2023 Chief Strategy Officer (CSO) Survey
Corporate strategists look to fuel growth amidst continued uncertainty
Embracing change, leading the way
The evolving role of the CSO
Since we last surveyed global chief strategy officers (CSOs) in 2022, the one constant in the world has been change. Organizations continue to wrestle with lasting operational changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitics have become increasingly combative, and the global economic situation has gone from a positive rebound to increasingly tenuous. Amid these changes, the role of the CSO is as important as ever. Organizations see the value in the CSO’s cross-functional skill set and growth-focused mindset. But the Strategy function—and the CSO’s role—must evolve at the same pace as the increasingly complex and unpredictable environment.
For the fourth iteration of our CSO survey, we surveyed 117 respondents from 20 countries with a balanced representation across geographic locations and industries, coupled with interviews we conducted with a varied set of CSOs. Our research sheds light on how the Strategy function and the CSO role have evolved over time and the proactive steps organizations are taking to keep pace with the shifting market.
An era of transformation
The Strategy function and CSO role are modernizing and evolving
CSOs, as leaders of the Strategy function, have remained essential in guiding organizations to growth and profitability and in building resiliency. In recent years, organizations have been investing in growing the Strategy function, which has seen an increase in the diversity of capabilities needed for success. As organizations push forward, the Strategy function and CSO role are also pushed to evolve faster than ever. They are becoming more formalized, larger in headcount size, nimbler, and more dynamic.
Organizations continue to invest more resources and talent into the Strategy function, suggesting its growing importance to navigating this era of change and transformation. Moreover, organizations are increasingly structuring Strategy as a formal function with a dedicated lead and personnel, a 12% increase to 74% of organizations surveyed in 2023 compared to prior years.
The Strategy function size has also grown, with 35% of organizations having more than 10 dedicated personnel—a 6% increase from 2021. The 2023 chief strategy officer survey data points to the fact that ever-changing market dynamics and continuous uncertainties have pushed organizations to invest more into the Strategy function; as more disruptions and challenges emerge, the investment into Strategy talent and capabilities will only intensify. The contours of a modern Strategy function have come into clearer focus than in past years, and organizations that have yet to formalize the function would benefit from proactively codifying a formal Strategy function.
Internal and external collaboration
The word for CSOs in 2023 is ‘intersection’
CSOs have long been the “Swiss Army knife” within organizations, well positioned to solve ambiguous problems by taking on a variety of responsibilities, with a line of sight into and a need to collaborate across different functions. The 2023 chief strategy officer survey shows them increasingly convening conversations at intersections both within and beyond their organizations.
Internally, CSOs are expanding their Strategy functions in a federated model, operating both centrally and at the business-unit level to strengthen their role at the intersection of strategy and execution. Externally, CSOs are active in determining their organization’s role and participation in the business ecosystems that their organizations participate in. The benefits of ecosystem involvement are increasingly recognized, and our data shows a strong correlation between organization performance and business ecosystem participation.
The six faces
CSOs at top-quartile organizations operate differently
In their efforts to drive the success of their organizations, CSOs have a broad set of levers at their disposal to push and execute strategic decisions that drive growth and competitiveness. We bucket these levers, and the capabilities required to effectively pull them, into six roles CSOs can play—the “six faces” of the CSO.
By flexing their time in different roles, CSOs help influence strategic direction and shepherd their organizations’ growth. The amount of time that CSOs spend across the “six faces” can also illuminate their strategic priorities. When comparing time allocations, CSOs at top-quartile organizations allocated more time in their adviser (+5%) and special projects leader (+4%) roles compared to their below-industry-average counterparts (figure 4). Comparatively, CSOs at below-industry-average organizations index heavily on the engineer role—11% higher than their peers at top-quartile organizations.
Given the high likelihood that a below-industry-average organization’s top priority is quickly changing the course of its performance trajectory, there may be a stronger need for CSOs to be more hands-on to push changes forward and higher urgency to supervise the strategy through the implementation process. On the other hand, the favorable dynamics at top-quartile organizations empower their CSOs to adopt a more measured approach toward execution and concentrate their attention as an adviser and leader for “top of the house” special projects.
Adapting to a rapid pace of change
CSOs and their Strategy teams are indispensable to the success of their organizations. Their cross-functional mindset and natural inclination to growth enables them to tackle today’s unpredictable environment and tomorrow’s challenges. And as they do so, they are transforming and evolving the Strategy function to best operate in this ever-changing landscape, becoming more nimble, interconnected, and innovative.
CSOs have an influential seat at the table today. To hold onto that position, they must continuously evolve their role—adapting at the same pace as, or a step ahead of, the rapidly changing world in which they operate. Whether CSOs continue to evolve fast enough to solidify their “seat at the table” remains a question we will continue to monitor, but one thing is certain: Adaptation, at both the function level and the corporate level, will be essential to match the inertia CSOs and their organizations will continue to face.