4 Reasons to Consider Adding a CSO to Your Team

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CSO-thumb1Yesterday, we linked to an article by Philip Betbeze at HealthLeaders Media that chronicled the increasing popularity of having a chief strategy officer as part of the executive team.

Gleaning again from that article, here are four reasons why you may want to consider developing such a role at your organization:

1.)  Your numerous responsibilities as a CEO.

Writes Betbeze, “Strategy is a small piece of what the CEO does on a daily basis, so adding a CSO should be a critical priority for helping the organization step out of the day-to-day margin issues and tight battles with operational efficiencies and instead look ahead.”

Kristin Willig, consultant with Witt/Kieffer in Oak Brook, Ill., and expert on strategy officer executive searches, reminds CEOs that they “can’t focus on strategy, marketing, and clinical integration when you need to make the weekly payroll…”

2.)  The immediate need organizations have to be focused on the future.

According to Willig, “Organizations are coming around to the fact that this is a need-to-have role now. It’s the fact that we’re operating in a competitive marketplace with much thinner margins than before. That’s forcing everyone to take a much more aggressive and progressive view of what businesses they’re in and what businesses they need to be in. 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.”

CSOs can play a critical role also in helping an organization transform its delivery-care model or retooling its capabilities, as one CSO put it. They can help you in “changing the way the organization approaches partnerships with physicians, developing its retail strategy, and moving away from the traditional campus into more accessible locations.”

3.)  Driving accountability throughout the organization.

Greg Poulsen, CSO at Salt Lake City’s Intermountain Healthcare, was charged with “inculcating” the philosophy of “shared accountability” throughout the whole Intermountain system.

He said, “The concept of accountability needs to span all the providers of health care—docs, hospitals, and ancillary providers—but also needs to engage the consumers of health care—patients or prospective patients—which we don’t think have adequate visibility in the accountable-care framework. The role of the CSO should be aligning people’s interests and engaging all parties in dialogue and discussion.”

4.)  The authority you have to mold the CSO role into what you need it to be.

Since the role of a CSO is still evolving, many CEOs are able to define the position in the way that best suits their organization, Betbeze writes. That’s why some CSOs “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.”

Poulsen said, “The attributes you want in your CSO are dependent on what the organization would like to move forward with.” Ultimately, however, “CSOs must be able to bring a broad vision of what can happen in their organization beyond what has already happened.”

Poulsen added, “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. 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.”

As health-care executives, how do you feel about the growth in importance of CSOs? Is this a role that would enhance and improve your organization? If given the chance, how would you evolve such a role?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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