Setting and steering the strategy of the firm is a complex task. Today, that task is often under the purview of the chief strategy officer (CSO).

So if you are an executive looking to become a CSO, it is important to understand what the role entails.

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Neelabh Shukla, Chief Business Officer, Careernet, says, “The chief strategy officer plays a pivotal, cross-functional role within a company, influencing both internal operations and external growth strategies. The CSO is responsible for designing and implementing various strategies, ranging from people and business strategies to recruitment, marketing and sales strategies. They are deeply involved in shaping the company’s future growth plans and positioning within the industry.”

Though CSOs would have to develop an organisation’s overarching strategic vision, they have to collaborate closely with other executives and departments.

Arnab Sen, Chief Strategy Officer at Omega Healthcare, says this is required to match the business objectives with the internal capabilities, competitive landscapes and market trends. “Additionally, a CSO frequently assesses possible partnerships, divestitures, mergers and acquisitions.”

The CSO assumes key responsibilities to expand the CEO’s bandwidth, seamlessly taking on leadership roles, he says. This is particularly crucial in rapidly growing startups, where CEOs are frequently engaged in activities such as fundraising, expansion and managing investor relations. The CSO becomes a capable replacement for day-to-day operations and crucial decision-making processes.Additional responsibilities
The CSO may have additional responsibilities around mergers and acquisitions. “For instance, as the CSO at Omega Healthcare, in addition to defining the go-to-market strategies to work closely with different business leaders, my responsibilities also include defining the targeted areas of acquisitions and partnerships for M&A practice and taking responsibility to determine the strategic fit of all future acquisitions,” Sen says.

The CSO also plays a vital role in defining the digital strategy for the organisation. This area has become more prominent in today’s context, says Shukla of Careernet.“The CSO has to work closely with the technology and product teams to determine the road map and address important questions of build versus partner versus buy. An essential component of the CSO’s job is also to evaluate and control risks, where they try to mitigate challenges and uncover opportunities that align with strategy, which is crucial for ensuring organisational stability. At the same time, they actively seek to achieve overall business goals,” he says.

Hiring for a CSO
The hiring criteria for a CSO is stringent. It focuses on candidates with extensive experience in top-tier strategy consulting environments.

Specialised expertise in the industry or sector of the hiring company is crucial, along with diverse project experience in areas such as sales, marketing, M&As, HR and technology. Operational experience in startup settings, where the ability to formulate plans and oversee execution is essential, is also highly valued.

“Organisations may structure the CSO role with strategy leads heading different aspects like internal, external and overall strategy. This team approach allows for a more comprehensive and effective execution of strategic initiatives. Overall, the CSO is a versatile leader with a blend of strategic vision, operational capability, and adaptability to navigate diverse business challenges,” says Shukla.

When hiring for a CSO role, Sen says, recruiters should seek more than a resume. Recruiters need to look for a leader with a proven track record of envisioning success and having executed the plan. The ideal CSO has a “growth mindset” and is not just a strategist but a versatile collaborator who can seamlessly bridge vision and implementation.

“The skills that need to be considered include adaptability, resilience and ability to navigate adversities because the CSO is the compass steering the organisation through challenging circumstances as and when they arise. In addition, organisations need to find a candidate whose strategic mindset is complemented by strong communication skills, as the CSO must not only conceive strategies but also inspire and align the entire organisation towards a vision,” Sen adds.


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