The Future Of The Chief Strategy Officer

How is the role of Chief Strategist changing?


Every individual who takes on the role of Chief Strategist realizes almost immediately that it is a job description that is in a constant state of flux, requiring them to perpetually evolve. Flexibility is vital in a world that is innovating more and more rapidly every day with the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, augmented reality, the IoT and many, many more technological trends. The modern, digital era is marked by all areas of industry changing at an unprecedented pace, meaning that effective strategy has never been more crucial.

So how is the role of Chief Strategist changing with these disrupted times? We spoke with five of our past speakers to get their insights into the industry:

Jacques Markgraaff, GM Strategy, Planning & Innovation at Coca-Cola Amatil

My prediction is that the role of a strategist will become increasingly important as businesses try to make sense of growing levels of uncertainty and disruption. Automation and AI will undoubtedly impact a number of traditional strategy areas such as planning & forecasting; trend analysis etc. Augmenting the strategy capability with these tools will lead to increasing levels of sophistication in modeling and more accurate predictions on the likely future and resulting economics of strategic options. This will be an exciting development. There will, therefore, be a need for strategy professionals to 'move up the value chain' and offer a broader level of disciplines and competencies including Strategy Alignment, The psychology of building a winning mindset, while developing new capabilities such as AI training etc."

The overall consensus of our experts is that the role of the strategist is set to grow exponentially over the coming years. What's more, it's a role that will diversify at the same speed as the current rate of innovation. This means that senior level strategists will need to ensure they are consistently up-to-date with trends and technology, and always adaptable in the changing landscape of the future.

Craig Buszko, Strategy Lead & Advisor World Vision International

First is how strategists provide insight. We are in the data/information age, where staggering amounts of data/information are flowing in and out of businesses. From detailed tracking of consumer behaviors via mobile devices through to sensors across supply chains. An organization's success is predicated on its ability to use the information flowing around them.

The role of the strategist needs to evolve around employing the use of data and information in new ways to inform business strategy. A way to describe this is to contrast where classical strategy formulation has come from and where modern-day strategy needs to work.

Historically, formulating a strategy based on annual markers of your market, your organization, and your competitors would have been sufficient. Implementing your 5-year strategy into annual business plans with quarterly reviews would have been sufficient. But today, your organization and your competitors literally have access to terabytes of information in real time.

As a strategist, can you honestly sit on that and only sample it a few times a year? The reality is the strategies that succeed are the ones that employ the richness of data in new ways, and strategy processes and strategists need to flex around this. I've noticed many of the leading business schools are evolving their MBA curriculums to include more on business analysis, some even offering dedicated degrees. I think this is a clear sign of the reality today organizations are facing.

Second is tougher; how do strategists provide foresight? I think the time horizon for decisions based on insight is squeezing based on the flow of data. So the directional future strategists help determine for organizations are going to need a more foresight approach.

Running scenarios that model different futures to inform the choices you make today are absolutely essential. At World Vision, we are already seeing things we thought would occur in 5 years are happening now, and things we thought were going to happen in 12 months are more likely a few years away. It's getting tougher for executives and boards to make decisions given the increasing uncertainty that the future holds within many industries and sectors. I think the strategist needs to help provide more in strategic foresight.

Ignaas Caryn, Director, Corporate Strategy at Air France-KLM

A strategist should be able to make strategy a more continuous process, which should be driven by a more vivid dialogue within and outside a company. It’s about creating a movement that no longer treats strategy as a ‘board only’ responsibility and a once a year (or even less frequent) discussion. 5-year plans don’t work anymore, it’s about building options to be prepared for whatever future may unfold, and steering that future where possible. Strategists should enrich strategy with outside-in and longer term views and relentlessly challenge status quo.

James Lemon, VP Commercial Strategy at Travelport

Organizations of different shapes and sizes continue to stretch the definition of what a strategist is - from the sole curator of the company’s direction with an ear direct to the CEO, the one who may lead the business acquisitions and define the vision - to simply a Powerpoint expert who puts other people’s thoughts and ideas into digestible leadership materials.

The best strategists I’ve seen inside organizations are those who are persistent, who raise the quality of the thinking that everyone does in the business, by posing questions across every function, and potentially, resourcing teams who need to come up with the answers, on a whole range of topics around the industry, growth, effectiveness and organization. They should provoke others who may settle for the status quo, and call out behavior that doesn’t support the organization's objectives. A siloed internal consultancy is the worst outcome you can get – so, I strongly believe a mix of intellect and pragmatism that adapts perfect answers to fit the organization's ability and progress is usually the best.

To follow the debate and gain insights on how to handle the changing role of the strategist, join us at our Chief Strategy Officer summit in London, April 25 & 26.

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