In today’s mutating corporate environment, new roles pop up from time to time to address new or emerging trends in the marketplace.
While there have long been people responsible for strategy, only recently have we had a dedicated executive position responsible for this role in some larger companies: the CSO, or Chief Strategy Officer.
The CSO's role is to facilitate the company strategy. Rather than saying the CSO is responsible for strategy, I specifically use the term facilitate because there is a huge difference: When you put one person in charge of or make him or her solely responsible for strategy, then you could have a scapegoat who is responsible for all future successes or failures of the company.
There is no "I" in team, right? Well, there is no "I" in strategy either.
The desired goal is an entire executive team that is creating, developing, testing, and executing on business strategy. It may be one person’s full-time job to facilitate that work, but that person is not solely responsible for it.
If one person does all the strategic thinking and planning, that person becomes a crutch to the organization ,and strategies can be one dimensional. The other executives can get caught up in the day-today details of running the business and not also have a watchful eye on opportunities, risks, trends, and other strategic areas that the whole executive team should be paying attention to.
CEOs need help; they can’t be everywhere at once. As a matter of fact, the best CEO–CSO relationships I’ve seen are where the CEO is so comfortable in the role that he or she consistently seeks the advice and feedback of others on issues. And if the CEO has a CSO on staff, this person is the CEO’s consigliere on decisions and strategic thinking.
The role of the CSO has emerged not to replace or remove the CEO from doing business strategy, but to help that executive and facilitate the larger executive team.
The CSO should therefore have the following eight traits and responsibilities:
CSOs are responsible for a number of major business functions and activities as diverse and demanding as mergers and acquisitions, competitive analysis and market research, and long-range planning. They must be capable of quickly switching between environments and activities.
Most strategy executives reported that they had significant line management and functional experience in such areas as technology management, marketing, and operations. Less than one-fifth had spent the bulk of their pre-CSO careers on strategic planning.
Most CSOs achieved impressive business results earlier in their careers and view the strategy role as a launching pad, not a landing pad.
Although CSOs split their time almost evenly between strategy development and execution, their bias must be toward the latter.
The medium term—that period from one to four years out—can go unattended, however. CSOs must focus the organization’s attention here, the critical period for strategy execution.
Strategy chiefs don’t succeed by pulling rank. They sway others with their deep industry knowledge, their organizational connections, and their ability to communicate effectively, not using the cover of "Your CEO wants you to do this."
All executives today must exhibit this trait, but it’s especially true for CSOs, whose actions typically won’t pay off for years. The role tends to evolve rapidly and requires an extraordinary ability to embrace an uncertain future.
Given their broad role, CSOs can’t play favorites. Openly partisan CSOs, or those who let emotions or the strength of other personalities cloud their vision, are sure to fail.
More and more companies are exploring the CSO option. For those striving for high performance, adding a seasoned, energetic CSO is often similar to a professional sports organization signing a top veteran player from another team—it simply improves the chances of beating the opposition.
To fulfill this quest, CEOs are either tapping internal company veterans with the experience and the social and political capital to cross boundaries quickly and effectively, or they’re bringing outsiders and their fresh growth perspectives into the C-suite.
Either way, they’re recognizing the ever-growing value of having a trusted, in-house strategy expert as a member of the top team, an executive who will keep the company focused through both the formulation and the execution of its strategy.
—Patrick J. Stroh is principal of Mercury Business Advisors, which provides management advisory services in business strategy, innovation, product development and turnaround situations and author of Business Strategy: Plan, Execute, Win!