Monitor Deloitte: The 2021 Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) Survey

Corporate strategists unlock four new paths to growth

What is our strategy now? That’s the ask of chief strategy officers as a once-in-a-century challenge has placed some companies in survival mode while others have accelerated their growth agendas. Our annual report uncovers four pathways that Strategy functions can embrace to lead their companies into the future, expanding their roles into nontraditional domains, such as technology fluency, a 360-degree view of strategy, digital transformation, and corporate purpose.

Corporate strategists are navigating tectonic shifts

While the corporate strategy function is typically tasked with long-range strategic visioning and planning, in 2020, chief strategy officers (CSOs) found themselves rolling up their sleeves to help solve a series of short-term mission-critical challenges, from keeping plants running and the supply chain flowing to protecting cash positions and ensuring business continuity. For the corporate Strategy function, this dichotomy between short-term firefighting and long-term sentinel thinking has played out as one of the most critical dynamics to manage during the pandemic.

Now, as we enter the postpandemic period and beyond, the 2021 Chief Strategy Officer Survey findings show how the CSOs of today and tomorrow have expanded their typical areas of focus within their organizations, and how they have started to think about enhancing their capabilities in four nontraditional domains—technology fluency, a 360-degree view of strategy, digital transformation, and corporate purpose—to lead their companies into the future.

2021 CSO Survey

The strategic path forward

2020 was an unprecedented year for all of us. Businesses, governments, and society have been deeply affected around the globe in ways we may not even fully appreciate or even comprehend yet. CSOs, whether accelerating their companies’ growth agendas or fighting to stay afloat, played a critical role in managing through these crises. Their experiences, along with their multifaceted competences and the use of fresh tactics, tools, and methods, are ushering in a new era for Strategy, one that expands the function’s focus and embraces the need to drive digital transformation, address structural cost containment and reduction as a key strategic lever, and accelerate the purpose-driven imperatives facing organizations today. CSOs who incorporate these shifts into their ever-evolving role will emerge stronger, confident and prepared to lead their organizations in a postpandemic era.

CSO Survey 2021: a Swiss Perspective

In response to the CSO survey report, leaders from Monitor Deloitte’s Strategy & Business Design practice have provided their perspective from Life Sciences, Financial Services and Consumer Goods on how corporate strategy functions in leading Swiss companies are navigating this evolution.

Barri Falk (Life Sciences): While many of the strategy topics such as scaling new business models or reshaping customer engagement remain similar to the past, the way they are being addressed by our LS clients has changed substantially in the last year+. We observe a pivot towards (1) an insights-led approach to strategic decisions, (2) digital engagement of the organisation as well as the customer, and (3) a focus on speed and fail fast learning when it comes to implementation. However, not all organisations excel on all these dimensions, especially when rapid transforming remains difficult for many. Successful companies are following a model of an iterative “minimum viable transformation” approach in a more agile manner.

Patrick Spiller (Financial Services): FS clients are of course aware of the significant shifts and challenges in the industry, where future success will depend even more on challenging the status quo with bold solutions. We see the strategy functions of many leading banks evolving along those lines: traditionally, strategy functions mainly focussed on market and segment strategies as well as inorganic growth, but are now increasingly adding significant capabilities around building digital propositions, ecosystem strategies or leveraging data to approach clients with highly customised offerings. Strategy functions are therefore also fostering their ties with technology departments and implementing a more ‘agile’ approach to accelerate innovation.

Nina Gineva (Consumer): For many of our clients, the strategy function is being confronted with a much wider scope of responsibilities, but also opportunities. Marrying the strategy function more closely with technology has moved to the top of the agenda of many of our clients. Historically, a lot of technology spend was driven by efficiency or productivity gains but increasingly businesses realize that technology is essential to driving the long-term growth of their business; from improving decision-making to developing and scaling new business models. It is critical that strategy informs technology investment to capture that investment’s full value.

Barri Falk (Life Sciences): Life Science strategy teams in Switzerland are increasingly addressing purpose, social responsibility, and sustainability and creating new roles with the organization. With the World Economic Forum leading the way on metrics and measurement, we see LS leaders “walking the talk”, e.g., engaging customers, employees and other stakeholders in defining and prioritizing relevant ESG metrics, criteria, and reporting to create transparency on what matters most to the organization, its values and its society. We are also seeing a broad range of initiatives such as more flexible working hours and decreasing business travel goals to bigger programs such as carbon-neutrality in and beyond the organisation.

Patrick Spiller (Financial Services): We certainly observe strategy teams of leading Swiss FS players taking a more pronounced role in sustainability. Two drivers that we observe fostering this trend: firstly, leading banks have created specific "Chief Sustainability Officer" roles – which puts the topic prominently on the radar of the whole executive. Secondly, the maturity of Swiss FS players in sustainability is growing, reflected in a shift away from relatively isolated product or regulatory questions towards comprehensively reviewing and challenging the entire operating model. As a result, it has become a core strategic issue also for Chief Strategy Officers.

Nina Gineva (Consumer): We definitely see a sharp rise of awareness and urgency on this topic amongst clients. Consumer focused strategy teams are realizing that a clear corporate purpose, beyond financial results, is essential for connecting with consumers, attracting the best talent and for playing a more central role in effecting positive change. This can manifest itself in many ways, but within Swiss based Consumer companies we increasingly see strategy teams working back from their target customers to really define who they want to be as a business and how to communicate that more effectively to customers.

Barri Falk (Life Sciences): Data and analytics are gaining more relevance, just by the sheer amount of data available. With that, we also get more noise and the data quality is not always high. The task of the strategist is to filter out relevant signals and insights for better and faster decision-making. Successful teams bring a quantitative lens and differentiated findings about customers, patients, offerings, or trends into the strategic discussion and combine that with real world experiences for a more robust decision-making process. We also see the use of AI-driven corporate dashboards increasing, to monitor the performance of the business in real time and to provide a better basis for strategic decisions and action. However, these tools cannot replace humans and it’s when we have tools + strategic dialog between people, that’s when we get the deepest insights to action.p>

Patrick Spiller (Financial Services): We strongly believe that data and analytics will be a key differentiator for winning FS players going forward. However, we also observe a certain "lag" in the adoption of such technologies by Swiss FS players – particularly compared to new market entrants and challengers like FinTechs, entirely new banks, or potentially even BigTech that much more proactively and comprehensively leverage data and analytics. Swiss FS players possess a wealth of information about their clients, and in an increasingly digital business environment, success will depend on smartly and responsibly leveraging such information.

Nina Gineva (Consumer): With the radical shift to online and fast paced growth of D2C, accelerated by the pandemic, most of our CPG clients’ strategy teams realize that data has a much larger role to play than it has so far. Nonetheless, many are still struggling with how to build the right analytics and data capability at scale, particularly in terms of the technical infrastructure, differing regulatory requirements and establishing a sustainable ‘data/ analytics culture’ within the organization. Our most successful clients, have taken a step back and defined a comprehensive analytics/ data strategy that supports their corporate objectives, making investments in key infrastructure and capabilities.

Webcast: 2021 Chief Strategy Officer Survey - Navigating tectonic shifts

Participants explored how Strategy leaders can enhance their capabilities in non-traditional domains to lead their companies into the next era.

About this survey

To better understand the evolving role of the Strategy function, Monitor Deloitte, the Strategy practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, and the Kellogg School of Management joined forces to conduct a survey of more than 250 CSOs and other senior Strategy executives. We surveyed executives from large and midsize companies, both public and privately owned, across a wide range of industries, in North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

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