Nicholas Johnston was appointed as a trustee of the SPS at the AGM in January. He reveals more about his plans for the Society, and his hopes for the profession.
Why did you decide to become a trustee of the SPS?
I am Head of Strategy and Performance at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). There is a lot of networking within the voluntary sector, and the concept that you can learn and share is very much embedded within the sector. I would like to see more of that among strategists.
I’ve been interested for some time in bringing strategy professionals in the voluntary sector together with peers in other sectors. I think voluntary, public and private sectors all have things to share – and things to learn. There is also much to be learned from bringing practitioners together with leading academics in the field of strategy.
My hope is that as a trustee of the SPS I can contribute to the success of a professional body that I very much respect, but also find new ways of sharing learning.
What are your aspirations for the Society?
I want to see the SPS as the obvious thought leader in strategy in this country and beyond. I also want to see strategy recognised as a core discipline of all successful organisations, and not just a brief module on a general management course, or an abstract activity that people engage in when they’re not doing the ‘real job’.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing strategists?
In some ways the current extent and speed of change, particularly economic change, give us the greatest opportunities to act strategically and show the value of strategy. In other ways this is precisely the time when organisations and individuals can react in a very non-strategic way.
The challenge is to balance the urgent need for rapid response, often in terms of resource allocation and investment in future plans, with the need to ensure you don’t undermine the achievement of your long-term strategy. Strategy is always about balancing the short- and long-term needs; it’s just that at the moment those decisions are being forced to happen quickly and sometimes without the evidence to support them.
How can we best deal with them?
It’s about people and relationships, not about having the newest strategy or planning model. We need to be pragmatic and perhaps less precious and accept that in tough times, some short-term decisions will be made that aren’t necessarily driven by the long-term strategy. We’re used to reviewing and amending strategies and plans as external factors change; we need to also judge which internal factors we can influence, and which we need to respond to.
What does the future hold for strategy professionals?
It’s going to be a tough time for a while yet. We need to demonstrate that strategic activity such as planning, scanning the environment, and analysis are creative and add genuine value – and that strategy and the ‘real job’ are the same thing.