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The Four Roles of the Strategy Officer

four roles of the strategy officer christian rangen

four roles of the strategy officer christian rangen

The role of the strategy officer is rapidly evolving. Expectations are rising, yet changing industry landscapes, emerging disruptors and well-funded startups with aggressive business models puts significant pressure on the role. It is vital for companies to understand the four different roles for the Strategy Officer. Does your company?

In our work with hundreds of companies and dozens of strategy officers, we have come to identify four significant roles for the strategy officer. We believe it is critical for companies to understand how their specific strategy function works and how they can improve it in the face of emerging competition and significant change.

 

The Four Roles Explained

 

INFLUENCER

The Influencer succeeds by creating internal momentum for strategy. This might include sparking key conversations, framing new strategic questions, instilling a sense of urgency, of curiosity within all levels of management ranks.

He acts as a coach, a facilitator and networker internally. Strategy workshops might have very experimental formats, few slides and never have any answered prepared in advance to be presented. He cares deeply about creating shared understanding across complex issues, often simplifying the complex into easy-to-grasp key issues.

The influencer is a master of conversations.

Fred, a long-time client of ours, often prepared his management strategy workshops by asking three advance questions, often framing the questions in a highly challenging context. “What would happen if our market fell by 45% in 90 days?”, or “What if Russia shuts us out?”. While strongly divergent from daily operational issues, the reframing of potential strategic issues, helped expand the thinking and open for radical threats, scenarios and, eventually, strategic moves by the company’s legacy business units.

 

 

BIG SYSTEMS THINKER

The Big Systems Thinker has her focus far outside the home organization. She lives by strong external orientation. She spends 80% of her time on external partnerships, alliances, mapping out M&A prospects and closing deals. She has strong relationships with key stakeholders across the landscape, sensing changes and disruptive trends long before they fully develop.

She excels at sensing potential industry scenarios 20-30 years ahead. Mapping industry shifts and strategic inflection points are just a normal part of her job, giving rise to her role as a complex, Big Systems Thinker. She works closely with emerging startups, VCs and technology investors to have a first row seat to the next generation of companies to watch.

The Big Systems Thinker is a master at sensing the future.

A European media company brought in a former VC and technology founder to help develop an aggressive growth strategy. His network and access to emerging startups on the US west coast, was a large part of why he was hired. Starting in the role, it became apparent his thinking was just too far ahead from the main engine and current focus of the company, eventually leading to his departure in less than 15 months.

 

 

ANALYST

The Analyst is the brainy, educated, numbers person. He is driven by getting tangible facts, allowing for conclusions and clear recommendations. The analyst writes complete business cases to be presented in complex and lengthy slide decks. He might be oblivious to social influence and stakeholder management as a long as he’s getting his analysis right.

If leading the strategy process itself, the analyst’s focus is getting all the facts into organized slides. The analyst is also likely to hold the role of Balanced Scorecard Manager, having a highly numbers- and metrics-driven approach to strategy execution.

The analyst is a master of getting the current facts and numbers right.

We frequently encounter Analysts, tasked with writing the perfect business case for the top management’s consideration. Basic concepts like customer discovery, business model testing and lean startup principles are understood by the people we meet, but far removed from how they work. Often, they experience months of analysis and a strong recommendation, only to be shot down by management. It is frustrating in many organizations to see the effort going into the “strategy as analysis”, while an evolving, involving, learning approach would be far more effective.

 

 

SCOUT

The Scout is responsible for early outside development of new ideas and new networks. Attending conferences and events outside his own industry domain, he gets a peek at upcoming developments across many areas and disciplines. He is likely an avid reader of multiple sources and books. He would be comfortable hanging out at Uber Elevate Summit, Uber’s annual summit for their flying car project, without it having any significant relevance to his company’s day-to-day strategy.

The Scout is adept at scouting future trends and emerging customer behaviors. He early identified the sharing economy and Blockchain as key trends with massive potential.

The Scout might see the future, but he struggles to create internal interest and support. He has limited or zero mandate, funding and execution capability. The Scout suffers from limited impact, over time creating frustration and departure from the organization.

The Scout is a master of seeing early trends but struggles to convert into internal action.

 

 

HOW THEY WORK

 

Their roles are usually very different, as are their working methods.

The Scout will often be working alone or in a very small team, allowing little ability to engage and activate the organization.

The Analyst usually has a team around him, often with more analysts. Combined, they have some reach, but in reality, limited ability to influence and engage with organization.

The Big System Thinker often has a larger team under her, while she personally is both visible and highly influential within the company. Often, she carries a strong vision for the future of the company, balancing the need to serve the CEO vs. becoming the thought leader herself.

