.
It reminds me of when we started to see sustainability, and corporate social responsibility. Those types of roles become prevalent in organizations. The trend that we started to see was, “This was more about marketing and communicating to the market.” Some of the fairly superficial things that organizations were doing, but not necessarily.
I interviewed some people in the first season of the show who had been in roles like that and ended up leaving them because they didn’t feel they were substantive enough. They didn’t feel like the organization was dedicating resources. This is hopefully something that is also shifting. That often happens, especially when a need is identified as a result of some shift that’s happening in our broader environment and society. We want to address it but are we willing to change?
I want to talk a little bit about the well-being factor and why are we talking about this and why is it so important? Employers for the most part and organizations are seeing that this is an area. Maybe they don’t know how to address it just yet, but they know they need to. They know that there’s a shift that’s happened and it’s important.
There’s a number of different resources that we can draw on here. Gallup has done some great research in this area. In fact, in 2021, they released something called the Global Emotions Report. It was probably the first time that an organization has done something like that. This is a global trend. One of the things that they discovered is that the world is a sadder, angrier, more worried, and more stressed-out place than it has been at any point in the past several years.
To some degree, we all feel this. Many people I’ve talked to have said, “I don’t know what’s going on right now.” Partly, it’s the pace of change and effects from the pandemic, but important to point out that this was a trend before the pandemic. We were already headed in this direction. In North America, the one stat that stood out the most was that stress was at an all-time high in the year of that study. This is a trend. This is impacting people at work and their productivity.
There’s a great TED Talk by a gentleman named Shawn Achor. He wrote The Happiness Advantage. One of the interesting things he talks about is 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. It’s this idea that we’re going to have the best, brightest, and smartest people, and we’re going to throw assessments at them to see how smart they are.
That’s not what predicts success, anyway. 75% of job success is predicted by the individual’s optimism level, the level of social support that they have and their ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat. These are internal indicators. How do you improve those things? By the way, all of those things are related to EQ. They’re not related to IQ.
We can measure some of these things with EQ. There’s an EQ assessment that I use in leadership coaching mostly. Part of the EQ assessment has a well-being indicator as part of it. The competencies or social skills that are measured as part of the well-being indicator are four key areas. Self-regard. What is our self-belief system? Are we in a place of good healthy self-acceptance?
Again, it’s optimism. Do we have a general positive outlook and an ability to recover from setbacks? Interpersonal relationships is another one. The fourth is self-actualization. I don’t think of it as reaching some meditative state on the summit. It’s an ongoing dedication to our own learning, growth, and development that is aligned with our values. All these things are internal things.
How does an organization that is concerned about the well-being of their employees tap into that? How do they impact those things? It’s not by saying, “Here’s $500 a year to go get massages and a therapist,” although therapy is very important and offering these things is helpful. This is where it comes back to something that you and I have talked a lot about. Leadership development is self-development. How do we help people grow and develop in that way, create environments where they can do that, and with a great deal of sensitivity to that social aspect? That’s so important.
The one last thing I’ll say in terms of a stat around is this. I won’t go into how this is measured, but this is something that Shawn Achor talks about. When our brains are in a positive state, as opposed to a negative neutral or stressed state, we are 31% more productive. Investing in and understanding where employees are at and how they’re doing is important to our productivity.
I’ll add one more thing. This is an area that as part of Gallup’s research over the past couple of years, has started to say, “This needs to be a key performance indicator.” It’s tracking employee wellbeing and understanding where people are at. Are they considering themselves thriving or not thriving? Struggling or suffering is the terms that they would use. Understanding that needs to be a key performance indicator.
Debra, you had the three episodes that you did with Michael a while back on the neuroscience of leadership. I’ve been doing a little bit of reading on this. I’ve learned something that touches on everything that you’ve talked about that I thought was fascinating. It bodes well for the future of leadership if only we could get people to understand and to embrace this.
Our bodies run basically on a parasympathetic system and a sympathetic nervous system. When we feel good, when we have happy memories, when we’re feeling productive, we’re triggering our parasympathetic nervous system. To get into the science a teeny bit, these trigger the chemicals in our bodies, the endorphins, the things that make us feel our needs to understand what kinds of things they need to say.
The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. They do experience positivity in the workplace. They do have a sense that they’re making a contribution. They’re seen, they’re heard, and they matter. When you’re not in that state of mind, you’re anxious about losing your job. When you’re not sure if you’re going to get all your work done over the course of the day, you’re feeling burnout. You’re not going to be able to contribute to the organization in the way either that you want to or that’s expected of you.
One of the exercises that I have leaders do when I’m coaching them is I ask them to imagine a time when they were helped in their career. I find this powerful. When does somebody do something for you that made you feel those things, that made you feel seen, heard, appreciated, and helped? When leaders are able to get to that place, who did that for you?
