Companies need an executive responsible for integrating the enterprise — a Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO). Increasingly, companies are embracing collaboration as part of their strategy to grow, by cross-selling products to existing customers and innovating through the recombination of existing technologies. But this won't work unless employees work effectively across silos — across sales offices, business units, sales, product development, and marketing.
And who's in charge of such an effort? In most companies today, senior executives are still responsible for their unit — sales, marketing, HR, division A, division B. Yes, they are told to be team players and work with their peers. But that is often not enough. You need someone to look after the whole, by taking a holistic view of what is needed to get employees to work across silos.
You may say, "sure, that's the CEO's role." True. But the CEO cannot afford to spend too much time on it. The CEO needs someone more dedicated to the effort — a Chief Collaboration Officer. So who should that be? We're not proposing a new person — yet another (expensive) executive in the C-suite. We think that a current C-level executive should assume the mantle. Here are five candidates:
- The current CIO. This is a perfect area for the Chief Information Officer to go beyond IT, step up, and take an enterprise-wide view. If you're a CIO looking to broaden your role and drive value across the company, this is your opportunity.
- The current HR head. Good collaboration requires the right incentives, performance evaluations, promotion criteria, and people development. So it's only natural for the head of HR to take on the CCO role; that entails going beyond HR issues and working with others, such as the CIO, to craft a holistic solution.
- The current COO. Of course, if your company has a COO that oversees many parts of the business, adding the Chief Collaboration Officer role is a natural extension.
- The current CFO. Now, this is less obvious. Why get the numbers person on board here? Well, collaboration is first and foremost about creating economic value; it's a strategic search for good cross-company projects. Many CFOs also oversee the strategy department, so why not add cross-company strategic activities to the portfolio?
- The current head of strategy. Good collaboration means finding and prioritizing areas of synergy, an exercise well suited for the executive responsible for the overall strategy of the firm.
Other candidates may also exist, such as Chief Technology Officers in high-tech companies. Some senior executives are less suited for the job: head of sales, head of countries, and business unit heads. They tend to be too focused on their primary role.
So what should a Chief Collaboration Officer do? Let's say Brian, the current CIO, assumes the role. First, Brian needs to work with the CFO and head of strategy to identify the strategic opportunities for collaboration across the company — that is, to establish the business case for collaboration. He also needs to involve business unit leaders and head of sales to craft goals related to collaboration initiatives — for example, how much sales they will generate. Then Brian needs to walk over to the head of HR to make sure that performance evaluations, bonuses, and promotions are depended on good collaborative behaviors. That is, he needs to align the entire organization to realize the business case.
Soon Brian will discover the truth about the Chief Collaboration Office role: while he is responsible for driving the collaboration effort, he needs to do so by working with his peers. His job is to craft a holistic solution to collaboration, one that involves strategy, HR, product development, sales solutions, marketing, and IT. In short, he needs to be a masterful collaborator. Choosing a CCO is less about which role a person currently occupies and more about whether he or she has the skills. Pick the best collaborator.
So, do you think you need a Chief Collaboration Officer, and who do you think it should be?
Morten T. Hansen is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley, and INSEAD, France, and the author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results (Harvard Business Press). Scott Tapp is Senior Vice President and General Manager for Global Collaboration Services at PGi.