What do these unconventional, yet revealing, metrics reveal?
Changing Priorities: Getting Clarity & Alignment in Under an Hour
What do these unconventional, yet revealing, metrics reveal?
Changing Priorities: Getting Clarity & Alignment in Under an Hour
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Execution Excellence: the Changing Role of the CSO, CXO & PMO

At the start of the decade, we discussed how the work of the PMO, CSO and CXO is changing, including a new approach to project and portfolio management (called PM V3.0). Now that a number of years have passed, it is time for an upgrade to 4.0 or even beyond.

It is not that version 3.0 is no longer needed.  It is just not enough to meet all of today's opportunities and challenges. The pandemic brought a digital revolution and remote working. The end of the pandemic brought market uncertainty and pressure on performance. At the same time, accelerating change intensified the need for longer-term change and transformation.

So, what are the implications for the CXO, CSO or PMO? How can they best support leaders in bringing strategy and its ambitious projects to life?

Searching for Answers

We set out to better understand the requirements of balancing performance and transformation at a time of accelerating change and increased uncertainty.  In particular, we wanted to understand the practical challenges leaders face in making it happen despite budget cuts and scarce resources.

As part of a major program of research, we held strategic conversations with almost 100 senior leaders, backed up with extensive data gathering and analysis. The results are a revelation, with major implications for the CXO and PMO, as well as strategic leadership generally. This article is aimed at helping you plan for the future and adapt your approach to changing business needs.

Leadership & Strategy for 2026

A clear picture of modern leadership and strategy has emerged from the research. With a new insight into the opportunities and challenges facing today's leaders, under 3 headings:

  1. Massive Ambition re-strategy
  2. Leaders Juggling multiple projects and initiatives
  3. Some Niggling Doubt re the ability to make it happen (or at least make it happen fast enough)

The result is that there has never been a more exciting time to lead strategic projects and initiatives.  There has never been a more challenging time, either.

We are calling this leadership and strategy 2026 because it will take several years to work through the system.

Let's sample some of the implications emerging from our research.

Massive Ambition – What are the implications?

The drive for performance, coupled with the need for transformation, means more projects and initiatives with greater urgency. However, that typically involves more projects than available resources. This has profound implications, including:

Despite widespread attempts at consolidation, leaders find themselves playing ‘whack a mole’ with projects and initiatives.  No sooner do they scrap one, but another appears. This issue goes to the very heart of strategic focus and alignment.  It threatens to widen the gap between strategy and execution.

Saying ‘no' or ‘not now' to projects and initiatives proves very difficult. But, not all projects can proceed, and certainly not at the same time. Standalone project decisions and an ‘everything is urgent' culture mean that organizations are struggling to prioritize, sequence and time projects effectively. This is something that we have developed a new accelerated process and set of tools to help with.

Accelerating success requires focusing with greater intensity on key strategic priorities.  But, a more disciplined approach to prioritization is key if scarce resources are to go where they are needed most. 

Standalone project decisions result in siloed thinking.  They fail to manage interdependencies, leverage synergies and share resources across projects and initiatives. Joined-up thinking is essential, re-thinking the strategic portfolio is key.

More careful decisions regarding projects and strategy, together with a strategic portfolio mindset, is key.  That requires managing, in an integrated way, that subset of projects most critical to success. It is a blind spot that is thankfully getting more attention.

Greater clarity on the business fundamentals, or underlying why, of all key projects is essential.  Without this, projects may meet their goals, but fail to address business needs and priorities. Rather than putting the business first, the result is project myopia, where project goals are put ahead of business needs and priorities. This is an area where we are supporting leaders most effectively.

The call for more resources is almost universal. But it will remain unanswered until the double-sided issue of priorities and proliferation are addressed.

There is a natural desire to get important initiatives up and running fast. But leaders are learning that ‘if you go too fast, you will likely pay for it later on’. It all starts with what we call the First Mile, connecting to strategy, setting a project up for success and preventing false starts. While essential, the V4.0 challenge is ensuring that the first mile does not impede speed, agility and innovation. Again, this is something that we have taken on as a key objective.

Caught up in the daily busyness of running a project, it is easy to lose touch with changing business needs and priorities – what we call project myopia.  Dynamic alignment is essential if projects are to stay connected to stakeholders, strategy and success.  The project plan will need to adapt accordingly. Today, resource allocation is only half the work. Dynamic alignment is also central to our 2024 toolkit for leaders.

One team updated its list of strategic priorities as quarter one came to a close. Although just 3 months had passed, there were now two new priorities within the top five.  One was the top priority, even though it had only been added in the last 5 weeks. This is an example of the requirement for dynamic re-alignment in response to changing business and stakeholder needs and priorities.

