– Thoughts on Strategy and Management

The many faces of the strategist

The job description of a strategist is manifold. Similarly, expectations on the strategist are diverse. It seems as if almost anybody has his own unique idea of the traits of a strategist. Not surprisingly, these many facets are fairly contradictory. Hence, a strategist is torn between many worlds.

So far for common sense. There is even research about the many faces of a strategist. McKinsey conducted a survey among nearly 350 senior strategists from a broad variety of industries worldwide in 2013. Thy came up with 13 facets of the strategists role that yielded in five clusters:

The architect

  • Competitive-advantage officer
  • Performance challenger
  • Business developer

The mobilizer

  • Strategic-capability builder
  • Performance challenger
  • Project deliverer

The visionary

  • Trend forecaster
  • Innovator
  • Business developer

The surveyor

  • Trend forecaster
  • Business developer
  • Government/regulatory strategist

The fund manager

  • Portfolio optimizer
  • Resource reallocator
  • Decision-process facilitator

Facets that don’t fit in any cluster

  • Plan facilitator
  • Strategy formulator

The McKinsey article explains those clusters or archetypes in more detail. For our purposes, this overview will be sufficient to give you an idea about the diverse roles a strategist can take on. Or is expected to take on.

My personal experience from work in strategy departments as well as from reading and studies leads to a similar picture. Here are my pairs of opposites that constitute the framework for the strategist’s day-to-day work:

The strategist …

  • Lives in the present, has to take into consideration the past, but has to focus all his doings on the future
  • Has to build on his experience, but has to be as open-minded as it gets
  • Has to juggle with static and changing elements in his environment – and to judge which element goes into which category
  • Has to know the textbook approaches, but has to adapt the ways of doing strategy to the changing environment
  • Has to get across his message to both, those people that virtually live in the past and those that see the future
  • Has to juggle with various expectations of his internal customers and with varying understandings of strategy:
    • Some expect the one solution. Others want a basket of strategic options
    • Some want to see the complete path from here to target. Others just need a vision and a rough direction. Still others prefer a one-step-after-the-other guideline.
    • Some are results orientated (mostly in top management). Others are concerned with the problems of execution (mostly middle managers).
  • Has to be focused and specific, but has to see the big picture and to capture an issue with all its aspects
  • Has to be focused, but needs to have a wide range of interests
  • Has to be curious and questioning, but needs an excellent filter function
    (as Clay Shirky famously stated ‘It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure’)
  • Has to make decisions based on incomplete information, but is expected to deliver results that work
  • Has to bridge the gaps in knowledge and culture between corporate center and individual business units
  • Has to balance diverse strategic priorities at corporate level vs. at business unit level
  • Has to be optimistic, but also realistic

What an interesting mix!

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