What's a Corporate Strategic Advisor?
Updated: May 16, 2022
Several years ago, an experienced public CEO asked for help in redirecting his company’s market strategy. In setting up an email signature on the company’s email system, I asked for the correct title. He responded immediately: “Corporate Strategic Advisor.”
An excellent 2007 Harvard Business Review article documents and defines an emerging role of Chief Strategy Officer (CSO), one that has since become important to the success of most large enterprises. A corporate strategic advisor is simply an outsourced CSO. The following summary adapted from the HBR article outlines what a corporate strategic advisor brings to the table.
A CEO is nominally and ultimately responsible for strategy, but operational challenges can make it difficult to devote adequate time to build out their thoughts. Corporate strategic advisors are specifically tasked with creating, communicating, executing, and sustaining a company’s strategic initiatives.
The typical top strategy executive is not a pure strategist, conducting long-range planning in relative isolation. Most are doers first, with the mandate, credentials, and desire to act as well as advise. They are seasoned executives with a strong strategy orientation who have usually worn many operations hats before taking on the role.
Strategy executives are charged with three key jobs that together form the very definition of strategy execution:
1. Clarify the company’s strategy for themselves and for each business unit and function, ensuring that employees understand the details of the strategic plan and how their work connects to corporate goals.
2. Drive immediate change. The focus of the job almost always quickly evolves from creating shared alignment around a vision to riding herd on the ensuing change effort.
3. Drive decision-making that sustains organizational change.
Corporate strategic advisors have many years of executive experience in a variety of business responsibilities and management roles that involved working at the highest executive levels inside organizations. They’ve experienced consistent success in developing business plans and procedures with a positive outcome. And they are innovators who have handled critical challenges: outsourcing opportunities, strategic partnering, acquisitions, market positioning, public communications, and competitive analysis.
Companies facing a major new challenge or threat without an in-house CSO can engage a “corporate strategic advisor” for a time to deliver insights needed to address change, design processes to effect that change, and sometimes oversee implementation.
What type of person excels as a chief strategy officer or corporate strategic advisor? Both require a very clear strategic thinker who possesses strong ideation skills*.
Strategic: Talented at creating alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues. Their innovative thinking tends to foster ongoing dialogue between and among the group’s participants. Instinctively, they work diligently to invent alternative courses of action as they notice new as well as unusual configurations in facts, evidence, or data.
Ideation: Individuals good at creating new ideas quickly find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena. By nature, they usually find novel and fresh ways to do things when needed. People who find themselves struggling to generate ideas turn to them.
Engaging a corporate strategic advisor is appropriate when:
1. A substantial threat or opportunity has arisen.
2. Inaction will significantly impact revenue, EBITDA, operations, reputation.
3. The CEO or other responsible executive is inundated with current responsibilities.
4. The organization has no in-house chief strategy officer.
A corporate strategic advisor can be assigned a challenging issue or project and expected to handle it independently, while keeping the hiring executive informed of progress (approach, goals, plan, and execution) and enabling the executive to influence the ultimate outcome.
Bob Barker is a corporate strategic advisor and the founder of Partnering Source. He has written extensively for business publications, including Westlaw Journal, Directorship (National Association of Corporate Directors), and TexasCEO Magazine, and he has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.
* Adapted from “Strengths Insight and Action-Planning Guide”, Strategic and Ideation Themes, created by CliftonStrengths. For more on CliftonStrengths, follow Brandy Schade, a leading expert who’s worked in-depth with the assessment for 20 years through her Strengthology Insights site.