Speaker Snapshot: Simon Hay, Head Of Strategy, Kiwibank

Overcoming challenges on the way to strategic execution


A graduate of Canterbury University and the Australia National University, Simon Hay has broad experience in Strategy, Economics, Corporate Finance and Business Development roles across a range of sectors, including Central Government, Power and Infrastructure, Logistics, and Banking. More recently, he has specialized in a cross-border Strategy and Merger & Acquisitions and has also assisted with the Christchurch rebuild. He joined Kiwibank’s Strategy Team in 2013 and has been heavily involved in looking at the challenges and opportunities provided by digital disruption.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

A couple of things stand out for me in this regard. In an increasingly complex and uncertain operating environment, I think that there is increased demand for strategy, and in turn the role of a strategist has become much more demanding in itself, both in terms of making sense of the environment beyond the generalities of disruption (and the speed with which it is occurring), and also being able to lead the clear articulation and required alignment of their organization’s longer-term goals with what is happening in the present. Rather than the detailed structured approaches to strategic planning that we saw previously (that’s not to say that strategic planning as an exercise is not important as it is), I think we are seeing a strategist more as a storyteller rather than as a program manager in this more fluid environment.

What do you think are the main components of a successful business strategy?

I don’t think these have changed much, it's about doing the basics well, clarity, consistency, focus, and making the strategy relevant and grounded so that it can be easily understood throughout the organization.

What are the main challenges that companies face, when it comes to strategic execution in 2016?

There are obviously many challenges that companies face when it comes to strategic execution, but the shortened timeframes in decision-making cycles and for implementing major programmes really stand out as we move into a digital world; and the need to retain strategic optionality, in response to the way in which the environment is evolving, whether it be by having an agile 'test and learn/fail fast approach' to innovation, or making as much cost as possible, variable cost and many more. Of course, there are two sides to this question, the first is the nature of the strategy itself, and the second is the organizational capacity and capability of the organization to execute it, which means that both parts have to work in lockstep to execute successfully. As we all know, the reality is often much messier in practice.

How can companies ensure their strategy is agile?

The way I think about this question is not so much that the strategy is agile, as I think that strategy (and strategy development) should be robust enough to have considered, and be resilient to a range of factors. The corollary is, of course, the risk of strategy changing too much, it leads to confusion both internally and externally. I would argue that strategy is about solving the large complex problem of critical importance to the survival of the organization, or in reaching a longer-term goal. I think the agility possibly comes in the execution or the approach of the strategy, or it falls out of the strategy. What I do think is that the process of developing strategy has to be much more agile, so that we no longer do a 3-year strategic plan which lasts 3 years. Most organizations I have come into contact with, do much more regular updates than in the past, annually or quarterly.

Do you have any advice for corporate strategy implementation, such as planning, resource management, communication and conflicting priorities?

One comment I would make in response is that strategy functions do seem to be under-resourced, given heavy demands placed on them. 

You can hear from Simon and other industry leaders at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit, taking place this September 6 & 7th.

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