Speaker Snapshot: Jen Baxter And Sam Butters From Teach First

We sit down with them to discuss how strategy is changing


Jen Baxter is Head of Strategy and Planning at Teach First. She is responsible for leading the development of organizational strategy, and oversees organizational performance management and reporting, as well as Teach First’s annual planning process. She will be presenting at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in London this April alongside Sam Butters, who is Head of Delivery Strategy at Teach First, where she has jointly led the development of the organization’s 2015-2019 strategy and is currently supporting a large organizational change programme. We sat down with them.

How do you think the role of a strategist is changing?

Jen Baxter - I think that this can be quite dependent on the organization. McKinsey wrote an interesting report in 2014, ‘Rethinking the role of the strategist’ which highlights some key changes particularly around the increasing scope of the strategist’s role. In my previous role, strategy, business development and research (analytics) were part of one team, and all members of the team had to work across, and be skilled in these areas. In my current organization, responsibility for strategy, planning, reporting and risk all sits with the strategy team. My view is that the role of the strategist is multifaceted, and many organizations expect strategists to be competent in more than pure strategy.

What steps are you taking to ensure your strategy is agile?

Jen Baxter - We have to track a range of external markets and environments – the graduate recruitment market and the education, political and corporate social responsibility environments for example – and it’s rare that these remain stable! Therefore, we have to be prepared to amend our strategy both at regular, defined intervals and also as required by sudden external changes. We try to collect intelligence on our key markets and environments (which is often held by specialists across the organization such as our Press, Policy and Public Affairs team) and put the pieces of the jigsaw together. Within the organization we have four main areas of work, and the steering groups for each of these areas are responsible for monitoring progress towards the goals and highlighting where course corrections are required. This, coupled with the intelligence gathering, helps us to keep our strategy agile.

What is the biggest challenge for a strategy professional in your role?

Sam Butters – One of the biggest challenges I identify as a strategy professional is the balance between strategy and execution. From my experience, many organizations focus on strategy as the market analysis, opportunity seeking and decision-making of how to take an organization from A to B but less emphasis/value is placed on how that is then executed and delivered. The book ‘Execution: The discipline of getting things done’ (Lawrence Bossidy and Ram Charan) deals with this area well. The challenge for strategy professionals is to strike this balance, taking the strategy process far enough that it can be executed, whilst recognizing that ultimately it is the organization that needs to ultimately ‘deliver’.

How much of your role includes change management & leadership?

Sam Butters – A very significant part! Related to the previous question, the work of a strategy team is not done until the strategy is effectively ‘executed’ and this heavily relies on the leadership of the organization to deliver on that strategy. Moreover, this more likely than not requires change management for people to do things differently or (more challenging yet) stop doing things. Our organization is currently in a significant state of change, in large part driven by our 15/19 strategy, requiring changes in the way we do things and the strategy team play a key role in leading this.

You can hear more from Jen and Sam at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit, taking place in London this April 26 and 27. 

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