Recently, my friend Rohit Shyam joined Accelrys as their Chief Strategy Officer (CSO). This is a newer C-level title that is catching up in many companies. Traditionally, the CEO is responsible for strategy and company direction while the COO is in charge of operations. So, what does the CSO do?
From the title, one would think that the CSO is responsible for formulating strategy. That would be a very incomplete and misleading definition. In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, authors R. Timothy S. Breene, Paul F. Nunes, Walter E. Shill outline the CSO role in greater detail. For starters, the CSO role is not just a “(strategy) thinking” job. In fact execution is an integral part of this role. Typically, the CEO is bogged down by the ever growing complexity of the global business environment – political, regulatory, economic, shareholder and other stakeholder challenges. Add to that the pressure to deliver results at an ever increasing pace. Clearly, with all this pressure, it becomes tough for a CEO to ensure strategy refinement and execution.
That is the reason more and more CEO’s are hiring CSO’s – to help them with refinement and execution of strategy. The CSO typically reports to the CEO. The CSO is tasked with creating, communicating, executing, and sustaining a company's strategic initiatives. The CSO is not just a thinking/dreaming strategist; in fact they consider themselves as doers.
They help set and refine the strategy. Furthermore, they ensure that different departments/organizations within the company understand their role in the strategic plan and how it connects with the overall objectives. They also drive change across the company – to ensure the different arms of the organization march in tandem. Finally, the CSO validates the decisions made by the various departments to ensure alignment with company strategy. CSO’s help steer the top team away from groupthink and from focusing too much on past practices and accomplishments.
CSO’s are seasoned executives who have held P&L responsibilities and have had significant operational experience. Most importantly, a good CSO candidate should be: deeply trusted by the CEO, a master of multitasking and a jack of all trades, a star player, and a doer, not just a thinker. The CSO role is an apt successor to the CEO – since they get involved in almost all parts of the business. Having a CSO is no longer a luxury for a CEO – it is becoming mandatory to have a strong CSO in order for CEO’s to perform their job well. The COO role does not go away. They are still critical but their focus is on day-to-day tactics and operations.
I am very thankful to Rohit for clarifying the role of the CSO. I wish him only the very best in this new venture.