Finally, the Influencer uses his network for maximum effect. He might build and operate formal, active strategy networks internally, creating strong reach across the strategy discipline. Equally important is his informal, invisible networks at all levels of the company. He might not push his vision for the company, but through his strategic questions and re-framing of key issues, he actively helps shape the future.

 

PICKING THE RIGHT TOOL FOR THE JOB

In our work with Strategy Officers and their strategy teams across multiple industries, we are often perplexed by the lack of tools they have at their disposal or they choose to use. Through our seven-year R&D project, Strategy Tools.io, we have developed an open source suite of 15+ strategy & innovation tools. A large part of our work has been understanding the context, need and developing the right tool for the job. What we have seen, first-hand, is the effect of having the right Strategy Tools for the job.

 

 

INFLUENCER: STRATEGIC INNOVATION CANVAS

 

The Strategic Innovation Canvas can be applied in multiple ways. First and foremost, it is a great conversation starter on the overall strategic priorities of the firm. Built around the classic Three Horizons, the canvas forces a strategic discussion on short-term vs. long-term thinking.

With a good facilitator, the canvas frequently kick-starts a wide strategy review, opening mindsets and perspectives to a much welcome, more expansive strategy thinking for all participants.

DOWNLOAD YOUR STRATEGIC INNOVATION CANVAS

 

BIG SYSTEMS THINKER: INDUSTRY SHIFTS MAP

The Industry Shifts Map lets groups and individuals map out and better understand industry-level changes and the company’s ability to successfully respond. Columbia Professor Rita McGrath emphasizes the importance of grasping industry level strategic inflection points, something we likely to see at an accelerated pace in the coming decades.

The Map can create a shared understanding of important shifts, in turn driving new strategic thinking.

We recently hosted the CEO of a global services company, based in the US, with operations around the world. Taking him through the Industry Shifts Map helped clarify and visualize the level of change coming within his industry, and at the same time revealing how poorly equipped his firm was for the impeding shifts. He had widely read and reflected on these issues, but working through the Map by himself cemented the coming changes in a clear and visual way.

DOWNLOAD YOUR INDUSTRY SHIFTS MAP

 

 

ANALYST: STRATEGY INTRO

The Strategy Intro is often our baseline, entry level Strategy Tool. For Analysts, it gives a basic framework to balance current core business, new growth and exploring future growth areas. With the right KPIs in place, the Analyst can delight in the Strategy Intro framework. The important thing here, is being able to balance current core with exploring new growth. For most Analysts, this is challenging; most numbers, financial figures and good data is historical in nature, making any future or internal seed projects seem small and insignificant. Yet, successful transformations have taught us to strive for the optimal balance between legacy core and next, potential core areas. With the Strategy Intro, even the Analysts have a tool supporting this ambition; balance today for new growth tomorrow.

DOWNLOAD YOUR STRATEGY INTRO

 

 

SCOUT: MARKET OPPORTUNITIES CANVAS

The Market Opportunities Canvas gives the Scout a one-page framework for mapping, grasping and communicating emerging trends that might provide new, strategic market opportunities. Whether from global megatrends, new technologies or customer needs, the tool allows a simple framework for grasping emerging opportunities. The Market Opportunities Canvas is a easy-to-use tool for Scouts in any type of organization.

DOWNLOAD YOUR MARKET OPPORTUNITIES CANVAS

 

 

 

What’s next? The coming evolution of the Strategy Officer’s role

 

Whether you are an aspiring young strategy manager or an experienced influencer, one thing seems certain; the role of the Strategy Officer is rapidly evolving. For companies experiencing increasing levels of industry changes, new business model innovations from well-funded startups or a massive industry convergence, the role of the Strategy Officer is set to grow ever more important. Driving faster organizational agility, bringing new strategy tools to the job, growing a high-impact portfolio of strategic initiatives, setting up new venture CompanyX-unit and implementing strong M&A capabilities around future needs; the expectations are only set to rise.

Worldwide, Strategy Officers have an ever increasing important yet challenging job ahead. We believe understanding the Four Roles of the Strategy Officer is a starting point. Yet, the real potential for higher strategy impact, agile change and a successful future growth strategy requires a visionary Strategy Officer with the ability to activate and bring the organization along for the journey into the future

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Which role do you play the most as the strategy officer? Share with me your thoughts and comments below.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christian Rangen is a strategy & transformation advisor to top management, boards and strategy teams. His clients range from Malaysia, Middle East and Europe. He is Co-Founder of Engage // Innovate, a strategy & innovation consulting company and Strategy Tools.io – the modern strategist’s toolkit. He is management educator and faculty at BI – Norwegian Business School. His recent projects include Malaysian Innovation Superclusters, Corporate Innovation Bootcamps and Accelerating National Transformation projects.

