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Rise of the Chief Strategy Officer

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, November 25, 2013

He acknowledges that his role is perhaps different from that of other healthcare CSOs. Some view their role as oriented around growth. Some view it as being focused on appropriate mergers and acquisitions. Others might be attempting to increase the number of people their organization serves. Others may be trying to restructure the way care and services are provided.

"The attributes you want in your CSO are dependent on what the organization would like to move forward with," he says.

Overall, CSOs must be able to bring a broad vision of what can happen in their organization beyond what has already happened, Poulsen explains. Healthcare organizations are often constrained by what has and hasn't worked in the past, but in the world of a dramatically different future value incentive, "we have to reexamine old notions and ideas and potentially change what we think in dramatic ways," he says.

"We're changing what we define as success," he says. "What's a good outcome when statements of operation come out? Historically most have been successful when revenue is increasing. In the future, fee-for-service revenue becomes part of the problem and not the solution," Poulsen says, suggesting that high revenue growth could be considered synonymous with wasteful practices to payers as they try to encourage hospitals and health systems to focus on value.

But regardless of the talents that make for a good CSO, one is unassailable.

"To me the most important criterion is the person is capable of gaining respect of other members of the senior team. If that's not the case, it won't work," he says. "If you're fulfilling that role correctly, the CSO will encourage the organization to do things that are uncomfortable. That won't go well unless other members of the team are going to embrace that. The CSO and his team need to do an enormous amount of listening."

Still, the role of the CSO seems destined to grow in stature.

"I get a lot of phone calls from other healthcare organizations and headhunters. That said, most CSOs I rub shoulders with have been with their organizations for quite some time," he says. "That's because when you've worked with an organization and been part of shaping its direction, you become personally invested and it makes it extremely difficult to walk away."

Reprint HLR1113-5


This article appears in the November issue of HealthLeaders magazine.


Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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2 comments on "Rise of the Chief Strategy Officer"


Dike Drummond MD (11/29/2013 at 2:32 PM)
Chief strategy officer from outside of healthcare ... that is just one more member of the C-suite that has no concept of the stresses of the front line providers. With physician burnout rates at an average of 1 in 3 on any given office day regardless of specialty ... and the CSO clueless about what it takes to see patients ... my fear is they will recommend profit goosing moves that simply add to the stress on the doctors and nurses ... then scratch their head and wonder what is wrong with those people. If the CSO brings the mantra that exists in so many other industries - you know, this one: "We hire the best people we can find and take really good care of them" ... they might do some good. If they are just another clueless business mind that thinks healthcare is identical to running a manufacturing business [INVALID]- let's just make sure the current C-suite actually does some strategic planning twice a year. My two cents, Dike Dike Drummond MD TheHappyMD (dot) com

Donald G. Bellefeuille (11/25/2013 at 1:29 PM)
We've all been seeing more and more positions posted for Chief Strategy Officers. On the face of it I should welcome this recognition of the importance of our discipline in healthcare. But I just can't bring myself to do it. I argue in my blog,The StratEx Crossroad: Where Healthcare Strategy and Execution Meet, that our profession has to become more involved in the execution side of the equation. And that's what I don't see in a Chief Strategy Officer. By placing strategy at the center of the title and assigning chief to it you have essentially eliminated any possibility of getting involved in execution. Because any person in this role will want to maximize the amount of strategy they do, right? It's only natural because they are the Chief. And doing a lot of strategy means you are doing next to no execution. Then there is the problem of all the other chiefs popping up: operating, marketing, technology/information, medical, development, etc. How's that cliché go? Too many chiefs spoil something or other. So what is a poor Chief Executive Officer supposed to do? He is a Chief and, presumably, the head chief and execution is part of his title. So who is the Chief Strategic Execution Officer then? The CEO, the CSO, the COO? Who is the chief if everyone is a chief? I said in a previous post (Reorganization Is the Last Thing You Should Do) that the work should determine how you organize. And it's still good advice. The plethora of CSO postings sounds like just the opposite: That organizations are re-organizing themselves before they even know what the work in the new era of health reform entails. So be careful what you wish for as a Chief Strategy Officer. You may find yourself wanting more control over execution because when execution goes badly strategy gets blamed.