From “Me” to “We”: Building Your Core Management Team

9 min read • Jan 10, 2022 • Gina Fusco

Like many business owners, I was a solopreneur when I started my content agency at my kitchen table 12 years ago, but being a sole proprietor was never my end goal. I wanted to have people working for me and with me. I wanted the hum and buzz of a busy office. And, of course, I wanted it all right away.

What I learned growing my company, and what you’ll probably learn growing yours, is that the “I” has to be a “we,” because an overwhelming majority of business owners can’t do everything by themselves or be an expert in everything.

You’ve Likely Heard the Term “C-Suite.”

The C-Suite (also called the executive team or C-team) is a catch-all term for the most senior roles in a large company. “Wait,” you say, “I’m not a large company. Can I stop reading now?” My advice is to read-on, because you’re hoping to grow and each of these roles if essential to your business or will be in the future.

The “C” in C-Suite stands for “Chief,” and while the roles in a company’s C-Suite will vary depending on what kind of company it is, most C-Suites will feature the following three roles:

  • The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) is generally the highest-ranking position, the keeper of the company’s vision, and the “face of the company.” The CEO is the one who talks to the press, holds town-hall meetings for staff, and introduces new products or services to the public. Everyone else in the C-Suite usually reports to the CEO.
  • The COO (Chief Operating Officer) is the second-highest position in the company, and according to LinkedIn, is “chosen specifically to complement the strengths and weaknesses of the CEO, or to work in tandem to bring the best leadership to the forefront.” The COO oversees the process that guides the day-to-day functioning of the business to align with the company vision—and that can encompass anything from how and when work is done to who’s doing the work to how efforts are being tracked.
  • The CFO (Chief Financial Officer) is responsible for all things related to money. This includes the financial planning and forecasting, assessing financial risks, tax planning and investing, and (most importantly) setting the budget.

Why Every Business Should Have a C-Suite. Even Yours.

The roles outlined above—leadership, management, and finance—are essential to keep any business going and growing. Each of the roles requires a unique set of skills, and I can tell you from experience that finding all these skills in one person is rare to impossible. 

And even if you’re lucky enough to be one of those unicorns who can do all three jobs, you’ll be lucky to get enough time in the day to do them all well. 

As a business owner, even if you’re lucky enough to be one of those unicorns who can do all of the C-suite jobs, you’ll be lucky to get enough time in the day to do them all well. 

For this reason, you should always be on the lookout for good people to fit whichever of these roles you’re least suited to be doing. 

Being the Owner Doesn’t Mean You Need to Be the CEO.

If your unique skills and talents aren’t made for a CEO role, then do something else. Be the CFO if you’re more financially minded, or the COO if more of a Type-A multitasker. 

And if you’re not right for any of these positions, then find good people to take on those and be something else. The best thing you can do for your business and your professional satisfaction is to take a role in your company that matches your talents. 

You Don’t Need Fancy Titles Either.

Your CFO could be “The Number Ninja.” Your COO could be your “Head Shepherd.” Your CEO could be “The Big Cheese.” As long as all the associated tasks are covered, you can choose whatever titles you want.

You can also choose how you bring them in.

  • As employees. On the plus side, they work for you exclusively and give you 100% of their effort. On the minus side, hiring people is expensive, as is letting people go if they don’t work out. If you’re looking to build a sustainable team to lead your company into the future, hiring is a good choice.
  • As fractional professionals. This is like hiring a freelancer. The positive here is no commitment, but that’s also the negative, as the good providers will have multiple clients. Smaller outfits will go this route as they’re scaling, as will companies that need the role filled but haven’t found “the one.”
  • As equity partners. The positive is that it won’t cost you anything tangible—in fact the person you choose will probably give you money as a “buy-in.” The negative is that you’re giving up some ownership of your business.

You could even mix and match approaches. For example, if you find someone who’s perfect COO material for who you are and what you’re doing, maybe you’d hire them full time and outsource the CFO duties.

Other C-Suite Roles You May Consider Filling at Your Small Business.

Depending on the kind of business you have, you might consider additional leadership roles at or near the top or your org chart.

Chief Compliance Officer (The Hammer)—reporting to the COO. If your products or services have to comply with regulations—like if you’re in food/bev or pharma—a Chief Compliance Officer will be up to date with all regulatory requirements, report changes to the COO, and help create policy that meets these requirements.

Chief Analytics Officer (The Data Driver)—reporting to the COO. If you’re a tech company like an app or online tool and you’re looking to monetize the data you collect, you have to be sure it’s being collected properly and processed well.

Chief Experience Officer (The Customer Whisperer)—reporting to the CEO. If your customers are regular people versus other companies, you’ll want to know why your customers choose you and how to make sure they keep choosing you. And since over 4/5 companies that work to improve their customer experience report an increase in revenue, a CXO might make sense for you.

Chief Marketing Officer (The Brand Keeper)—reporting to the CEO and COO. The old saying that 50% of marketing works, but no one knows which half is truer than ever with so many channels to explore. A CMO’s job is to figure out what works, why, and how to make it work better. The CMO will share their ideas with the CEO to make sure it aligns with the company vision, and with the COO to make sure whatever promises are made can be fulfilled operationally. A CMO makes sense for a lifestyle brand. 

Chief Human Resources Officer (The People Champion)—reporting to the COO and CFO. A role like this makes sense for companies with a lot of staff, like large manufacturers or large service providers like medical clinics or law firms. Their role is to find, hire, retain, and dismiss talent. The CHRO will generally take requests from the COO, and work with the CFO to establish hiring budgets.

Chief Technology Officer (The Bytemaster)—reporting to the COO and CFO. As technology becomes more ubiquitous across all businesses, CTOs are becoming more valuable. The common tasks of a CTO these days is cloud migration and optimization—and this is even more important with more people working from home more often. Like with HR, the CTO will generally take requests from or make recommendations to the COO. Then they’ll work with the CFO to establish budgets.

Chief Diversity Officer (The Equal Opportunity Enforcer)—reporting to the CEO and COO. As of this writing, about 53% of American companies have CDOs. It’s not a lot, but considering that it was only 47% in 2018, the position is clearly trending. The CDO’s role is to make sure the company’s workforce reflects the community it operates in, and that a diverse spectrum of thought is being leveraged to make decisions. And the numbers demonstrate the value of diversity: a McKinsey report found that companies with gender-diverse and ethnically diverse executive teams outperformed companies with no diversity by 25% and 36%, respectively.

What If Your Business Is Still Too Small to Hire Who You Need?

One thing to remember here: scale. If you’re a 5-person business, it’s unlikely you’ll fill each of these roles individually, although you probably will have people whose responsibilities align with each of these positions. For example, your CTO may actually be your IT guru. Your HR manager may be juggling their job as well as some of the CHRO responsibilities. Your accountant and CFO could be one and the same. Remember—titles really don’t matter but functions do.

But if you’re the one who’s juggling all of these roles for your growing company, you may want to step back and consider the trade-offs. Do you have the expertise you need in each of the jobs? Would elevating other team members or bringing in new ones help enable you and everyone to do more? Are you doing so much that you’re the bottleneck? 

If the latter is true, consider your options: keep going as you’re going now and hope you don’t burn out or drop the ball. Or determine what you can do with an expanded team and how it will impact your business plan

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice and is provided for general informational purposes only. Readers should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice on any particular matter.

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Gina Fusco

Gina Fusco is a writer, editor, and business owner, who started Re:word Content Co. at her kitchen table in 2009.