Strategy execs focusing more on digital transformation and CSR

17 May 2021 4 min. read
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The pandemic has caused chief strategy officers (CSOs) to shift more of their attention to digital transformation, corporate social responsibility, and short-term efforts in cost reduction, according to Deloitte and Kellogg School of Management’s annual CSO survey. 

Traditionally overseeing long-term strategic planning, market intelligence, and mergers and acquisitions, strategy executives are increasingly being forced to play a more central role in their organizations’ digital transformation, among other areas.

Deloitte’s survey found that 58% of CSOs are now playing a large role in guiding digital transformation efforts, with 90% saying advanced technologies have become an important strategic enabler. Many CSOs still have the bulk of work ahead of them in the area, though, with only 34% reporting their company is mature in its leveraging of advanced technologies and capabilities like AI and data analytics.

Many companies’ strategy functions remain fairly small and freshly formed, with 37% noting their firm’s strategy function was founded in the last five years. Meanwhile, strategy teams are between one to five people globally at nearly half (48%) of companies globally. Nonetheless, most (78%) CSOs are confident in their ability to make an impact on their organization.

Company strategic priorities vs. strategy function role

The pandemic has obviously forced many companies to accelerate their digital strategy – whether that means moving applications to the cloud, setting up a remote workforce, or quickly shifting to e-commerce. Some firms are also examining how they can integrate artificial intelligence and automation to further drive efficiencies or elevate their customer experience.

Sixty-three percent of CSOs believe advanced technologies will reshape their role and the capabilities needed to succeed as a strategy executive.

"Strategy executives recognize that advanced technologies can be leveraged to identify and target key growth areas, unlocking new possibilities to drive a step-change in business performance," said Sarit Markovich, clinical professor of strategy and associate chair of the strategy department, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. "While the vast majority consider advanced technology a key success factor for themselves and their companies, far fewer feel their organization is prepared to run with it.”

The role of the Strategy function in architecting and orchestrating an advanced technology strategy

As companies put more importance on their corporate purpose and social responsibility, strategy officers are being tasked with embedding purpose into strategy and operations. Sixty-seven percent said that embracing corporate purpose and social responsibility is a top priority at their company, while 48% said the strategy function is highly involved in the area.

"The CSO and CEO are uniquely positioned to balance tradeoffs to find the intersection of purpose and profit with the greatest opportunity for outsized returns in both,” said Tom Schoenwaelder, leader of the strategic growth transformation market offering at Monitor Deloitte, the consulting firm’s strategy division.

The pandemic crisis has also made CSOs take on more short-term concerns, including cost control and workforce issues. Sixty percent of CSOs said their strategic planning cycles have become more dynamic since the onset of the pandemic.

Strategy leaders are now sizing up what the "after-times" mean for their companies. Since the early part of 2021, CSOs have largely focused on repositioning their business for a post-pandemic landscape with altered consumer behaviors and spending priorities. Some of the longer-term effects are likely to include more e-shopping, less international travel, and less going out.

"Emerging from the unprecedented disruption of 2020, expectations for CSOs have expanded even further as they have become change agents and stewards for organizational transformation," said Bernardo Silva, managing director and a member of the strategic growth transformation leadership team at Monitor Deloitte.