The Healthcare Chief Strategy Officer: A Future-Focused Executive

In healthcare, high-level strategy has traditionally been the domain of the CEO, with support from the board and outside consultants. That’s no longer true in many organizations, which are introducing the Chief Strategy Officer role to the C-suite as a means of best positioning for the future.

“Sound strategy begets survival” in healthcare today, say Rachel Polhemus Witt/Kieffer and Jim Gauss. Thus, “the CSO provides invaluable support to the CEO, board, and senior leadership team.”

Rachel Polhemus

Rachel Polhemus

In a feature article titled “Architect of the Future” in the April issue of Trustee Magazine, Polhemus and Gauss shed light on the many and varied ways that healthcare organizations are enlisting the support of their CSOs. While “one size does not fit all” and the role is very much organization-dependent, Polhemus and Gauss outline key areas of responsibility that they see in many or most CSO profiles today. These include:

  • Strategic advising and envisioning
  • Strategic implementation
  • Market positioning and differentiation
  • Business development
  • Physician engagement

    Jim Gauss

    Jim Gauss

That’s quite the range of responsibilities, and thus Polhemus and Gauss say that the best CSOs are those with breadth of skills and the fortitude to assert themselves within and across their organizations.

Tomorrow’s CEO?

While still being defined, the Chief Strategy Officer position is “here to stay,” Polhemus and Gauss write. Witt/Kieffer’s  Adriane Willig concurs. “This is a need-to-have role,” Willig said recently, speaking with Philip Betbeze of HealthLeaders Media, for an article titled “Rise of the

Adriane Willig

Adriane Willig

Chief Strategy Officer.” “We’re operating in a competitive marketplace with much thinner margins than before . . . You can’t be everything to everyone; the market is changing so fast that organizations are realizing they need someone whose job is to focus on the future.”

Healthcare Chief Strategy Officers must be exceptional individuals, Willig adds, with expansive experience that includes strategy as well as operations, finance, M&A, technology, and more.

Could today’s CSOs be tomorrow’s CEOs? Polhemus and Gauss think so. “Given all that’s required of the position, this isn’t a bad idea,” they write. “A CSO has a great deal of exposure to the board and major organizational stakeholders, and may be an excellent candidate to take over the top spot in five to 10 years.”

By Paul Thomas, Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

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