17 Roles of the Chief Strategy Officer
The Emergence of the Chief Strategy Officer
At the start of the 1970s, the chief legal counsel of most major corporations was a minor role of limited influence as companies outsourced most of their high-stakes legal work to outside firms. By the 1990s, the role had experienced dramatic growth in size, prestige, and influence. It had become a position in the c-suite.
Before the mid-1980s, the chief marketing officer (CMO) role was similarly relegated to ad placement and market analysis. As the sophistication of market data surged and the channels of marketing communication grew, so did the import of the CMO.
The chief strategy officer (CSO) role sits today at a similar evolutionary rung, between obscure and understood, between esoteric and essential.
The CSO role is becoming established as a core member of the leadership team. Before 1978 less than 10% of firms had a chief financial officer (CFO). Today it’s hard to find a company of scale that doesn’t have one. The Outthinker Strategy Network’s analysis of the careers of about 3,000 CSOs indicate that the role is not the transitional role that many believe it had been traditionally, rather many CSOs are building long-term careers within strategy.
The Evolving Role
What does a chief strategy officer do? As with the evolution of now established C-suite roles like CFO, COO, and CMO, the parameters and scope of the CSO role are currently fluid but will sharpen. Today, the variety of responsibilities a CSO may have vary considerably between companies. In some firms, the CSO primarily leads business development and M&A. In others they run internal consulting teams to solves the company’s most critical problems. In yet others they, they manage KPIs and roll up business plans to keep the organization aligned. Increasingly we are seeing CSOs take on data analytics and even ESG.
So what can you, as a CSO or future CSO, negotiate your role to be today? This is critical question because if you do not carefully negotiate the scope of what you do and do not do, you run the risk of the company handing off nearly everything to your team, overwhelming you with any project that has no clear home elsewhere.
Over the last ten years we have interviewed several hundred CSOs to understand their roles and responsibilities. If you are deciding how to prioritize your strategy work, negotiating the scope of your function with your CEO, or exploring ways in which you might expand your scope, consider these responsibilities that other CSOs, from large enterprises across a range of industries, have within their role:
It is critical to define the scope of your strategy office early on. Many have no idea what the CSO does, which gives you the opportunity to shape their expectations. Not setting the right expectations runs the risk that several of our members have confronted of the strategy office becoming the default provider of “anything that takes long hours because the strategy people are willing to put in the extra time.”
We have generally found that strategy officers today fall into three buckets based on the time they spend on each of these roles, “Growth, Problem-solving, or alignment:”
- Decide what role you want you and your strategy office to hold (consider what would both serve you and your customer)
- Choose which of the 17 potential functions you would like to lead
- Decide what functions you will NOT do
- Share with business partners what you will do and not do (at least not quickly)