3 Keys to Drive Success as a Chief Strategy Officer
Newly-hired CSO of fast-growing AI company shares advice to consider when preparing for an economic slowdown
Confronted with increasingly complex market dynamics, government regulations and changing consumer behavior, executive leaders face pressure to continuously evolve strategies to adapt in today’s unpredictable environment – and get ahead. That’s where the Chief Strategy Officer steps in.
Over the past decade, the Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) title has become more popular as the C-Suite invests in value positions. A 2020 study from Charles Aris found that over 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies have invested in a CSO or equivalent title, whereas in 2013, that number was only 50 percent.
Reporting to the CEO, and working closely with the CFO and CTO, the CSO acts as the consultant of the C-Suite, keeping a pulse on the various dimensions of business and ensuring each micro-strategy blends into the cohesive macro-vision of the company. CSOs identify, formulate and execute the strategies needed for a company’s long-term success. In recent years, that’s meant navigating trends in digitization, supply chain complexities, and a global pandemic, among others.
In 2023, CSOs will be tasked with protecting core business operations amid uncertainties while driving long-term growth initiatives to position their organization to thrive – rather than survive.
Here are three things newly hired CSOs should consider in preparing their businesses for a slowing economy.
Demand a seat at the table for enterprise technology strategy
Advanced technologies have enabled incredible possibilities, unlocking significant potential in productivity and growth. Now, companies are looking for ways to cut costs and streamline operations. CSOs should focus on closing the gap between technology and business by playing a prominent role in crafting a focused enterprise technology strategy and harmonizing the technology-driven changes with the Chief Technology Officer’s team.
Companies may hesitate to make new investments in an unpredictable economy. Still, technology investments – like contract intelligence or customer relationship management platforms – help teams stay organized and ensure their business stays ahead. To advocate for new technologies, CSOs must promote digital transformation that helps drive the most impactful business outcomes – increased revenue, reduced costs, improved compliance and mitigated risk. CSOs must also drive a knowledge management culture. This means implementing ways to measure how successful these investments are against the company’s long-term growth goals. Establishing documentation systems and KPIs are key to ensuring CSOs can understand and communicate business value.
New technologies often mean a new way of working, and CSOs should prioritize supporting employees as they navigate shifting workflows. This is where capability building becomes essential. Amid digital transformations, capability building goes beyond traditional training lessons. It ignites excitement, allowing employees to embrace new technologies and feel confident in doing so. Examples include bringing in outside expertise or identifying role models within the company to lead individual teams.
Power social impact
Revenue margins are no longer the only indicator of a company’s success – being a purposeful enterprise has become critical. In 2023, ESG and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives will remain a focus as stakeholder and consumer expectations continue to mount, and new external reporting processes come into play.
According to 36 percent of executives surveyed for the Economist Impact report, a boost to sustainability goals was one of the most significant benefits of high trust levels in business relationships, particularly related to internal company performance.
The CSO is responsible for helping the company implement strategies that mitigate risk and future-proof brand identity. And, collaborating with business partners and customers is an integral aspect of staying apprised of the latest ESG technologies and solutions to promote innovation for social good.
CSOs are also responsible for understanding if ESG goals are being met across each business dimension. Amid an economic downturn and increasing socio-political expectations, companies should maintain sight of the importance of ESG and DEI and continuously communicate these initiatives as a top priority to the CEO.
Act as the CEO’s consultant
It’s not uncommon for CSOs to serve as consultants earlier in their careers. The ability to be multi-disciplined across various department functions gives CSOs a broad perspective of complex challenges and opportunities facing organizations today. It lends credibility to serve as a valuable advisor.
CSOs must work closely with the CEO to ensure their vision is met with action, and in 2023, this role as the company’s advisor will be essential. Over the coming months, we will see continued investment in the CSO role as the C-Suite looks to stay ahead of the curve.
In 2023, CSOs must elevate their role as a consultant to the C-Suite, providing a holistic view across the different elements of their business. This means that CSOs are responsible for understanding the viewpoint of every stakeholder and bringing their ideas to the executive table. A Chief Strategist encourages regular collaboration to ensure decisions are made through diverse perspectives.
The rise of the CSO has vastly evolved over the last decade, having been once excluded from the boardroom and key decision-making to now being seen as essential to shaping the strategy and future of business. However, research shows only 21% of women hold the CSO seat. As technology evolves, companies will need a diverse tech leadership, particularly female CSO representation. Companies that commit to removing barriers to women’s advancement will generate a more diverse vision for the business and reap benefits like financial performance metrics, reduced risk performance, and improved environmental, social, and governance. Further, newly-hired women CSOs have the opportunity and important responsibility to support and advance other women in pursuing leadership roles like the CSO title.
Overall, CSOs are essential to the management board, guiding their companies through the near and long term. In 2023, they will continue to play an integral role in implementing advanced technologies to drive efficiency and business success, all while guiding decision-making to balance purposeful strategy with business strategy to ensure all shareholder expectations are met. CSOs must be multi-disciplined to achieve the many capabilities of the role – often several at once – and that requires an aggregate and skillful approach. As a newly-hired CSO, your ability to solve problems at a macro level, recognize patterns, work cross-functionally with teams, and stay on top of market trends will help provide strategic impact and position a business to grow in 2023 and beyond.
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