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?
- Strategic Thinking (Part 1): A Fight with Ambiguity (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Validation: How to Get Strategy Right (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Growth as a Strategic Initiative (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- S.L.I.D. – The Four Leadership Roles of the Strategic Program Manager (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Eight Distinctions between Portfolio Management & Program Management (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
- Director Business Transformation: Position Description & Relationship to Strategic Initiatives (leadingstrategicinitiatives.wordpress.com)
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Many companies create positions like; Service/Business Design, Initiatives Manager, Growth Architect … I would like to ask if those positions would replace the tradition Strategic Planning positions… are those positions are the future of the Strategic activities within an organization?
Great post. I agree that the work involved in a strategic initiatives role varies from firm to firm. I found this post by OnDeck. Notice the difference between the type of work described in the blog post and that found below:
Reporting to and supporting the CEO, the Manager of Strategic Initiatives is a highly influential and visible role at OnDeck combining strategic planning, business management, and process improvement across a fast-moving financial technology business. The Manager of Strategic Initiatives is the CEO’s partner in preparing the company’s short-term and long-term strategic roadmap and enabling the Executive Team to operate efficiently and effectively in executing the plans of the company.
This individual works side-by-side with the CEO aligning execution to goals, performing analysis and gathering research to facilitate faster decision-making, and ensuring communication and reporting are happening smoothly and consistently. Interacting across multiple functional areas, this individual will support leadership, work on interdepartmental projects and enable strategic communication across OnDeck.
This role will offer you exposure across all departments and levels with unfiltered insights into how we make business decisions and move the business forward. You will have an all access passport to learn about every aspect of the company and be included in many different facets of the business. You will have the unique opportunity to work alongside a supportive, accessible and personable Executive team. Through exposure and increased business knowledge, this role will prepare you for a variety of different roles at OnDeck in the future. The expectation is that this role will last for one year, at which point the Manager of Strategic Initiatives will transition to another area of the business and train their replacement.
The Manager of Strategic Initiatives should have excellent project management skills to support driving cross-functional initiatives. He/She will often operate independently and with minimal supervision, and thus must possess strong personal drive and self-direction. This role also requires an extremely high level of integrity and discretion given the high levels of access to company information.
At OnDeck, we are changing the way Small Businesses get access to financial solutions in America by combining our passion for Main Street with Big Data and cutting-edge technology. Over the last decade, OnDeck (ONDK) has become the largest online Small Business lender in the nation with over $5B in loans delivered. By building industry leading technology, user experience and credit models, the OnDeck platform delivers affordable loans in minutes and hours instead of the days and weeks it takes in traditional channels.
As the Manager of Strategic Initiatives at OnDeck, you will:
Board & Management Support (70%)
Manage the agenda for OnDeck’s weekly Executive and monthly Management meeting. Ensure that proper coordination and communication between teams is as efficient as possible. Follow up with leaders to ensure they are driving relevant initiatives forward.
Develop Board agenda and prepare Board materials, facilitating between several contributors across the organization.
Have an active role in developing monthly Executive off-site meetings partnering with CEO on agenda, capturing insights, and following up with Executives as needed.
Develop OnDeck’s monthly Town Hall meetings by working with People Operations’ Culture team to develop an agenda/theme. Coordinate content amongst various contributors, and partner with TechOps to manage all logistics for Town Hall ensuring a consistent and positive experience in all locations.
In partnership with the CEO and Executive team, develop OnDeck’s short-term and long-term strategy goals to share with both the company and the Board.
Strategic Initiatives (30%)
Contribute to strategic initiative projects (i.e. new product, new market, etc.) via analytics, research, and consumer insights, etc.
Have a deep aptitude for numbers, able to understand complex business and product strategies. Develop strategic frameworks as well as translate key themes and tactics into understandable, executable components and messages for broad consumption.
Conduct analysis for the CEO on shorter term special projects that cover a wide span of topics