The Chief Strategy Officer

The Idea in Brief

Even the most compelling strategy is useless if it isn't implemented. But in many companies, no one's driving execution. CEOs, grappling with the complexity of doing business in a global economy, are too overloaded to stay on top of strategy implementation. COOs and CFOs are too wrapped up in day-to-day dealings.

Some companies, including AIG, Kimberly-Clark, Motorola, and Yahoo!, have discovered a way to fill the execution void: hire a chief strategy officer. CSOs ensure corporate strategy gets translated into action, say Breene, Nunes, and Shill. CSOs communicate strategy to people throughout the organization and help them see how their work supports it. They ride herd on change initiatives needed to carry out strategy. And they make sure decisions at all levels align with strategic objectives.

Hire a CSO, and you help your senior team deliver faster, better decisions while building world-class execution capabilities throughout your company.

The Idea in Practice

Why You Need a Chief Strategy Officer

CSOs handle three critical strategy implementation tasks:

Engendering commitment to strategic plans. CSOs articulate a clear definition of your company's strategy and explain how each person's work relates to it. This clarity enables CSOs to build the federation necessary to put strategic plans into action.

Driving immediate change. CSOs facilitate the change initiatives required to execute the strategy.

One health care company rebounding from bankruptcy in 2005 formulated a strategy focused on growth. A newly appointed CSO recognized that growth would hinge on rebuilding the company's sales pipeline, offering additional product lines, and repositioning its brand. Therefore, he worked with the heads of Sales, Marketing, M&A, and Strategy Development to address stalled growth, identify attractive new markets, and formulate aggressive acquisition strategies. By the end of 2006, the firm had achieved dramatic growth and acquired several critical new businesses.

Promoting decision making that sustains change. CSOs ensure that strategic decisions don't get watered down or ignored as they're translated throughout the organization. They communicate with managers at all levels to determine whether decisions being made over time continue to be aligned with the strategy.

How to Find a Qualified Chief Strategy Officer

Look for CSO candidates with these characteristics:

Deeply trusted by the CEO. A long professional and personal history helps.

Star players. They've achieved impressive business results earlier in their careers.

Jacks of all trades. They have significant line-management experience in disparate areas, such as technology management, marketing, and operations.

Comfortable with ambiguity. Because their actions typically won't pay off for years, and the role evolves rapidly as circumstances dictate, CSOs require the ability to embrace an uncertain future.

Influencers. They will need to sway others with their deep industry knowledge, connections throughout the organization, and ability to communicate effectively at all levels of the company.

Multitasking masters. They'll be responsible for many major business functions and activities, including M&A, competitive analysis, market research, and long-range planning.

Doers. They will need to split their time between strategy development and execution, with a bias toward execution.

Copyright 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.