The Changing Face of C-Suite Amidst Coronavirus

Covid has sparked a change in how C-suites operate, with many C-level operatives taking on additional responsibilities to mitigate the disruption caused by the crisis. These responsibilities have fallen onto C-level leaders because decisions needed making quickly and policies needed updating in an agile manner in order for businesses to adapt and evolve. If the decision-making process was too slow, an organisation’s ability to flex and adapt would be hindered. 

Digital disruption is also on the rise, accelerated by national lockdown, which pushed businesses to transition to online and digital. There will likely be resistance to change – people fear change – and perhaps they should as not everyone will keep up. 

What’s changed?

The legacy C-suite model is not suited to the demands of the next decade. The covid pandemic has generated a number of trends which may be here to stay, many of which the C-suite have had to manage. Though their involvement may minimise the impact of these trends, a large portion are likely to stick around beyond the pandemic. In order to survive, management must become more transparent and develop a shared purpose. As a result, the hierarchical C-suite is evolving into a multi-stakeholder driven approach. 

The C-Suite has also become more customer focussed. Being customer-centric is imperative for not only the chief marketing and sales officers, but for the entire C-suite, including the CEO. With the heightened focus on customers, digital connectivity and AI will play an important role in engaging customers and understanding their needs. Data and analytics will assist in winning business in a globalised and highly competitive area and has become vital to improving all segments of an organisation, from marketing to investment strategies to product support. More sophistocated use of data and AI is integral to driving strategy, optimisation and efficiency.

Self-assess and restructure where needed

C-suite must be optimally structured and requires more than simply adding new roles to the suite. You must actively address how your leadership team operates – self-assess self awareness issues of hierarchy and agility, and eliminate organisational silos. Where companies are adding new roles to their C-suite, they must do so with the aim of bringing organisational focus to new market challenges.

The entire C-suite ought to be well versed in new and emerging automation technologies, and leaders should be prepared to overcome cultural barriers that prevent the adoption of AI and other advanced tech. The CFO should act strategically, illustrating critical thinking and pragmatism and supporting innovation via long-term investment (enabling HR market and tech to develop). The CFO must also manage the financial implications of ongoing technology investment, whilst simultaneously recognising that their departments are also at risk of automation. Indeed, automation/digitisation may result in a significant part of the workforce becoming redundant. 

Which C-suite roles are going to be the most important for future-proofing your business?

Over the next 5/10 years, certain C-suite capabilities are predicted to be critical to continued growth. These new capability requirements make the CEO’s job even harder, respondents said, by requiring them to have expertise in many areas that were not formerly in the realm of their expected competencies. They are now expected to fill knowledge and capability gaps, and diversify their thinking to ensure more innovative outcomes. 

In order to be agile and adapt at pace, your executive team must be equipped with industry or sector experts. 


C-suite need to be more digitally savvy. Chief tech, data and info officers are obtaining new authority within the C-suite as they are increasingly tasked with overseeing digital overhauls, guiding organisations through their digital upgrade efforts. As tech Chiefs navigate the evolving requirements of the role, AI, data science and behavioural science take a much stronger focus in the bid to drive a human-centric culture. It is no longer just about implementing tech to streamline processes and enhance products, but the fast-evolving abilities of AI and behavioural science make it possible to hone in on the customer experience in an unprecedented way.


One area that C-suite is more involved in is the health and safety of their staff, which is no longer considered separate from business concerns. Companies are recognising the correlation between health and safety and business performance; healthy staff are productive staff and people are the most valuable asset of any business. The main responsibility in question here is the duty of ensuring facilities are covid-safe – whether that’s factories, warehouses, offices or home, employees have the right to work in a safe environment and it is the responsibility of the leadership team to facilitate this. In and amongst the growing concern for health and safety, organisations also appear to be gaining a greater level of sensitivity and understanding regarding mental health issues. 

CHROs will also be key to putting in place tools, processes, organisational structure and talent pipelines to support transformation. The role of CHRO and Chief Data Officer will converge, leading to sophisticated people analytics that will drive business performance.


Chief health officers have become an invaluable asset to the C-suite function with their expertise helping businesses understand the best ways to support employee mental health. They can also support the HR function, allowing HR professionals to focus on the implementation of a medically-informed mental health strategy directed by a CHO, without needing to become experts in the field. With mental health having a direct impact on productivity and therefore the baseline workers of the business, it is best to appoint a senior member of staff whose sole focus is to lead the way on employee wellbeing.


Although CIOs historically have been the gatekeepers of company information and data material, huge amounts of data are now also being collected within finance, marketing, human resources, and other business functions, making it difficult to organise and disseminate that information companywide. The exponential growth in available and trackable data to drive significant enterprise decisions and alter commercial strategies has led to the birth and rise of chief data and analytics officers (CDAOs).

New technological advancements, like AI, robotic process automation, virtual and augmented reality, and cloud computing, are making it easier for CDAOs and all corporate officers to collect, sort, and apply those data into tangible, actionable results.

Each C-leader, including the CEO, must therefore be more adept in emerging technologies, as well as their commercial benefits and associated risks, in order to implement them throughout the company and enhance performance. In its 2018 Digital IQ Survey, PwC says that only 54% of executives from the top financially performing companies that it surveyed believe that their leadership is digitally savvy.

The question remains whether functional specialists, in the case of one type of methodology, silo leaders in the business and make them unable to operate effectively enterprise-wide.

The future of C-suite

The next C-suite generation may be younger than we’re used to, but also more digitally savvy than the C-suites of the past.

Either way, executives must be more collaborative and work across functions to succeed. This can be seen when observing the hugely increased overlaps and cohesion needed to manage and leverage data across the CMO, CIO, CFO, and chief data analytics officer functions.

The C-suite is due for continued evolution in the next decade and at an increasingly rapid rate, from the composition of the C-suite to the breadth of responsibilities of each appointment to the digitally savvy nature of the skills required to be successful in all executive roles. With change happening throughout the executive team, only those capable of adapting quickly and permanently will win.

Moving forward, we can expect the C-suite to maintain a continued interest in the issues and responsibilities sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. While executives may take a less involved approach as we exit the crisis, it is likely that the overall business mindset of caring for employee safety and workforce resilience will remain. Additionally, the C-suite will be looking for more incisive and accurate data to prevent being caught off guard by the next major disruptive event.

Part of the reason women’s representation in executive and middle-management positions is lagging may have to do with the time it takes to institute cultural shifts, as well as the difficulty in changing already engrained norms and biases. – written about before *

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