What is the ideal role of a Chief Strategy Officer (CSO)? This has been a long standing and important question, with 70% of large firms undergoing internal transformation, clear answers on the issue may pave the way for lasting change. A recent report by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants sheds light on the characteristics embodied by an effective CSO, summed up in the motto: Dare to implement!
Two types of CSOs: implementer, developer
Inhouse strategy developers have become common in large enterprises, 90% now have such teams to meet the permanent changing business environment demands, in a consistently developing world. To meet these demands successfully, a recent study from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants finds that CSOs must be faster, more flexible, focused on the market, highly practical – and bolder. They are also required to be innovative and creative in their bid to meet new challenges as their department generally only receives 0.57 FTEs per 1,000 full-time employees – those figures are lower than three years ago.
To identify the role of the CSO in the business transformations themselves, this year’s ‘Chief Strategy Officer’ by the consulting firm in collaboration with the University of St. Gallen, surveyed the performance of the CSO’s in 160 companies. A key finding of the study is that there are broadly two approaches to the role of CSO – the “developer” and the “implementer” – with a continuum between the poles.
Of the two, the developer takes a more hands off role, working directly with higher management to develop a strategy and advice on moving the company forward. This type of CSO is more often already integrated in the company and generally has less resources available for the transformation. The implementer is generally an external hire, with less than one year of experience at the firm. Their focus is on providing leadership in helping the helping the strategy and implementation teams realise its goals in a timely manner.
Implementation is key
Of the two types of CSOs, the implementers are the most effective, in highly effective programmes 11% of their activities are spent on implementation, over 2% for low effective programmes: "Those who concern themselves mostly with new ideas and concepts and do not lead the implementation efforts themselves will have a much lower level of success," comments Roland Berger-Partner Tim Zimmermann.
The key conditions that make for effective changes are:
- Corporate commitment: No program can succeed without buy-in from top management and the commitment of employees.
- Distinctive direction: Clearly defined objectives and metrics as well as ambitious but achievable milestones provide the program with direction.
- Dedicated people: To assume his role as the guiding force, the CSO needs a dedicated, well-chosen team for the implementation (though it does not have to be large) and solid funding as resources.
The CSO's most important job is to shape, manage and monitor the entire process without restricting the focus to front-loading. In successful programs, the initiation, idea generation, and content development stages combined account for less than 40% of the total process, and the CSO takes a much more active role in all stages along the strategy value chain.
The study found that one of the hallmarks of a successful program is a CSO who dedicates a lot of energy to the project and holds himself personally accountable. At the end of the day, direct engagement is key. Successful CSOs do not necessarily have to take the lead (at least not all alone), but, as the CEO's representative, they should drive change from a pivotal position and thus become the guiding force of corporate transformation.