You then have them experience and share that story. To ask, “Who are the people that you know and who report to you? Are you going to be that person for them? Are you going to be the leader that people remember with fondness for being supported, developed, listened to, and heard to?” If you are not able to be that leader, I don’t think that you should be leading, stewarding, catalyzing, and developing people. The ways we traditionally pick leaders who have been technical experts.
The less emotionally intelligent are not going to get us to build the kinds of workplaces that people need in order to be successful. Whether we need a Chief Wellness Officer to promote this, whether we need a Chief Culture Officer, sometimes I come back to the idea, “What is it that we’re trying to solve? Are the people of the organization able to create the conditions that you just described? For people to be open, for people to thrive, for people to feel a sense that they matter?” When I think of the future of work, to me, that’s the most critical aspect.
It almost doesn’t matter what we call it. It’s just the work being done. Is it something that is being paid attention to? This comes back to the conversation I had with Andrew Barnes from 4 Day Week. A lot of CEOs aren’t compelled by wellness. That’s not something that is shifting their thinking. That’s not something that they pay that’s going to have them pay attention.
When we talk about productivity, we talk about the bottom line and how this impacts. There is a direct line or connection between how people are doing and their sense of belonging to the bottom line. We can see that. Part of the great work that Andrew Barnes is doing in the 4 Day Week is that they’re pulling different stats. They’re not talking about wellbeing stats.
What they’re talking about is, “Look what happened when we implemented a reduced workweek.” They’re looking at the metrics of productivity and other factors that show the business does better. I’m hoping that that starts to seep its way in because it is a shift in mindset as to how we think about our role as a leader, the role of employees, and what the difference is between those two things. It’s important.
All that to say, there is a shift happening. What we’re seeing is that organizations are trying to figure out how to respond to it. One of the reasons why this is so important is that we see rapid change in society and in technology. We are moving into a time of great uncertainty. These things will continue. Some of these changes are happening at a rate faster than the human brain is designed to deal with.
We’re challenged right now. Organizations are challenged. Leaders are challenged with how do we pace out change in our organization that is appropriate for people. We need to bring them along. We can’t leave them behind. Do we have the wisdom in the C-Suite to do that? When we talked about that Chief Wisdom Officer, it’s not just about taking care of people. It’s making decisions at the executive level that are appropriate.
It’s based on not just data about what’s happening in the market, financial data, and shareholders, important data, but the wisdom comes from other data, emotional data. How are people doing? How are we going to make decisions that place us for long-term success rather than quarter-to-quarter looking at quarterly earnings? We need to start thinking a lot more long-term and a lot more broadly about what success looks like.
We often come back to this. The ways that we’ve been running industry, the ways we’ve been thinking about profits had dire consequences for the planet. The air we breathe and everything around, species going extinct. People not having the proper nutrition. We’re in situations where conflict and war is happening around the world.
Racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism is in some quarters still thriving. The way we’ve been running things and the way we’ve brought leaders in to be in the world leading the rest of us hasn’t been working. We do need to make these very profound shifts in how we think about one another and run our organizations. The stakes are pretty high at this stage.
We have the knowledge, wisdom, data, and evidence. With time, I believe we can also have the leaders. That is my big hope going into 2023. Some of these lessons will be learned. You and I have been starting to prepare for our big 2023 trends and predictions episodes. We’re going to have more to share on that when we do the another episode. How would you like to wrap this up? What are some of your key takeaways or your thinking at this stage after having had this conversation?
To me, this is all an occasion. As I said, there’s some sort of gap happening at the senior executive level that we’re not paying enough attention to. The pace of change will continue. Uncertainty will remain and maybe even deepen. I don’t think organizations have figured this out yet, but at least they’re paying attention to it and they realize that this is important. Over time, we will start to see this shift.
I’m quite encouraged by that. I’ve been ready for this change for quite a long time as you have. For you and I, it feels like, “Let’s get on with it already.” It’s starting to happen. With that, will come more opportunity for people who got into business for the reasons that you and I got into business. We care deeply and we can see a better way to do things.
We care deeply about the experience of people. We want to develop people’s potential. We want them to do their best work because, ultimately, that is better for the business. It’s better for the customer. It’s better for our world. I go back to, “How can we start to help people in their personal development and pay attention to how they’re feeling, that sense of belonging, and having those social connections?”
We are in a less optimistic world, generally speaking. The other thing is, “How do we help people feel a sense of optimism when there is so much that is challenging and that is making it difficult to feel that?” I’m encouraged, but I also think there’s a lot of work to do. The last thing I’ll say is that we’d love to hear and connect to our audience on this. The best way to interact with lisa and I is connect with us on LinkedIn and you can always message us there as well. Also, through our website at WorkRevolutionPodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you and more on this to come because we are looking at trends for the new year.
- Deanna Troi – Past Episode
- Andrew Barnes
- Global Emotions Report
- Shawn Achor – TED Talk
- The Happiness Advantage
- 4 Day Week
- LinkedIn – Debra Adey
- LinkedIn – lisa Schmidt
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