Vice President, Director, Manager of Strategic Initiatives: Position Description Best Practices

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This article provides a snapshot of the current state of the art in staffing for strategic initiatives. It will be useful reference information for anyone seeking to create a new job, refine an existing position, or make a greater strategic impact. It will also be useful the candidates for those positions to understand if the position fits their skills and ambitions.

The reader should note my standard definition for strategic initiatives, as a foundation for executive leadership:

A strategic initiative is a boundary-spanning endeavor that intends to achieve three interrelated goals: 1) achieve a strategic intent or vision, 2) provide benefits to significant stakeholders, and 3) transform the organization.

Strategic initiatives not business-as-usual operations;they are major strategic programs that create outcomes, and these outcomes close the performance gaps between the “as is” and the “to be.”

Example Position Descriptions: Vice President, Director, Manager of Strategic Initiatives

The following five examples capture the right flavor of what should be expected for an organization that correctly uses strategic initiative programs.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts – The position will work with cross-functional teams to analyze and present key financial and strategic issues to senior leadership. The ideal candidate will be a natural leader with excellent verbal/communications skills and a thoughtful, persuasive personal style. Self-starters who are comfortable in a project-oriented environment tend to be successful in this role.

Notable: The Strategic Initiatives Group is responsible for driving complex project-based initiatives across Starwood.  Reporting to the CFO, the group is responsible for providing a corporate-level view on a select number of high-priority financial and strategic issues facing the company globally.

The Hartford – The position plays a significant role in shaping the strategic agenda for Middle Market Business segment. He/she will help facilitate strategic management process and will also provide consulting expertise and program management for specific strategic initiatives that are deemed critical to the business success. The role is also responsible for formulating senior management presentations, and interacting with his/her peers across the enterprise to ensure enterprise alignment and synergy.

Notable: There are several positions being filled, signaling the emergence of strategic initiatives group within The Hartford.

Conifer Health Solutions – This position will build strategies, facilitate planning sessions and drive change activities required to maintain company operations and competitiveness and meet the needs of stakeholders.

Notable: Conifer desires candidates with the ability to influence key stakeholders and operational owners through well articulated strategies backed up with metric driven value statements.

Mattel – This role serves as the analytic and strategic core of Mattel’s growth initiatives, company-wide. This position will focus on charting a path to help guide the company’s growth, including organic and inorganic opportunities. It manages strategies and projects for the office of the COO and has a charter to leverage resources across all Mattel divisions, campuses, and geographies. This is a high-profile position with significant exposure to senior leadership both domestically and internationally.

Notable: Mattel specifies that the candidate must be able to

      • Use analytical skills and judgment to solve problems with limited information at hand
      • Communicate complicated matters in a simple, structured way to senior management
      • Get work done through cooperation with other groups with no direct reporting relationship to position

Green Dot – This person will be responsible for working with others to develop processes that ensures appropriate prioritization and approvals for strategic initiatives. This will include providing leadership of cross-functional teams and project managers to ensure projects are being managed with the IDEAL framework, timelines and budgets. Direct management responsibility and leadership for strategic initiative project managers.

Notable: Green Dot asks for formal six sigma experience (black belt, master black belt), certified project manager or extensive formal project manager experience

Poor Examples of Strategic Initiatives Roles

I am not going to specifically call out poor position descriptions, but I’ll note that there are quite a few organizations recruiting for strategic initiatives positions but show little appreciation for the accepted definition of strategic initiatives.  Here are some of the common mistakes:

  • Using the word strategic in a sloppy way, when the job description is clearly an operational role. Many of these are “silo’d” within one unit of the organization and do little boundary spanning beyond coordination.
  • Recruiting for a senior position that is primarily analysis of data or writing position papers.
  • Not recognizing the difference between program management competencies and project management competencies. Many of the positions are glorified project managers.

Trends in Position Descriptions

Here are some trends in strategic initiatives position descriptions (I considered all current offerings, not just the five previously-listed positions):

  • Increased Emphasis on Growth Orientation.  As companies emerge from the global recession, they are focused on growth by organic and inorganic means.  We are likely to see a new wave of mergers and acquisitions treated as strategic initiatives.  Candidates will need strong analytical skills, good business acumen, and  the ability to span boundaries.
  • Increased emphasis on analytics. One important success factor is building a fact-based case for change.  Strategic initiative leaders need to be comfortable with ambiguity and working with large amounts of data and information.
  • Increased use of Internal Strategic Initiatives Groups – I previously described Google’s and Microsoft’s efforts with internal Strategic Initiatives Groups and will be reporting on other companies in the future.
  • Increased Professionalism of Program Management – There is a strong role for program management in the accomplishment of strategic initiatives, and I’m increasingly seeing strategic initiative leadership accomplished by people with titles such as Enterprise Strategic Program Manager. Companies are asking for evidence of the ability to manage projects with cross-divisional teams to pursue growth opportunities or cost savings opportunities.  Increasingly the strategic initiative manager must work with operating team members to develop and refine project management framework, and coach teams. See my popular article “A Concise Guide to the Differences between Projects and Programs” for more insight.
  • No Objective Standards for Titles – There seems to be no consistency in the position titles of VP, Director, Program Manager, or Project Manager.  In some industries, it seems that nearly any who faces a customer is a vice president.

Why are there so few mentions of Balanced Score Cards and Strategy Maps?

The current listing for positions has curiously few mentions of the relationships of strategic initiatives, balanced score card, and strategy maps. The organization’s balanced score card and strategy maps show the gap between vision and current performance, and strategic initiatives close the gap. Given the many benefits of these strategic management tools, it was surprising to see only two mentions: one at the American Institute of Certified Pubic Accountants and the other at American Express.

Is this interesting? What are you seeing?

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About Greg Githens

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. a.k.a., The Strategic Thinking Coach. I'm a hands-on strategy & execution consultant with experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. I'm available for extended or short-term engagements. For an introduction to pragmatic tools that turns vision into results, attend my popular seminar, "Leading Strategic Initiatives (Program Management)."
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6 Responses to Vice President, Director, Manager of Strategic Initiatives: Position Description Best Practices

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