Jon Roughley, most recently Head of Strategy and Planning for the Phoenix Group, a FTSE 250 company and the largest UK consolidator of closed life assurance funds, has become the latest SPS Fellow. He has over 20 years’ experience of successfully formulating and implementing strategic change within Financial Services and has been responsible for definition and delivery of strategy at group, business unit and functional levels and across a number of specialisms including financial management, operations management, customer management, sales, marketing, HR and corporate development. At the Phoenix Group his focus was on restructuring, M&A and operational excellence. Roughley has an MBA from the University of Northampton and when not working enjoys playing rugby and walking his dogs with his fiancée.
He discussed the challenges in professionalising strategy as a discipline and why he is glad to become an SPS Fellow.
What are your thoughts on becoming an SPS Fellow?
I feel proud and privileged to have become an SPS Fellow. I believe the Society’s vision to develop strategy as a professional discipline is an exciting one and one that I am keen to be part of. I feel that for too long strategy has lacked the professional recognition of other corporate functions whilst arguably being the most influential on organisational performance.
Why is strategy important and what challenges are there in making others realise its worth?
I am yet to meet a CEO who does not believe that having a clear strategy underpinned by rigorous execution is critical to the success of their business, and this applies equally to for-profit and non-profit organisations. However, there is plenty of confusion as to what this means in practice, how best it can be achieved and what a good end product should look like. This is not surprising as strategy is not a simple topic. It requires many skills: analysis, creativity, problem solving, forecasting, communication and planning to name but a few.
How should strategy be professionalised as a discipline?
To achieve the recognition we desire, strategists will need to demonstrate how strategy, and the methods that sit behind it, are adding real-world value to organisations. An understanding of a wide range of theories, models and techniques is an important toolkit for any practitioner but the real skill is to translate these into an approach that is suited to your business and the people you are working with. Ultimately success is not measured by the process but by the outcomes.
The one thing that strategy should never be is ‘woolly’. It is about making choices: setting out what an organisation intends to do, and equally what it does not intend to do. It must be a clear statement of intent: defining the intended outcomes in both financial and non-financial terms, and laying out the actions that will be pursued to achieve these, why these are appropriate and achievable, and the risks involved. Ultimately it is about implementation and delivering the levels of performance predicted. Its power comes from clarity: having a defined plan, stated in terms that a wide range of stakeholders can understand, commit to and align their actions to. In my experience businesses want practical approaches that will drive outcomes, not theories.
What does the future hold for strategy?
I believe we have an opportunity to improve the perception and quality of strategy. Its history as a management science gives it a strong foundation but over time I feel the connections between academic research and organisations have become fractured and therefore practice is not benefiting from emerging thinking and academia is not benefiting from actual experiences. There is an opportunity to address this and create a virtuous circle, which I believe the Society is uniquely positioned to do.