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Setting the Strategic Direction

A chief strategy officer also works with the business’ executive management team to identify needs, develop action plans and oversee the implementation and monitoring of other plans. They also ensure that the executive management team is aligned on strategic goals to create and implement the company’s short-term and long-range plans.

Empowering Change

Today, CEO’s have less time for strategy and so over the years the CSO position emerged as a solution. This executive is tasked with creating, communicating, executing, and sustaining a company’s strategic initiatives. This is not done in isolation or simply focused on pure strategy but rather the CSO is a seasoned executive, a doer with the mandate to act as well as to advise in a rapid manner.

According to a Harvard Business Review article on the role of the CSO, strategy executives are charged with three critical jobs in terms of strategy execution. “First, they must clarify the company’s strategy for themselves and for every business unit and function, ensuring that all employees understand the details of the strategic plan and how their work connects to corporate goals. Second, CSOs must drive immediate change. The focus of the job almost always quickly evolves from creating shared alignment around a vision to riding herd on the ensuing change effort. Finally, a CSO must drive decision making that sustains organizational change.”

Clearly, the CSO role taps into some of the same pathways that the innovation unit navigates, such as communicating and setting the strategic direction, driving the change initiative and championing the organizational change that must ensue. Often this directly connects to the very changes that the innovation team is trying to implement in developing a new product or service. The CSO is further charged with, “formalizing the company’s strategic-planning processes, forging new working relationships and synergies across the organization, and establishing greater transparency and accountability for those people carrying out the company’s strategy.” This might sound familiar to those working in innovation teams that have a heightened sense of cross collaboration, a continuous process that marks today’s agile innovation methodology that is aiming to align and exert influence on the business.

Leading the Way to Innovation

As the community’s recent Innovation Spend & Trends Report indicated, innovation teams are not working in a bubble, or at least not as much as they used to. Are the days of working in a “silo” gone forever? As the All Things Innovation’s recent blog post explored, “Putting Together Your Innovation Team,” moving forward for agile organizations there is a much greater emphasis on cross-collaboration with other teams and departments in the company. From the CSIO role to marketing and finance, to research and insights, to technology and IT services, innovation teams are expected to integrate, co-create and align with the business and its strategies on a broader level.

In another blog post, Seth Adler talks with Volvo’s Mike Hatrick on the subject of “Innovation Culture.” Innovation starts with the employees of an organization. As we know, the people that work for a business are some of its greatest assets. In today’s world there is a struggle with professional burnout, and Hatrick alluded to the word “resilience” as being an important part of today’s world.

Another important topic for Hatrick involved the culture of an organization as a whole. To Hatrick, changing an entire company culture isn’t an easy task and, most certainly, can’t happen overnight. He advised that the best way to start the process of change was to start it with a few individuals. Working with these would evolve to small teams. “Grow your tribe. Get some successes. Build, build, build – and actually, over time, you build a culture.”

Creating the Environment

The chief strategy and innovation officer plays a crucial role in driving and supporting innovation within a company. Overall, the CSIO acts as a catalyst for innovation, providing strategic direction, resources, support, and collaboration opportunities to the innovation team. Their role is to create an environment where innovation thrives, leading to increased competitiveness, growth, and success for the company. Per ChatGPT, here are several ways the CSIO can benefit the innovation team:

  1. Strategic Vision: The CSIO establishes a clear strategic vision for the company’s innovation efforts. They define the long-term goals, objectives, and direction for innovation, aligning it with the overall corporate strategy. This clarity provides the innovation team with a sense of purpose and ensures their efforts are focused on the right areas.
  2. Resource Allocation: The CSIO oversees the allocation of resources, including budget, talent, and technology, to support the innovation team. They ensure that the team has the necessary tools, funding, and human capital to pursue innovative projects effectively. By advocating for adequate resources, the CSIO empowers the innovation team to explore new ideas and drive meaningful change.
  3. Cross-Functional Collaboration: The CSIO facilitates cross-functional collaboration between the innovation team and other departments within the company. They encourage cooperation and knowledge sharing, helping the team leverage diverse perspectives and expertise from different areas. This collaboration enables the innovation team to access valuable insights and resources, accelerating the development and implementation of innovative ideas.
  4. Risk Management: Innovation inherently involves risks, and the CSIO plays a crucial role in managing those risks. They provide guidance and support to the innovation team in assessing and mitigating potential risks associated with new initiatives. By helping the team navigate uncertainties, the CSIO fosters an environment where calculated risks are taken, fostering a culture of innovation.
  5. Performance Tracking and Metrics: The CSIO establishes performance metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of innovation initiatives. They track the team’s progress, provide feedback, and make data-driven decisions based on the outcomes. This feedback loop enables continuous improvement and helps the innovation team focus their efforts on high-impact projects.
  6. External Partnerships: The CSIO builds strategic partnerships and collaborations with external entities, such as startups, universities, research institutions, and industry experts. These partnerships can provide access to emerging technologies, market insights, and fresh perspectives. The CSIO leverages these external relationships to enhance the innovation team’s capabilities and identify potential opportunities for collaboration or acquisition.
  7. Culture and Change Management: The CSIO fosters a culture of innovation within the organization. They promote an environment that values creativity, risk-taking, and learning from failures. The CSIO also plays a critical role in change management, ensuring that the company adapts and embraces new ideas and processes brought forth by the innovation team. By championing a culture of innovation, the CSIO encourages and empowers the entire organization to participate in the innovation process.

The Many Faces of the CSO

The CSO or CSIO certainly wears many hats in an organization as the role looks to support strategy and innovation. Yet the sheer scope and influence of the role is balanced somewhat by the ambiguity of the position as well.

In an article from Deloitte, “The Making of a Successful Chief Strategy Officer,” the author outlines the many faces of the CSO role. This includes:

  • The advisor—helping shape the strategy.
  • The sentinel—sensing and interpreting market shifts.
  • The banker—driving deals and partnerships.
  • The engineer—designing and running the strategic planning process.
  • The aide de camp—the CEO’s unofficial chief of staff.
  • The special project leader—tackling miscellaneous high-impact initiatives.

Depending on the type of organization and its areas of focus, a CSO might take on many different faces, or roles, in the company, as well as confront many different types of challenges. Ideally, the CSO might further create a path of relevance and contribution to the company’s performance. One might debate, optimistically, whether the role also includes being a champion of innovation.

Video courtesy of Engage Innovate


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.


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