Juggling Leaders – the Implications

While we set out to understand how leaders balance the need for short-term performance, with the demands for longer-term transformation, we soon discovered more juggling than balancing. This has major implications for all those who support leaders in executing on strategy. Helping leaders to juggle is now central to the role.

Most organizations depend on a small group of busy executives to make things happen. However, these leaders are juggling a growing number of projects, priorities and initiatives on top of their day-to-day responsibilities. This has clear bandwidth implications regarding execution. It also introduces executive burnout as a project risk.

Leaders tell us they are involved in an average of 7.3 transformation initiatives.  However, these initiatives could have as many as 10 projects, or subprojects. Meanwhile, our research suggests that each project could generate up to 1000 plus team and stakeholder interactions per month, including meetings, emails, reports and so on. When you do the math, it becomes clear how much juggling is actually going on. This leaves leaders with very little time for doing the work and, in particular, very little time to think, or at least to think strategically.

Juggling projects and priorities, means juggling stakeholders, too.  All too often, the relationship can seem like that of a child going to a parent seeking approval or asking for help. But, in V4.0 stakeholder engagement is a meeting of peers. It requires a new level of courage, curiosity and openness and both sides.

‘We are like a deli counter’, exclaimed the team leader. ‘Stakeholders keep coming to us asking for things! ‘As far as they are concerned, everything is urgent, and it is difficult to say no!’ Sound familiar? That is how one busy leadership team described the challenge of aligning internal stakeholders.

We have reframed our role in supporting leaders and their strategic priorities in terms of helping leaders to juggle, without dropping a ball or damaging their well-being. One part of this is increasing the speed and effectiveness of our interventions. In 2021 and 2022, the average executive pitstop lasted 3 hours (including breaks and breakouts).  Today, the average is closer to 90 minutes, with many interventions timed at under 60 minutes, and some at less than 35 minutes. To do this without letting the effectiveness drop, we have turned to a range of new tools and techniques.

‘How long will it take to fix alignment in respect of this digital initiative? asked the leader. ‘Six hours & fifteen minutes' replied the coach. E.T.A. (Estimated Time to Alignment) is 6.15, she quipped. It takes 15 minutes for each person to do the analytics and 6 hours to workshop the issues, explained the coach. This is an example of how speedier and more effective interventions are required by today's juggling leaders.

Niggling Doubt – the implications

Leaders are expected to demonstrate complete confidence in their plans and initiatives. Yet, many quietly harbour doubts about the ability to make it happen, or at least to make it happen fast—two numbers in particular matter.

First, efficiency of internal collaboration.  Executives suggest that it is only 63% effective. That means it could be costing the typical executive up to 18 hours per week. When looked at this way, improving the effectiveness of collaboration could go a long way to tackling resource scarcity. Thus, 4.0 makes optimizing ways of working and interacting a priority, providing teams with the power and the tools (such as the 9 Rights) to get more done, also to bring out the best in each other.

Second, leaders put the organization's overall efficiency at 67%. That is despite the almost universal drive for efficiency in recent years. Getting stuff done within large organizations isn't necessarily easy.  Addressing the factors that drain executive productivity is key.  These include internal bureaucracy, committees, approvals, reporting, and so on.  Compared to the attention given to paranoia about performance and engagement, these areas have been widely overlooked.  V4.0 changes that.

Many leaders are quietly worried about project success, and given the level of ambition rightly so. But who is listening, and what is happening as a result? Well, less than you would think.

The business community has been discussing psychological safety for almost a decade, but there is still some way to go in making it a reality. Within the majority of organizations, executives will likely stay quiet rather than speak up, especially when it comes to talking about risks, obstacles and set-backs. However, V4.0 leaders engage these issues because they know that they can galvanize, rather than paralyze, their teams. Our research points to massive ambition and niggling doubt as a winning combo.

Beyond agile as a buzzword. Within many organizations, the initial enthusiasm for agile has waned.  Yet, the demand for speed, agility and innovation remains. What we are seeing within organizations is a better balance between rigor and agility in projects. However, it is essential that project leaders have sufficient power to adapt to changing circumstances and events without endless committee meetings and bureaucratic approval processes.  Increasingly the Gantt chart, or indeed any other traditional project management technique, won't save leaders. Those who are charged with making it happen need greater autonomy and control.

Reflection

Those are just some findings from our extensive research. Take a moment to reflect:

  • What do you see as the implications for your CXO, CSO or PMO?
  • How can they best support leaders in bringing strategy and its ambitious projects to life?

If you would like to delve further into our research, please contact us.




SOLUTIONS & SERVICES: Here are some of the ways that our research & insights are put to work by our clients:





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