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18 Sep, 2020

Deloitte and Kellogg School of Management Chief Strategy Officer Study: Most CSOs feel uncomfortable with technobabble gobbledygook

A very powerful, insightful study. It finds that “many Chief Strategy Officers feel uncomfortable with all the nuances, jargon, acronyms and complexity that is associated with technology.” Absolutely spot on. If no-one understands what all this stuff means, how can anyone be expected to know what it is supposed to do? Message to the technobabblers: Try speaking plain language.

NEW YORK, 16 September 2020, PRNewswire – Deloitte and the Kellogg School of Management today announced the results of their inaugural Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) Survey. The survey found that while a large majority of responding CSOs (70%) recognize the importance of generating disruptive growth, only 13% feel confident in their organization’s ability to do so.

Moreover, CSOs report an insufficient understanding of the role that technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) plays in enabling new strategic possibilities. Only a small percentage of surveyed CSOs believe their organizations are capable of fully leveraging the potential of digital transformation/e-commerce (26%), analytics transformation (24%) and automation/robotics/AI (17%).

“The CSO survey revealed a critical disconnect between the requirements to win in a world of exponential change and what organizations are prepared to deliver,” said Bernardo Silva, managing director and member of the strategic growth transformation leadership team, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “There is a huge opportunity for CSOs to act as a conduit in bridging this gap, while better defining their roles as architects and orchestrators of strategic actions across the enterprise.”

The “2020 CSO Study” — released in conjunction with Monitor Deloitte, the strategy practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University — polled CSOs and senior strategy executives in the U.S. and Western Europe. The goal of the survey is to better understand the role of today’s CSOs and how they can evolve to meet business challenges.

Understanding the CSO role

While most CSOs are highly experienced professionals, with 66% in the study reporting to have more than 15 years of professional experience, they are relatively new to corporate strategy. Seventy-four percent report being in corporate strategy for less than 10 years, and 41% less than five years. Sixty percent of senior strategy professionals are former management consultants.

The CSO position is also a relatively new addition to the C-suite in most organizations, and therefore one of the most ambiguous. The study shows that a CSO tends to play many roles, including the adviser, the sentinel, the banker, the engineer and more — with responsibilities covering everything from developing long-term strategy, acting as the CEO’s chief of staff, and handling special projects.

“This dichotomy between strategic and tactical responsibilities requires CSOs to become very thoughtful about how they assemble their teams, allocate their time and develop the wide range of skills and competencies required to navigate their long-range and short-term responsibilities,” said Silva.

The study also uncovered dissatisfaction with the amount of time spent on certain roles. Namely, many CSOs wish they could spend more time in the role of “the adviser” — already the most significant portion of their time (27%) — and less as “the special projects leader” (19%), which is currently the second most time-consuming role and is sometimes seen as necessary but disproportionally taxing on CSOs.

Growth and leveraging disruptive technology

The report unearthed a capability gap between a CSO’s recognition of the need to generate disruptive growth and the organization’s ability to execute. This disconnect generally happens for two reasons: first, the technology agenda in most companies is owned by the IT organization, and second, many CSOs feel uncomfortable with all the nuances, jargon, acronyms and complexity that is associated with technology.

“In the age of human with machine collaboration, what we call the ‘Age of With,’ CSOs must have a holistic view of how to use technology to drive competitive advantage for their organization,” said Tom Schoenwaelder, strategic growth transformation leader and principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “CSOs should play a large role in helping their businesses understand how to leverage technologies such as AI, machine learning and automation to create opportunities. This will help their organizations deliver more powerful and personalized experiences to their customers, new products and solutions, increase business efficiency and bring more value to internal and external company stakeholders.”

The new era for CSOs

While the business environment continues to shift, and technology disruption becomes the norm, there are several opportunities for CSOs to help their organizations thrive.

“CSOs are uniquely positioned to anticipate, structure and manage business transformations,” said Sarit Markovich, associate chair of the strategy department, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “The nature of the CSO role requires these executives to look beyond the near-term and become the guiding hand that positions their organization for long-term success.”

CSOs should consider the following:

  • Unlock disruptive growth: Architect a systemic, fit-for-purpose model to efficiently and effectively identify, pursue, capture and manage new growth opportunities for the enterprise.
  • Use technology as a strategic enabler: Develop an informed point-of-view, in partnership with the chief information officer and/or the chief technology officer, on how advanced technologies can solve the most pressing strategic business challenges and open new possibilities for growth.
  • Refine planning: Reinvent the traditional strategic planning process to embed greater flexibility and speed, establish stronger accountability for strategy execution and facilitate a culture of open dialogue that helps the enterprise keep pace with the speed of the market.
  • Prepare for all economic conditions: CSOs are uniquely positioned to help identify areas of vulnerability, explore appropriate strategic options and align management on a playbook to weather a storm as it forms on the horizon. This helps the organization to navigate rough seas and thrive in volatility.

Follow-up: Strategy in a COVID-19 World

As the Deloitte and Kellogg CSO study was fielded in late 2019 (Nov. 6 – Dec. 6, 2019), Deloitte independently conducted follow up conversations between March and June 2020 with more than 50 CSOs and senior strategy executives. The discussions intended to understand how their roles shifted as a result of COVID-19, as well as challenges and activities CSOs can pursue today to help their organizations thrive in the long-term. Through these conversations, we uncovered five activities CSOs can employ to create value and positive impact as well as help their organizations stem the effect of the pandemic – and emerge stronger in the long run:

  • Balance the here and now with a long-term view: CSOs should consider the long-term implications of their short-term strategic choices to ensure the viability of the business and enhance the long-term prospects of winning in the post-crisis economy.
  • Embrace uncertainty by planning for multiple alternate futures: Placing a bet on a single future or outcome is myopic. CSOs must fully embrace the current state of uncertainty and change the way their organizations plan.
  • Reconsider what is possible: This moment presents an inflection point for companies to reconsider what is possible and inform their strategy and decision-making going forward. CSOs and senior strategy executives are well-positioned to lead the repeal of orthodoxies.
  • Elevate the orchestrator role: CSOs are spending significant time listening to staff and coordinating efforts across various functions and leaders. This becomes especially important in today’s rapidly changing environment, which requires efforts to be quickly integrated and streamlined across the company and its employees; thus, the CSO as orchestrator role is quickly becoming essential.
  • Tune into purpose: The current challenges amplify the importance of and urgency around companies tuning into purpose. Drawing upon the orchestrator aspect of their role, CSOs have a unique vantage point from which to synchronize activities across the organization to yield higher value.

To read the entire paper, visit our site, “Strategy in a COVID-19 world.”

For more information about Deloitte’s strategy practice and the CSO study, please visit our website.