Home > Talent Insights Blog > Playing Fantasy C-Suite: Putting Together Your Dream Team

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

Many folks are familiar with fantasy sports games. If you are going to be a gamer, you assemble teams from rosters of active players. Those rosters include performance statistics and rankings of potential players to select for each key position. When the specific slate of games are played, each player’s dream team accumulates points based on the aggregate of their individual performances. The winning gamer is the one whose dream team collectively scores the most points.

Succession planning is playing Fantasy C-Suite. The players–Boards and C-Suite members–try each year to assemble the best collective team possible to win the economic game. Or the non-profit goal. Or the election. Or the war. Or to keep the peace.

The active roster includes people inside the organization, on whom there are past performance evaluations, potential estimates and aspirations. And, it also includes anyone in the world, who can be found via a search or a recruiting process.  

The equivalent to the weekend games in fantasy football, the organizational event for which you are creating the dream team is a business cycle. It can be any length of time. It can be an annual plan, a five-year plan or a “now” response to a crisis in the industry or marketplace. Or, it could be a VUCA Black Swan landing in your pond (think Covid 19).  Black Swan events are unanticipated and have significant consequences.

How Does One Win?

In order to win the fantasy C-Suite game, you have to know the conditions you will be facing on the field of economic battle. Increase market share? Increase profit margins?  Sell ourselves to a global player in our industry. Go public? Place a new service or product into the marketplace? Build the customer base? It could be anything.

We generally don’t plan to do it this way, but every business cycle probably requires a different dream team. When a competitor is beginning to take away a dominant market share position, you probably need a different CMO {Chief Marketing Officer} and more creative and innovative product and service offerings. If you are located in a tight labor market and can’t find enough talent to expand, you need a different HR and Recruiting function. Boards change CEOs to change the direction of an organization and that new CEO will often bring a team with them. That’s the way the Board plays Fantasy C-Suite.

When there is a new strategy, new goals and objectives, and new competition, a different team might be needed. Under this ideal dream team system, people would move in and out of the C-Suite based upon the specific strategic plan. Some might return later if the business plan reverts to past goals and objectives.

Another way to do the same thing is to use outside vendors, consultants and experts for specialized service, during a specific business cycle, to accomplish a specific outcome.  Or, rent an executive with known and proven skills for a specified period of time. 

A Meta Perspective and Skillset

Yet another way to be successful regardless of the type of business cycle you are going through is to add the concept of potential to performance. Performance is clear enough.  For example, the CMO has had a career in marketing sales promotion and PR and has several notable achievements. The Chief Counsel is an attorney by trade, background and experience. The CFO is and always has been a financial person. The CHRO has been in HR for the better part of their career.

Most in the C-Suite have a set of functional skills and experiences that qualify them to continue to play that role at the C-Suite level.

There is a meta perspective and skillset. It is called being a High Potential. High potentials, in addition to any functional preparation they have, have an additional set of characteristics that boosts their performance doing anything. These special characteristics have gotten them promoted several times more rapidly than most, and they stay on the active roster for selection to a C-Suite Dream Team. In short, it’s their intense curiosity, creativity and the joy of innovation, change management, fluid intelligence, comfort with change and ambiguity and EQ, or people leveraging skills, that has them ready. And you can add pattern recognition and big picture thinking. These, and many other smaller skills and behaviors, add up to someone who can shift with the business cycle. They can add value in multiple ways. They have a respect for the past but are more invested in the thrill of tomorrow.    

Collectively, they are the people who can figure out what to do when no one knows exactly what to do. They specialize in change.

Not All C-Suiters Are High Potentials

It is often the case that C-Suite incumbents are deep master professionals in their functional homes. Almost all have significant histories of accomplishments. They deserve the C-Suite seats. But they are not all also High Potentials.

The more High Potential ingredients you have in the C-Suite formula, the more potent it will be. You can keep the same players even though the nature of the next business cycle will be significantly different.  A High Potential C-Suite Dream Team will be able to anticipate and go with the flow. It will consistently win the Fantasy C-Suite Game, regardless of the changing nature of the business and marketplace.

A few of the principles of the Fantasy C-Suite game: Do not limit yourself to your own roster of candidates. Don’t be afraid to go outside. Think about reconstituting the team when the business plan shifts. Use outside resources for short term services to buttress the team. And, when considering length of service, know that it is seldom a legitimate factor to consider for entry to the Dream Team.