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The role or job description of a strategist, the head of strategic planning, or a strategy department.

By Ruth Tearle.

The head of strategic planning has the role of planning and facilitating the organization's strategy formulation or review session. Once the organizational strategy has been developed, the strategist then ensures that SBUs or divisions develop and implement strategic plans to support the organizational strategy.

Strategic planners, strategists or strategy departments play a number of roles to facilitate the strategy process in their organizaitons. The job description of a strategist or strategic planner usually has a number of the following roles.

1. Research

Strategic planners provide up to date strategic research to the leadership of the company in the following areas:

  • External trends (or PEST analysis). This includes providing their executive teams with up to date research on strategic trends. i.e. Political, Economic, Social, Technological, business and industry trends. They then analyze these trends to determine how these strategic trends could impact on the organization in the future. This is often known as a PEST analysis or trend analysis.
  • Business trends. This includes information on the strategies being adopted by global organizations. It may include benchmarking or best practices.
  • Market research. This includes research on changing customer needs and expectations. This may consist of formal research conducted by external market research companies.
  • Industry trend analysis. This involves analyzing changes within the industry the organization operates within. This includes researching new entrants into the industry, new alliances groupings, new products and services on offer, and changes to distribution channels and manufacturing techniques.
  • Competitor research. Many strategy departments set up a competitor database. They track competitor strategies. Sometimes they compile comprehensive information on their competitors in the following areas: finance, marketing, human resources, production/manufacturing, distribution, promotion, culture, structures, alliances, technologies.
  • Customer research. This involves finding out how existing customers view the organization. This may include monitoring social networking and consumer complaints websites to identify comments customers are making about the organization, or asking existing customers for information about their experience of doing business with your organization. And what they consider your organization's strengths and weaknesses to be.
  • Internal research. This includes doing research on the effectiveness of the internal operations of the organization. The aim of an internal organizational analysis is to identify the 20% of activities that contribute 80% towards the organization's success, as well as identifying the areas that prevent the organization from operating at its best.
  • Strategists also keep up to date with new ways of doing strategy itself. This may include techniques such as participative and creative ways of doing strategic planning that result in buy-in from stakeholders, and formal methodologies such as the balanced score card. This includes balancing IQ, EQ and SQ to ensure people are excited and inspired while they develop new powerful strategies.

The head of strategic planning may divide the strategic research listed above, amongst different members of his/her team.

2. Education

A prime role of any strategy department is to educate leadership in both strategic planning and strategic thinking. Strategists use a number of approaches to educate their leadership. These include:

  • Formal training courses and workshops.
  • Organizing monthly education sessions. Getting guest speakers in once a month to present information on new trends that might affect the organization.
  • Circulating newsletters to SBU heads, divisional and departmental leaders on strategy, strategy implementation and related topics.
  • Speaking at workshops and conferences organized by different divisions in the organization.
  • Circulating interesting articles.
  • Informing them of interesting websites.
  • Organizing conferences in house.
  • Sending key people on external training courses.

3. Provider of strategic tools

The strategist provides the CEO, heads of SBU's, divisions and regions with tools designed to make it easier for them to develop powerful strategic plans together with their teams.

4. Facilitator


Often organizations review their strategic plans at a three-day workshop. The head of strategic planning often has the role of organizing the strategy review session and ensuring that SBUs or divisions then develop strategic plans aligned to the organization's new strategic plans.

Strategic planners often hire external facilitators who are independent of company politics to facilitate these sessions. These facilitators help:

  • The leadership team to think outside of the box.
  • The organization to develop its strategic plan.
  • To communicate the organization's plan to the rest of the organization.
  • SBU’s/divisions to develop their strategic plans which are aligned to the organization's plan
  • To communicate the SBU/divisions plans.
  • Identify and manage the changes needed to support the new strategic plan.

The head of strategic planning, then uses the same workshop tools to facilitate strategy sessions at the SBU and divisional levels. This helps to promote alignment between SBU and divisional strategies and the corporate strategic plan.

The strategic planner also keeps up to date with the latest tools and techniques of doing strategic planning, and provides these tools to the leadership of the organization and its SBUs, divisions, and regions.

5. spiderwebSystems integrator and coordinator

Like a spider weaving a web, the head of strategic planning has to ensure that the organizations systems, structure and culture are all aligned to the organization's strategic plan and values. This means that every system and employee pull in the same direction.

The head of strategic planning works closely together with the finance department and the OD/change management/HR departments to ensure that all planning and measurement systems use the same language and terminology. This means that staff members will input their goals and objectives once only - and these goals and objectives will be applied to their strategic planning, budgeting, performance management, and reporting systems.

The head of strategic planning also analyses all the strategic plans in the organization to ensure that no duplication occurs between different regions, divisions and departments. The head of strategic planning checks for aspects of the strategy that are being neglected, because they fall between divisions or SBU's. These will be turned into projects that cut across different SBU's and divisions.

The head of strategic planning will also ensures that all new projects are designed and implemented in a way that supports the organization's strategies and values.

6. Monitoring of strategy

The head of strategic planning and his team of strategic planners often works with change management specialists to ensure that both the content and the spirit of the strategic plan are being implemented. Where barriers occur, the strategic planners helps teams to remove these barriers. This may necessitate a change in structures and systems.

7. Muse to the CEO or chairman

The head of strategic planning is often called upon to do special, one off feasibility studies and research into areas that fall outside of the mandate of the divisions or SBU's. He and his team of strategists often assist the CEO/chairman to make confidential strategic decisions. They act as a high level personal assistants to the chairman/CEO. Often they also act as internal consultants to the leaders of the different divisions and regions.

Strategic planning or strategy departments may consist of a single person, or larger teams comprising permanent employees and external consultants. Depending on the size and focus of the organization, the number of resources available, and the expectations of the strategy department's key customers, the head of strategic planning or the internal strategist may perform some or all of the strategy roles listed above.

Qualities of a strategic planner

To be effective, a strategic planner needs to have the following qualities:

  • Credibility and trust - the ability to work at all levels in the organization.
  • A wide range of knowledge - preferably someone with experience in 3-4 different areas or the organization.
  • A formal general business qualification such as an MBA, or a general management experience.
  • The ability to do highly unstructured work.
  • The ability to work with teams of people both inside and outside the organization. This includes the ability to work with people across all departments as well as with external alliance partners.
  • Self confidence balanced by humility. People are often jealous of the profile the strategist gets, and this person will have to manage their jealousy.
  • Superb facilitation skills. The ability to get groups of up to 40 people excited and committed to a new direction.
  • Leadership skills. The ability to win trust and get the best out of people.
  • Strong rational, emotional and spiritual intelligence.
  • An ability to do systems thinking. To understand how different areas of the organization, and external trends, relate to one another. To integrate ideas from many different areas into a common vision.
  • A willingness and desire to continuously learn about new techniques and to acquire new knowledge.
  • A love of innovation and new ways of doing things.
  • A sense of humour and a sense of fun.

How companies select this person.

Initially organizations try to select someone who has all above qualities.

The first person in this job has the additional role of setting up the function and selling the need for strategic planning to leaders of SBU's and divisions. As head of strategic planning, he/she often has to prove the worth of the strategic planning function to the organization.

Having set up the position, many companies use the strategy division or department as a training ground for developing talented staff. The strategic planning department gives strategic planners a broad overview of different parts of the organization. People with talent are moved into the strategy department for a few years. After that they are often asked to head up some of the new projects that emerged from their strategies.

Many heads of strategic planning, are often promoted into general management or CEO roles because of their depth of experience and ability to operate at a strategic level.

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