In a move that has many in the business world raising their eyebrows, Salesforce recently embraced a co-CEO model, slicing its leadership directly in half.
For the popular computing and commercial application giant, it seems the adjustment has worked—instigating a 5-percent share hike since the official announcement last month. With Marc Benioff overseeing product, technology and culture and Keith Block leading global sales, industry strategy and day-to-day operations, there seems to be a perfect balance of responsibility at play. However, any company looking to follow suit should first consider the potential pros and cons of such a precarious maneuver.
Bringing two or more leaders together, without complete alignment, can create more problems than solutions:
When one person is in charge, there is no one to disagree with. Decisions can be made freely and efficiently without the need for outside approval or permission. This changes when two opposing ideas converge in the boardroom. Reaching a unanimous solution can take time and cause a chain reaction that might slow business down to a crawl, or result in missed opportunities. Without a tie-breaking strategy in place, disagreements in the C-Suite can quickly become an ongoing problem for the entire organization.
Did you ever play the telephone game as a child? With every additional player, the initial phrase becomes more muddled, and the game concludes with an entirely new message. Unfortunately, this can also happen in the business world, when two or more CEOs are responsible for brand messaging and the results are hardly amusing. Inconsistent answers or ambiguous direction can quickly lead to a very confused organization. Without a clear roadmap of shared objectives and protocols, individual employees, teams and entire divisions can veer off course, frustrating customers and partners in the process.
Like oil and water, there are some executives that just don’t mix well. When two alpha-type CEOs are forced to share wins and losses, for example, an ugly power struggle can ensue. In many of these cases, neither wants to accept blame or responsibility for mishaps, and what was intended to be a very amicable process can swiftly transform into a battle of the egos. This kind of intense, interpersonal competition can replace cooperation and collaboration, and have a negative effect on company culture and business outcomes.
When managed well, implementing the co-CEO model can create more opportunity to succeed:
Fewer Stones Unturned
There are more than enough studies to show that, in the business world, multiple perspectives can bring together well-rounded ideas. For example, in areas where one CEO is lacking, the other could excel, resulting in a balanced approach to creative, financial or personnel issues while maximizing outcomes. Having four eyes open at the top, instead of two, can also be a great way to pinpoint weaknesses and discover hidden strengths at all levels.
Twice the Support
The life of an executive is becoming more complex by the nanosecond. With global customers, partners and remote employees to deal with, there are many who would undoubtedly welcome a partner to split the enormous burden of responsibility. The result of a well-coordinated tandem approach in the C-Suite can lead to a wider company scope and a broader capacity for growth. Rather than one CEO feeling overwhelmed or alone, two can share workloads and ideas to speed up and maintain processes.
Divide and Conquer
With potentially thousands of staff members to oversee and hundreds of projects rolling on a continual basis, it can be advantageous for brands to spread out leadership to different areas that need the most attention. While one CEO oversees the launch of a new division, for example, the other could be focusing on the acquisition of a foreign entity. Also, through the implementation of alternating vacation days and times of unavailability, brands can ensure that someone from the C-suite leadership team will always be accessible.
Going the co-CEO route? It can work if you work it
Not every brand has access to colleagues like Benioff and Block who enjoy a solid rapport after previously working together for over five years before the new move. However, with some executive training, consulting or coaching, almost any co-CEO structure—no matter how diverse —can become a unified team. Through self-reflective, one-on-one sessions and group exercises, for example, even the most headstrong of leaders can learn to check egos at the door, agree to disagree and fall into alignment on vision, values and division of responsibilities.