Strategy in growth stage organizations

Strategy in Growth-Stage Organizations

Corporate strategy in growth-stage companies can be very different from strategy in mature organizations. In episode two of the Chief Strategy Officer Podcast, we heard from three strategy executives who are effectively navigating the strategic journeys for their scaling organizations – Elisabeth Moore from West Monroe Partners, Adam Zalisk from Amplify Education, and Edward Crook from DeepL.

They discussed:

  • Practical advice on balancing entrepreneurial freedom with strategic focus
  • How to structure a strategy function to support rapid growth and innovation
  • Techniques for maintaining alignment and clarity in decision-making processes
  • How to turn change from a “chore” into a tactic to drive customer-centricity
  • And strategies for fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing within fast-growing teams

Key questions covered in this podcast episode:

  • (3:34) What is different about leading strategy in a growth stage company versus an established, mature organization?
  • (5:57) According to Adizes’ Corporate Lifecycle, in growthstage companies, the culture of the organization is often mixed with the personality of the founder. How is that dynamic in your organization?
  • (11:33) Flexibility is a big part of strategy roles in growth-stage companies. How do you spend most of your time as a strategy leader in your organization?   
  • (17:35) How do you balance the perception that growth-stage companies should be agile with the realities of resource constraints?
  • (20:10) How do you make sure people are staying focused without getting distracted? How are tradeoffs made?
  • (22:50) How does organizational design play a role? How do you structure your organization to balance the challenge of maintaining entrepreneurial autonomy while staying focused?  
  • (29:06) What advice would you give to other growthstage companies for setting up a strategy function?

"We have to flex and play wherever the organization needs us at any given time based on the type of growth that we're looking for."

Balancing Entrepreneurial Freedom with Strategic Focus

In growth organizations, the scope of the strategy team is broader compared to more mature organizations. Moore explained that in mature organizations, the strategy function often has a clear focus, whereas in growth companies, the team needs to be flexible and adapt to the organization’s evolving needs. This flexibility helps organize the entrepreneurialism inherent in growth organizations, which is crucial for driving innovation and adapting to rapid changes.

Zalisk noted that strategy in growth stage companies requires a balance between structure and agility. While there is a need for structured decision-making and capital allocation, the fast-paced nature of growth companies demands agility in decision-making processes. This balance is critical to maintaining momentum and ensuring that strategic decisions support the company’s long-term goals.

Elisabeth Moore Chief Strategy Officer Podcast

Structuring the Strategy Function

Crook emphasized the importance of building a strategy function that does not operate in a silo. He advocates for creating a collaborative environment where strategy is developed with input from all relevant teams. This approach ensures that the strategy is aligned with the company’s overall goals and has the buy-in from those who will execute it.

"The moment you claim ownership over the strategy, the strategy dies. It has to be something that is a living evolving thing with lots of different stakeholders."

Crook also highlighted the importance of building teams rather than relying on individual heroes. Growth companies should focus on creating small, cross-functional teams that work together towards common goals. This structure promotes collaboration, innovation, and a sense of ownership among team members.

Maintaining Alignment and Clarity

Maintaining alignment and clarity in decision-making processes is crucial for growth companies. Moore mentions that a significant part of her role involves ensuring that the strategy represents the whole organization without diluting bold choices. This requires careful facilitation of conversations and making sure that all stakeholders feel represented in the strategic direction.

"While more mature organizations probably have more capital and can make bolder choices, they are typically burdened with institutional concrete that can be hard to break through. In a growth-stage company, there are some finite choices you can make and, ideally, you have a leadership team that can help whittle down those choices into a small few that will drive impact."

Zalisk adds that the success of a strategy function depends on its ability to communicate the organization’s constraints and trade-offs clearly. When people understand the reasons behind strategic decisions, they are more likely to support them and work towards the common goal. This clarity is essential for maintaining alignment and avoiding the pitfalls of siloed thinking.

