How CEOs Can Build and Maintain a High-Performing C-suite

As CEO, surrounding yourself with the right executive team is crucial to navigating our increasingly complex business environment. Yet new Russell Reynolds Associates research shows that only two in five leaders feel confident about their C-suite’s ability to drive performance.

04 Jun 2023

So, what’s holding C-suite teams back? And where should CEOs focus their energy to supercharge C-suite performance?

Based on our experience advising thousands of leading organizations globally, we know that the performance and impact of the C-suite comes down to five critical areas. Taken together, each component of C-suite performance has a notable impact on self-reported organizational performance.


RRA’s 5Cs of C-Suite Performance: The what, who, and how

When correlating the 5Cs of C-suite performance to organizational performance (as rated by leaders themselves), we found that each component had a notable impact.

Source : Source: RRA Global Leadership Monitor
To better understand the relationship between organizational performance and these components, we conducted a relative importance regression analysis. Via our H2 2023 Global Leadership Monitor, which reached more than 2,500 leaders worldwide, we found that:

C-suite performance drivers are interconnected: It’s important to consider all five components when looking to improve organizational performance and create a high-performing C-suite. Commitment, capability, and culture make up almost equal shares of influence on organizational performance, followed closely by composition and continuity.

There’s significant room for improvement across all 5Cs: Less than two in five leaders feel that their C-Suite completely embodies the elements that make up the 5Cs of C-suite performance.

Developing next-generation leadership talent is a must: Leaders need to make the greatest strides in improving continuity & succession within their organizations. Focusing on developing the next generation of C-suite leaders helps secure long-term C-suite performance.

Commitment & Alignment

Commitment & alignment is a critical component of a high-performing C-suite. But our research found that only 39% of leaders feel their C-suite displays a strong commitment to organizational purpose, and only 30% of leaders feel their C-suite demonstrates accountability and ownership of organizational performance.

When these are present, they can be a lever for organizational success. Leaders at high-performing organizations are 4.5 times more likely to feel that their C-suite demonstrates accountability and ownership of organizational performance.

Having CxOs who are committed and aligned enables C-suite teams to achieve both short and long-term goals, creates clarity in decision-making, and reinforces overall focus. Without a strong sense of commitment, the C-suite risks creating siloed teams with little motivation to reach performance goals.

Source: Source: RRA Global Leadership Monitor
Composition & Structure

The C-suite’s composition & structure is vital for ensuring a balanced representation of skills and experience that align with the size and maturity of the organization, accounting for 18% of impact on organizational performance. Even so, only 21% of leaders feel that the composition of their C-suite team aligns with the vision or strategy of the organization, and only 22% of leaders feel that their C-suite represents a breadth of skills, background, and experience. 

This isn’t just about the size of your C-suite—it’s also about ensuring a diversity of roles, backgrounds, and thought. Skills like emotional intelligence and self-awareness are vital to fostering differing viewpoints. 

CEOs who keep a close eye on their C-suite composition—and are intentional about incorporating diversity of thought—will be best placed to navigate uncertainty ahead. It’s easy to focus too narrowly on a specific role without considering its impact on the broader C-suite, but CEOs need to take a holistic view. 

Capability & Skill 

 Capability & skill—which describes leaders who display adaptability in the face of uncertainty and feel equipped to make strategic decisions—accounts for 23% of the influence on C-suite performance, making it the second largest share. Yet only 28% of leaders feel that their C-suite displays adaptability and resilience through uncertainty. Furthermore, only 28% of leaders agree that their C-suite feels comfortable and informed to make strategic decisions. 

Of course, each organization’s definition of “the right skills” will differ. Generally, it comes down to ensuring that members’ capabilities and experiences—collectively and individually—align with the organization’s forward-looking strategy. 

Above all, the C-suite must feel comfortable making decisions as a team. This ensures sustained progress toward organizational goals, while allowing each executive to engage with one another and the fast-changing environment around them. 

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Culture & Behavior 

 According to our research, culture accounts for the third largest share of influence on C-suite performance, at 22%. However, only 26% of leaders indicate that their team articulates an inspiring vision that aligns with organizational values, and only 22% of leaders feel that their C-suite displays a high level of trust that is visible across multiple levels of the organization (Figure 4). 

High-performing C-suite teams are stewards of organizational culture that enable collaboration, trust, and psychological safety. 

A lack of trust can result in a lack of motivation and accountability across the organization. It also leads to more transactional, versus collaborative, operations. A strong appreciation for organizational culture and clear articulation of that culture can lead to more productive employees, improved performance outcomes, and accelerated growth. 

Continuity & Succession 

A deep, resilient, and adaptable pipeline of future leaders enables organizations to evolve their strategy alongside external pressures. While our research shows that continuity and succession account for the lowest share of influence on organizational performance (12%), this is also the area where leaders need the most improvement. Only a dismal 14% of leaders say the following actions “completely describes” their C-suite: regularly reviewing engagement, development, and retention plans. And only 11% of leaders feel that their C-suite team provides appropriate exposure to next generation leaders (Figure 5). 

High performing C-suite teams maintain a strong level of engagement with next generation leaders, high exposure to the executive team, and robust succession planning. 

When next generation leaders lack exposure and engagement within their organizations, they are more likely to grow dissatisfied and lose motivation.  Organizations can prevent this by focusing on continuity and succession to build next generation leader’s expertise and successfully empower them for future leadership roles. 

What’s Next? 

While long-term organizational goals can stay relatively fixed, the strategy for achieving them rarely survives the realities of today’s operating environment. These critical business issues cannot be solved within an individual function or line of business; instead, they require collaboration across organizational silos and capabilities. 

CEOs and boards should think carefully about the health of their executive leadership teams and the succession pipelines that sit below them. While the question “do we have the right leaders on the team to find and capture opportunities in a different environment?” is a hugely important one, CEOs and boards must also look at how those leaders function as a collective unit. To meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, organizations must build a roster of top performers who can quickly come together to address issues and opportunities across a wider range of skills than ever before. 


CEOs build successful C-suites when they... 

  1. Hire CxOs who are committed and aligned;
  2. Proactively focus on their C-suite composition and take a holistic view of the team;
  3. Ensure that leaders have the right capabilities & skills for the organization;
  4. Enable collaboration, trust and psychological safety that supports organizational culture & behavior;
  5. Continually assess and engage with next generation leaders and develop robust succession plans.

Resulting in:

  1. Higher EQ in leaders;
  2. More nimble responses to uncertainty;
  3. Confidence in strategic decision making;
  4. More productive employees, improved performance outcomes, and accelerated growth;
  5. Increased rate of executive retention and/or internal succession.

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