Chief Everything Officers

All Chiefs and no leaders

I recently was invited to a conference to hear about the new Chief Channel Officer role – my reaction was enough is enough!! Over the last five years or so the CXO roles that have been whipped up include such luminary positions as Chief Data Officer, Chief Analytics Officer, Chief Business Development Officer, Chief Content Officer, Chief Creative Officer, Chief Customer Officer, Chief Design Officer, Chief Digital Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Innovation Officer… and the list goes on and on and on…

This is ridiculous. A “Chief Officer” in a corporation should first and foremost actually be an Officer of the company. This is not a term without meaning. My preferred working definition is from a legal citation :

“Every officer of the… corporation is in one sense a servant of the corporation, but the converse is not true — every servant is not an officer, but only those who have a real responsibility to perform the vital duties of the corporation.”

Managing customer experience or innovation or content or design are not the “vital duties of the corporation”. Sure they add value but so does emptying the wastebasket and shredding old documents. If they didn’t add value we presume we’d just eliminate the job. Value add does not an officer make.

So why is this “Chief Everything Officer” phenomenon occurring? I will dare to offer a perspective, based on nothing other than personal experience – (after all I am the Chief Opinion Officer of this blog) –

  1. Vanity. We live in an age when everyone wants to be more important and famous than they are. Facts just don’t seem to matter anymore.
  2. Compensation. It is far cheaper to give someone a lift in title than a lift in pay (what we called titular currency in the old days). Most of these Chiefs are glorified department heads. Hope it feels good to look silly.
  3. Compensation II. Heaven knows why but some practitioners of the business of management are willing to spread the largesse to their colleagues by puffing up these titles and making everyday workers appear to be “Officers” of the company so they can spread the cream around among more elite managers.
  4. Genuine misunderstanding of what a Corporate Officer is, let alone a Chief Officer.

Elaboration on point 4. An Officer of a Corporation is created through Corporate Statute. It is not just anybody. And to be a Chief Officer, you need to be the leader amongst a tribe of Officers who are endowed with power through statute.

So I hope we can at some point get past the vanity of this Chief Everything Officer trend (yes I put my vote on vanity). It is demeaning to the true Officers who are real Chiefs – of  Executive, Finance and Operations. All the other Chiefs are, I am happy to report, just managers who don’t really understand business, English or both. Hail to the Chief !

  • Dave

PS I have been a CFO, CEO and COO. There really is a difference.