He can be reached at Christian@engage-innovate.com

www.engage-innovate.com                  www.strategytools.io

 

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Five Strategy Traps for 2018

strategy traps 2018

If December is the season “to be jolly”, then January is the month where most CEOs finally “Strategize”. We look at the top five strategy traps CEOs and management teams might stumble into during their upcoming strategy processes.

By: Christian Rangen, Co-Founder Engage // Innovate, Strategy Tools, and X2 Inc

strategy traps 2018

1. THE BOARD – THEY ASK FOR NEW IDEAS, BUT REALLY ALL THEY WANT IS STATUS QUO

 

Most Board of Directors are actively looking for growth opportunities, new growth platforms and disruptive business models. At least, that’s what they tell their CEOs. They follow industry trends of increasingly shorter life-spans, understand that standing still is not an option and witness the rise of unlikely business models across multiple industries. So, the CEO is expected to come up with the appropriate response.

He (or in a few cases, she), assembles a strategy & growth team. Together, they explore emerging industry trends, go visit a number of potential partners, find new market needs, identify emerging technology solutions, map out potential startups for investments and acquisitions and finally they do rapid-market testing of a portfolio of new business models. The early results are very positive, and it is time to take these new growth ventures, with the potential to radically expand the service offering of the firm, back to the Board.

And that’s when the trouble starts.

The Board, despite its overall support, suddenly find the CEO’s new growth strategy “too ambitious”, “too radical”, “too risky” and, frequently, “perhaps a little bit more than we were looking for….”. The words, “Why don’t we just do something we are more familiar with, something we are more comfortable with or something that doesn’t require this much investments so soon”, are heard, yet unspoken. The cold hand of “let’s cling on to our legacy core business model a little longer…”, can be felt as the CEO’s growth program is positively rejected in the Board room.

 

The Trap?

Don’t drop a bomb of radical ideas onto the Board in one board session. Think of the various board members as core partners to any new growth venture. Take them through parts of the same learning experience as any new growth team. Make sure they get a taste of the same industry shifts, the same customer demands and emerging business models as your growth team does. Don’t spring the future on the Board members in one sitting. Let them listen, learn and evolve their strategic thinking as a part of your team, not as distant members.

If not, your new growth strategy is running into the biggest strategy trap there is, a status quo-seeking Board of Directors.

 

 

 2. RESOURCE ALLOCATION – WE WANT THIS NEW STUFF, BUT THERE IS NO WAY WE ARE GOING TO PAY FOR IT, AND YOU CAN JUST FORGET ABOUT SHIFTING ASSETS TO ANYTHING NEW

 

OK, so you made it past the Board of Directors. A new, ambitious strategy for 2018 is shaping up. But you also have an existing operating model running at full steam. The existing model currently eats up some 98% of all resources, and it has its own momentum, so we should not tinker too much with it. Perhaps the new growth areas will be fine with just 2% of total resources, right?

Most likely not.

Countless times we have witnessed new, high-growth strategy programs stall and stop due to lack of internal resources (people, time, funding, management attention). From high-margin software business models, smart city programs, solar energy ventures and high-end consulting services; they all got choked to a slow death due to lack of resources.

Our dear friend, Professor Rita McGrath has long argued that resource allocation is one of the top management challenges when it comes to growing and scaling new ventures. We have witnessed firsthand, again and again, how challenging it is for a very operational management team to find, allocate and – importantly – protect resources for any new growth venture.

 

The trap?

Don’t believe the excitement of new ideas and high hopes of untold potential is sufficient to develop any new corporate venture. The pull of the past and the suck of the present core business are two forces acutely stacked against any resources flowing into new, unproven ventures. If you are developing a new growth strategy, put your best people on it, allocate a smart stepping stone resource allocation model and give it both the time, people and funding required to prove the market potential and – potentially – scale.

 

3. INNOVATION – WE WANT IT, BUT HAVE NO TIME OR INTEREST TO BUILD A COHERENT INNOVATION STRATEGY

 

John, a high-ranking Strategy Director at global offshore technology company recently told us they wanted more innovation; they wanted more innovative ideas from their staff; they wanted more creativity. When we pressed him politely on the overall ambitions and targets, his response was that he hoped it could be solved in a one-day workshop.

John, like many of the executives we meet want instant innovation. When pressed, few of them are able to explain any overarching Innovation Strategy, a larger plan in place for all these “innovations”.

It is easy to get excited by the many prospects of innovation. Corporates should partner with startups (yes, frequently they should). Corporates should run in-house accelerator programs (yes, probably they should) and of course, any corporate should have a venture fund in place (yes, possibly they should).

 

The trap?

