When and How To Hire a Chief Strategy Officer

More companies these days are adding the role of Chief Strategy Officer to the C-suite. That’s because strategy is more critical than ever. There are numerous reasons depending on the type of business. We could build a long list, including new trends in technology, industry disruptors, the complexity of global supply chains, the increasing stringency of regulatory oversight, and the rapid pace of change, among other things. 

Traditionally, the formulation of the strategic plan is in the wheelhouse of the CEO supported by the executive leadership team. They may use external consultants, as well. The CEO is the obvious choice to lead this effort in most companies via the benefit of the 40,000-foot perspective. 

They are uniquely positioned to understand the needs of the business and its employees, the board and the corporate shareholders, the customers and the community. The best CEOs have a clear view of the competitive landscape and pride themselves in having the insight to manage, protect and grow the assets of the company in the face of a constantly changing competitive environment. At least, that’s the plan.

And that’s a very tall order. So to pile the responsibility for strategic planning on top of everything else can be a bit much. Increasingly, executive leadership teams realize that CEOs cannot give up their day jobs to focus on strategy and implementation. In some cases, strategy formulation falls to the CFO or the COO. But it’s easy to see that there are potential conflicts of interests when finance or operations are the primary drivers of strategy. 

That’s why the role of chief strategy officer is becoming increasingly important.

Is This the Right Time To Bring On a CSO

How can the board, the CEO and the executive team determine the right time to bring in a CSO? Here are five indicators that can help your executive team decide. Of course, it requires the team to be candid about what’s actually happening.

  • The strategic inputs submitted by individual leaders are never read. The leaders know this is true because although they’ve edited the cover page, they haven’t changed the content for several years.
  • The management team, when asked, do not agree, understand or remember the strategic direction of the company.
  • No one is accountable for following up on the strategic plan to ensure that the plan is executed. There is no tracking of milestones or metrics to measure the progress of your strategic plan. In fact, the plan may not even include metrics.
  • A financial plan is masquerading as a strategy. There are plenty of budgets and financial targets, but no actionable strategic plan.
  • The strategic plan has not been reviewed since it was written. It was written in 2019.

How To Hire a Chief Strategy Officer

Define Your Standards

Before you begin your search, define the qualities that you want in your CSO. This should be a joint effort between the members of the strategy team. What role do you want the CSO to fill? What qualities should the CSO have? Here are some important considerations:

The role of CSO goes beyond the theoretical exercise of “strategizing.” Ideally, your CSO should, in addition to a strong strategic orientation, also have deep operational experience. In other words, a CSO has to understand how to get things done. The position involves developing and implementing strategic plans, so you’ll want someone with a proven implementation track record. The person needed may not come from a traditional career path, because for the role of CSO there is no template. So keep an open mind during your search for candidates.

Likewise, audit your company’s culture and better understand the personality traits that complement your existing executive team strengths. Legendary management consultant Peter Dreyfus once said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” If your CSO doesn’t fit well within the culture, nothing will be accomplished. 

Determine Your Needs

A CSO is responsible for spearheading the development of your organization’s future strategic plan. In addition to ensuring that the right steps are taken to achieve this plan, they must also ensure that the strategic initiatives are aligned with the company’s goals and objectives. Additionally, the CSO must analyze market dynamics, market share changes and product line performance to create the best strategy for success. 

Check out our guide to determining if it is the right time for non-profits to bring on a CSO for more information. 

What Does a Chief Strategist Do?

Job one for a new chief strategy officer is to review the current strategy to fully understand what’s working and what’s not. After this, your CSO should analyze the data and then start to formulate ideas for achieving the organization’s future goals.

It’s likely that current strategies do not align with the company’s values, standards, culture or the competitive environment. Hiring a chief strategy officer can mitigate these risks and make sure the company’s initiatives are in alignment. After reviewing the current methods, the CSO will further develop the steps that must be taken to reach the organization’s goals or alter the strategies altogether.

Updating the strategy to include every part of the organization is key, and a forward-thinking CSO will recognize this. Without a current and updated strategy, it’s tough for a company to stay relevant and keep innovating. 

Following are the typical activities the CSO will undertake:

  • Assess the market conditions and determine the impact.
  • Survey the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities within the organization.
  • Ensure the execution of all strategic plans.
  • Align strategies with the growth objectives of the company.
  • Facilitate strategic initiatives across the organization.
  • Support the planning process.
  • Encourage a holistic and collaborative approach to strategy.
  • Coordinate consistent communications between the CEO and all stakeholders.

Leading the Company

Since the new CSO will be guiding the organization toward strategic success, it’s important that they have strong communication and leadership skills. If the organization’s members aren’t fully on board with the company’s strategy, a new CSO can be the driving force for that development.

Additionally, since the CSO will be working closely with the CEO, they must collaborate effectively and be equally supportive of the company’s strategic direction. There is always a danger in integrating a new member into an organization’s leadership team. If not done properly, it can shift the team dynamic and actually decrease your chances of success.

Characteristics of the Best CSOs

It goes without saying that a CSO must be strategic. But, as mentioned, the CSO must do more than theorize about strategy. They need to see both the forest and the trees. It’s important to not only understand where the company is headed in the long term, the CSO must also understand the short-term issues. Further, the best CSOs are able to do the following:

  • Juggle multiple balls: CSOs are responsible for a variety of business functions. They must be able to quickly switch activities.
  • Exhibit all-arounder capabilities: CSOs have typically not spent a significant amount of time in any one area. They have a mix of technology, marketing and operational skills.
  • Execute things: CSOs are masters at getting things done. They are inherently driven toward completion.
  • Go with the flow: CSOs are flexible and understand that when the situation changes, they must make adjustments to the strategy.
  • Persuade others to come along: CSOs communicate well. They get others to follow through influence rather than through mandate.
  • Lean into uncertainty: CSOs don’t mind ambiguity. In fact, because they are deeply experienced, they expect it.
  • Make objective decisions: CSOs don’t play favorites. They make decisions that are right for the organization rather than right for any one person or department.

Hiring Time

A CSO can significantly reduce the CEO’s workload, enabling both members of your organization to do their jobs more effectively. If you believe the time has come to hire a chief strategy officer, there’s no better time to act than right now. A well-defined strategy is vital to the success of any organization. A great CSO is the first step in doing so. For more information about when to hire a chief strategy officer, reach out to Y Scouts today. Their team of expert recruiters can help you decide if the time is right as well as find the right candidate to fill your open position.


This post was updated for clarity in September of 2021