Platform Strategy is a sought-after talent role. While not as numerous as roles such as platform product management, platform ecosystem management, or platform data management, there are now a dozen or more senior platform strategy positions posted each month by well-known companies that are platforms or are seeking to move in this direction. Five recently posted positions by Cisco, Expedia Group, New York Times, PayPal and Wayfair illustrate the trend.
Let’s look briefly at each role:
Cisco is looking for a Director of Platform Strategy and Governance based in San Jose, California. This a director level position supporting the CTO’s Platform Strategy & Governance, which is responsible for the platform architecture and management, including: defining the current and target state platform architecture and lead the platform transformation roadmap; own and lead platform instances strategy, cost, and licenses and evaluating new vendors and providing recommendation on fit within Cisco business strategy and finally lead the platform and integration inventory.
Expedia Group is seeking a Senior Strategy Manager. This mid-senior level position based in London is part of the Conversation Platform & Customer Engagement (CPCE), which sits within The Platform & Marketplaces (P&M) team. CPCE facilitates the engagement between travelers and partners Expedia Group’s travel data, analytics and tools. CPCE team members are expected to improve the customer experience, bolster self-serve capabilities, and ensuring friction is reduced in the interactions with the company’s ecosystem of travel advisors. Partner with senior leadership to define and drive the long-term strategy and establish a multiyear plan of strategic investment priorities
New York Times is seeking a Director, Platform Strategy & Partnerships. This position is responsible for managing the company’s enterprise-wide strategy and relationships with major platforms (Facebook, Google, Apple, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok) in support of the company’s revenue and journalistic goals. The role has three broad components: 1) understanding the platform-related goals of teams across The Times, from newsroom audience, to growth, to engagement, media, and advertising, and working with the teams and platforms in support of these goals; 2) understanding the ins-and-outs of the major platforms and their role in the broader ecosystem to determine how The Times should engage with them; and 3. tracking external developments — commercial, legal, regulatory — related to the platforms. This team will also occasionally be responsible for large-scale, strategic partnerships that relate to other media companies. Core work will include managing relationships with partners, leading work with the newsroom and product to determine which platform products to test and develop to, educating internal teams and senior leadership about industry developments and competitive trends, and managing large strategic deals. This role will report to SVP, Chief of Staff to the CEO.
PayPal is seeking a Senior Manager, Corporate Strategy. This director-level role is being recruited from Singapore. This executive will lead Regional and Global strategic projects and involves frequent interaction with the senior executive team as well as all other PayPal staff levels and external stakeholders, globally. They will be expected to support strategic projects core to the strategy of PayPal into the execution phase. Help to develop documents to facilitate cross-functional and cross-regional team discussions as well as coordinate with senior management. In addition, they will be expected to take ownership of financial and data analysis in support of strategic objectives and support research type engagements to develop and articulate PayPal’s position on long-term strategic issues.
Wayfair is seeking a Head of Marketplace Strategy. This Boston-based executive will take responsibility for the successful growth and integration of generic products into the Wayfair marketplace. The executive will lead the development and deployment of an end-to-end growth plan for the platform’s commodity product base and related customer needs & expectations. They will act as a central leader for commodity products, partnering with cross-functional teams, including category management, algorithms, data science, sort, and Wayfair Basics. Success will involve a transition to a scalable and fluid marketplace strategy for commodity items. The executive will be expected to lead the strategy cross-functional & platform team efforts, set the technology agenda and structure engagement across geographies.
These roles vary across the different industries of software, travel, media, financial services, and retail. They also reveal different areas of focus and reporting relationships. However, they all stand in contrast to conventional strategy roles. As various observers have pointed out, platform strategy is different from traditional firm strategy.1
As the graphic below shows, these differences can be stark. For example, product strategy centers on developing core competencies while the latter is about developing core interactions. The orientation toward economies of scale different. Product strategies tend to be about supply side economies, whereas platforms are about aggregating and delivering demand side economies. Likewise, coveted assets, as well as goals and metrics, are different. While product strategies are concerned with building and optimizing internal competencies, product differentiation and cost leadership, platform strategy is concerned with the community as an asset and then encouraging and measuring the rates of engagement and ensuring positive network effects. Finally, there is innovation. For product companies, this resides with the firm. By contrast, platforms seek to harnesses innovation through exchange between the firm and its ecosystem.
These differences are important because strategy matters. Good strategic decisions set a company up for growth and innovation. Poor strategic decisions can lead to costly failures, which can put service lines at risk and even the entire company. Strategy is about placing bets and making tough choices, while perpetually battling the challenge of incomplete information.
Hiring the right talent is central to getting strategy right. For platform strategy roles, there is an additional need to hire people who understand the underlying logic and implications of platform business models. As I wrote last month, there are distinct capabilities that set platforms apart and therefore the required leadership skills including platform logic, platform orchestration skills, and platform governance skills.2
Over the years, business scholars have explored the various approaches or “schools of thought” regarding strategic planning. One of the classics is Henry Mintzberg work, which details at least eight, ranging from consensus to imposed.3
In the table below, I’ve simplified these approaches into two core axis— deliberate strategy vs. emergent strategy and concentrated vs. decentralized decision-making. For example, a concentrated and deliberate strategy is one in which the CEO and/or leadership team largely determines and communicates the firm’s stategy and vision. Alternatively, decentralized and deliberate strategy is one that has an intential planning process and final document but is developed from the bottom up with extensive engagement and deliberation of line managers and functions (e.g. finance, HR, innovation, etc.).
Some companies eskew formal annual planning rituals and instead strategy just happens — partly through opportunistic moves and party by consistently tacking to changes in the business enviroment. Emergent strategy (Mintzberg’s term) can be decentralized and evolve as the result of the independent actions of line and functional managers over time. It can also be the result of choices that flow from decisions concentrated in the c-suite.
Over the years, there have been extensive debates over the opportunities and pitfalls associated with each of these quadrants. For example, Roger Martin examines a number of these in the HBS article, “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning.4
But the reality is that is rare for a single person to significantly change the underlying strategy process at a company. This is true even for people brought in for senior roles, like the director and executive roles that have been posted by Cisco, Expedia, New York Times, PayPal and Wayfair. The process will be well established and unlikely to be amenable to significant change, especially by an outsider. A more realistic approach will be to go in with the understanding that there are various approaches to strategy formulation and to quickly assess which way the organization leans.
The bottom line is that there are now plum opportunities to work in great organizations on platform strategy but platform professionals should consider these roles with eyes wide open.