Jumping into all these (potentially) great activities should be avoided until you have a MIS (Minimum Innovation Strategy) in place. A MIS can be mapped out on a one-page tool and easily shared and discussed with management and team members. The MIS will quickly give you a shared, visual understanding of your overall Innovation Strategy.

As you jump into exciting innovative ideas for 2018, just make sure you have an overarching, Minimum Innovation Strategy in place for it. If you don’t there is a strong chance your innovation efforts fizzle out in lots of activities and little in impact.

Click here to download the Minimum Innovation Strategy Canvas and how-to guide for free. 

4. COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE – RINSE AND REPEAT FROM PREVIOUS THREE YEARS


One of the biggest trends we have witnessed in the field of strategy in the past decade is the understanding that your biggest competitors are unlikely to come from within your existing industry. Even more, they are unlikely to even be one of your current competitors, and possibly, your biggest competitor is a company you have never heard of, in an industry you never bothered to look at.

Banks no longer fear other banks. They fear fintech startups and the big software companies, notably Google, Apple and Facebook.

Oil & gas companies no longer look to hard at other O&G companies; they look at clean energy software companies, EV manufacturers and Smart City Programs.

If you run a railway company, your competitors are less likely to be other railway and train companies, but very likely to be the rise of apps, mobility-as-a-service and ridesharing. Most of your company might still think you are a railway company, but don’t be fooled by popular paradigms, you are suddenly very much a mobility service provider yourself, going head-to-head with the likes of Uber, Lyft and GM’s coming Robotaxi.

Rita McGrath calls this the shift from industry analysis to understanding arenas. Most executives are familiar with Porter’s tools for traditional industry analysis. But a lot fewer have grasped the shift into competitive arenas, where traditional industry analysis matters a lot less, and an entirely new competitive landscape arise.

 

The trap?

If you speed through the same industry understanding and competitor analysis as you have been over the past three years, there is a strong chance you are missing the world as it is shifting under your feet.

By applying a different lens and different tools, you can identify new trends and get a better understanding of a rapidly shifting industry. We frequently recommend using the Industry Shifts Map to better understand how your industry is shifting. Assume, if you will, that the competitors you know are largely irrelevant (if only, just for a moment), assume that your profit pockets will be exposed to digital disruption from global innovation superpowers and assume that you have missed several technology trends that put you way behind the curve on new opportunities. What will this industry and competitor analysis look like?

Just make sure you do not fall in the trap of rinsing and repeating the same competitor analysis as you did three years ago.

 

5. ONE STRATEGY – IN THE FACE OF TRANSFORMATION

Most of the client projects we have taken on during the past five years have been various strategy and transformation projects. Yet, virtually all clients have had a singular, core business oriented approach to strategy. They have, for lack of a better word, just One Strategy – when duality and portfolios are required. This One Strategy has sucked in all energy and over time, killed off most new ventures that did not naturally fit into the One Strategy.

Over the past few years several management authors have published excellent work on successfully leading large-scale transformations. Our friends at Innosight in their recent best-seller, Dual Transformation as well as their excellent online ranking T10. The team at Strategyzer, led by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur with their recent Business Portfolio Map, and Columbia Professor Rita McGrath with her The End of Competitive Advantage. Two of the big takeaways from this work is the need for constant reinvention (vs. Big Bang change) and building a portfolio of multiple business models.

 

How to design strategies for the future?

In our strategy work, we work with top management to design strategies – not just one strategy – for many possible futures and many parallel business models. This is complex. It is challenging both from an organizational structure, resource allocation, communications and execution – but we firmly believe top management has no choice but to embrace this approach to strategy. Strategy will be a balancing act between your “legacy core business”, “growth business” and “Explore”. Each of them will have its own strategy, KPIs and – importantly – Board level expectations.

The trap?

If you are facing a changing landscape, new technologies and new competitors armed with new business models, you are probably ripe for transformation. Do not fall in the trap of believing this can be solved by focusing on your current core business and incrementally adapting it. History and management research shows us that to survive and thrive in the face of transformation, a portfolio approach to strategy is required.

How?

Do some things you are completely safe and comfortable with. Do some moves that are safely growing your business. But, make sure you invest enough into developing a radical portfolio of moonshots and disruptive business model experiments. It might feel foreign at first, but One Strategy in the face of Transformation is no longer a viable strategy at all.

 


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ABOUT CHRISTIAN RANGEN

Founder, CEO, Engage // Innovate – strategy & innovation consulting company
Founder, Strategy Tools – the modern toolkit for strategy & innovation
Business School Faculty – BI Norwegian Business School.
Global speaker, facilitator and advisor on strategy, innovation and transformation.
He can be reached at Christian@engage-innovate.com

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Click here to download the Minimum Innovation Strategy Canvas and how-to guide for free.