The Rise of the Chief Strategy Officer

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media , November 13, 2013
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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."

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This article appears in the November issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.
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