Turning Change into a Tactic

Change is a constant in growth stage companies, and it should be viewed as an opportunity rather than a chore. Moore notes that West Monroe embraces change as part of its culture. The company not only helps clients navigate technological changes but also uses itself as a testing ground for new technologies and business models. This dual approach ensures that the company stays ahead of industry trends and continuously improves its own operations.

Crook emphasizes the importance of creating a space for experimentation and learning from small errors. Allowing room for mistakes fosters a culture of innovation and prevents the organization from becoming risk-averse. This approach helps growth companies remain agile and responsive to new opportunities.

Fostering Collaboration

Collaboration and knowledge sharing are vital for growth companies to thrive. Moore suggests that professional service firms like West Monroe benefit from using their client experiences as a knowledge base for internal innovation. This practice helps the company stay on top of market trends and ensures that its strategies are grounded in real-world applications.

Zalisk adds that involving teams in the strategy development process is essential for ensuring that the strategy is executable. When teams are engaged in building the strategy, they have a better understanding of the trade-offs involved and are more committed to its success. This collaborative approach also ensures that the strategy is realistic and aligned with the organization’s capabilities.

Setting Up a Strategy Office in a Growth-Stage Company

Setting up a strategy function in a growth-stage company requires a clear mandate. Begin by listening and mapping the needs of stakeholder groups to hone in on a clear definition of what strategy means to the organization. Zalisk suggests getting clear on the problem you are trying to solve as a strategy function. Moore recommends interviewing each member of the cabinet of the CEO to find out who is making strategic decisions and what they need from the strategy office.

Next, determine the right level of structure to deliver the solution. Clarify the tools and partners your strategy office has access to. These primary decisions represent the first steps in designing a strategy office that can navigate the complexities of rapid expansion and drive impactful growth.

"I think 'Get the Mandate Right' is the headline. What problem are you trying to solve by engaging a strategy function? And then, what is the right level of structure that you can put in place to empower a strategy function to deliver on that solution?"

Episode Guest Bios

Elisabeth Moore: Since joining West Monroe in 2013, Moore has had a tangible impact on the company’s strong growth trajectory. Partnering with Executive Leadership, she worked to launch two multi-year strategies that galvanized the organization around a common vision. She has equipped the firm to enter new markets and achieve double-digit annual growth and above-industry-average profitability. Elisabeth has also led the acquisition of several new businesses as well as divestitures. Her M&A and finance background coupled with a passion for connecting with people creates an approach to strategy that is both data-driven and emotionally intelligent. She has launched several internal functions, including Strategy, Emerging Business/Innovation, Intelligence, Value Creation, and Corporate Development. Previously, she worked in Transaction Services at KPMG. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business and an MBA in finance from Indiana University.

Adam Zalisk: Zalisk leads Amplify’s corporate strategy team. Before taking on his current role, Adam led non-profit partnerships, operations, implementation, and product teams at Amplify, including serving as chief operating officer for Amplify’s K–5 literacy portfolio. Before joining Amplify, Adam served as senior advisor and led innovation at the Harlem Children’s Zone, and was a founding member of Booz & Company’s North American education practice.

Edward Crook: Crook is a strategy leader specialized in SaaS and Chief of Staff at DeepL, a world leader in Language AI. With a background in linguistics and CMC, Edward has built research, strategy, and consulting teams in the UK, DACH, and the US and consulted many of the Fortune 500 on digital strategy. He has held multiple leadership roles, including Chief Strategy Officer at Brandwatch. His work has received recognition from Information Age’s Data 50, the Customer Success Collective and the Zero Distance awards. Ed holds a BA from the University of Sussex and an MBA from the Berlin School of Economics and Law. 

Outthinker Networks brings together two executive peer networks – the Outthinker Strategy Network and the Outthinker Innovators Network – to help senior strategy and innovation leaders solve their most pressing challenges and keep their organizations ahead of the pace of disruption. 

Are you a strategy, innovation, or transformation executive interested in joining one of our networks? Click the button below to learn more and apply to join.

0 0 votes
Event Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
We would love to hear your thoughts.x