Ask any Board of Directors if they need a Strategy Director and more often than not the answer will be no. They will quickly point out that Strategy is everyone’s job, it is not something that should be considered a bolt-on. They will point out that it is the job of the CEO to set strategic direction and the job of the board to implement strategy based on the guidelines provided.
They might also argue that it is a good thing to allow for a certain amount of divisional autonomy as after all they are closest to the way their part of the organisation works. No doubt they will cite occasions in some large companies where a strategy department has been set up and become an isolated ‘ivory tower’ that comes up with great ideas but has no idea about living in the ‘real world’.
And of course, they would be correct. Especially if they really believe that the role of the Strategy Director is to ‘come up with great ideas’ or to be responsible for defining the strategy and to tell the board what needs to be done. It is here that the biggest mistake is frequently made. No one person or department can be held responsible (and accountable) for strategy. Clearly the CEO owns the strategy and he or she may well set out a general direction but in a very real sense, the CEO actually ‘owns’ very little. Yes, the buck stops at the CEO, but the CEO simply sets out a path and checks every now and then that the right path is being taken. The Board of Directors have specific responsibilities. They might be sales, marketing, operations or finance or any other areas that the company has been organised around. So it is imperative they are part of the strategy decision making process.
Introducing a Strategy Director in a traditional way, would be a mistake. As the Board of Directors point out, strategy is everyone’s job. But to not have a Strategy Director is a mistake as well. Leaving the job of strategy to everyone will result in nothing getting done. The key question to be asked is not “Do you need a Strategy Director?” but “What does a Strategy Director do?”
So let’s get this straight. A Strategy Director does not own the Strategy. That’s right, let me say it again, the Strategy Director does not own the Strategy. The Strategy Director directs the strategy, he or she ‘owns’ the strategic process. If you start from this premise you have a whole different ball game. First it presents the question: What is the strategic process? Well if you haven’t got one then you have just taken your first step towards understanding why you need a Strategy Director.
A common reason for less-than-desired performance of a whole strategy or even a strategic objective is that the leadership team does not remain engaged. This is not because they don’t want to be engaged but because there is no process in place that causes them to drive the engagement. The objectives and initiatives they have put in place have been ad-hoc, unrelated and have not been carefully monitored. By putting in place a robust process, and a person to drive that process, turns the strategy into a business-as-usual activity. Regular reviews are put in place and often these are combined with operational reviews (where it makes sense to do so).
It is less important to determine which strategic process you are going to follow than it is to have one in place. And is it a full-time or part-time (fractional) position? Certainly in smaller companies it is part-time, and this could be anything from a day a month (although this is more of a strategy consultant) to a day or two a week.
So yes, you do need a Strategy Director. A person that is going to take on the task of driving the strategic process. Someone who can engage at the top-most level but is equally comfortable rolling up his or her sleeves and digging into the minutia of the detail to ensure a positive outcome.