Meet the editors of... the Journal of Strategy and Management
An interview with: Professor Abby Ghobadian and Professor Nicholas O'Regan
Interview by: Margaret Adolphus
Professor Abby Ghobadian is academic dean of Henley Management College. Previously (up to January 2007) he was professor of management at Brunel University Business School. He has also worked at Middlesex University Business School, the University of the West of England, the Policy Studies Institute, Imperial College, Loughborough University, and for BP.
In addition to the Journal of Strategy and Management, Abby also edits the International Journal of Process Management and Benchmarking and is on the editorial boards of journals in the UK, USA and Hungary. His research interests lie in the area of organizational performance and its improvement. He has authored or co-authored 64 refereed journal articles, 7 monographs, 2 edited books and numerous book chapters and conference papers, acted as a consultant to many organizations, and been successful in attracting a considerable amount of research funding.
Professor Nicholas O'Regan is professor of strategy/enterprise and innovation at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England. His research and consultancy interests lie in the areas of corporate strategy, organizational leadership, culture and performance, the operating environment of small businesses, and e-business and technology deployment.
Recent consultancy includes strategic leadership development for the directors of a blue-chip company. He has also published widely in this area, frequently collaborating with Professor Ghobadian, in a range of journals including Technovation, the International Small Business Journal and the Journal of General Management.
About the journal
The Journal of Strategy and Management is a newly launched journal dedicated to improving understanding of strategy development and implementation. Global in outlook, and dealing with both private and public organizations, it aims to encourage new thinking and innovative approaches. It is also concerned with the practical implications of strategy and offers executives insights based on research, while encouraging dialogue between researchers and practitioners
Congratulations on the forthcoming launch of your new journal, Journal of Strategy and Management (JSM). Why did you decide to launch it and what is its mission?
The existing journals predominately publish articles which are rooted in economics and rational decision-making processes. Strategy is messy, draws on other disciplines such as political economy, sociology, anthropology, etc., and there is no obvious home for this type of research. Coupled with this is the capacity of the existing journals to publish all the high-quality papers that they receive, and there is no real outlet for emerging research or research that is practitioner oriented. Most journals have a very narrowly defined approach to publishing strategy, and we will focus more on issues like corporate social responsibility and ethics which are currently not being covered, at least not from a strategy viewpoint.
How will the journal be positioned in relation to other Emerald journals, such as Strategy & Leadership, Journal of Business Strategy, Strategic Direction and Business Strategy Series?
Whereas most of these journals are primarily written for practitioners by practitioners, JSM’s aim is to identify academic, high-quality research, presented in a way that is beneficial to practitioners.
How will the journal be positioned in relation to journals produced by other publishers, such as Strategic Management Journal, Long Range Planning, Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, Advances in Strategic Management, and the Journal of Economics and Management Strategy?
The significant difference lies in our mission which we’ve just outlined. For example, practising managers may consider SMJ, for example, as far too theoretical for them. They want to know how they can use the outcome of research to improve the effectiveness of their business and drive it forward. SMJ’s articles are extremely well researched and well presented, but they rarely address the "so what" question – whereas JSM will publish high-quality research that expressly focuses on relevance to the practitioner. We want to appeal not only to researchers and consultants, but also to managers in organizations. And part of the refereeing process is to check that authors draw out the practical implications of their research.
It also helps that there is a short summary up front which details ways in which the research is new and how it relates to practitioners. So the reader can look at this and see whether or not the article is relevant to them.
And finally, JSM will have a truly international dimension to it whereas some of the leading journals are more US oriented.
Your proposed editorial focus is on the behavioural aspects of management strategy. Can you elaborate on this and explain why behavioural research is important in this area?
If you actually look at the making of strategy in organizations you will see that it’s not a completely logical process. Strategies are the result of compromises and political manoeuvring; there’s a lot of noise. By and large the existing research doesn’t capture those very real issues, and we’re trying to encourage submission of papers which are not necessarily positivistic, but which draw on other approaches to examine the real issues that managers face in establishing, developing and, more importantly, implementing a strategy.
Not a great deal has been published on how strategy is crafted, who is the strategist, and, significantly, how strategies are successfully implemented. There’s more about the actual strategy concept itself and the lack of strategy performance.
For example, there is very little research on how a chief executive officer becomes a chairman of an organization. A lot of research on chief executive compensation and organizational performance does not look at the cost of failure. For instance, the former chief executive of Northern Rock left with a substantial compensation package, so there is a huge cost of failure by chief executives.
Board effectiveness is another example, it has largely been looked at from a principal agent theory perspective: what incentives the agent is being offered to ensure that he or she is not simply maximizing his or her utility. But there is very little research on how managers balance the different needs of stakeholders, and what kind of algorithms they use in order to decide which stakeholder they’re going to try to satisfy. For example, the sales of bottled water are being reduced quite substantially because of sustainability issues: there is concern about the impact of flying water around the world. Current research does not capture these sorts of issues, and we hope to fill that gap.
Strategic Management Journal appears to favour a theoretical, quantitative approach. Will you publish qualitative research alongside quantitative?
We will be looking at research which is far broader than that published by journals such as the SMJ, but that is good and rigorous. Relevance and rigour are the criteria for selection, not whether the research is quantitative or qualitative. If the research is qualitative but rigorous and it answers the "so what" question then it has a place in our journal.
How would you define rigour in terms of qualitative research?
We look for good design, some theoretical underpinning, and good analysis. We want to see evidence that the qualitative research has been systematic, well planned and well executed. If it meets these conditions, qualitative research can be as powerful, in fact sometimes more powerful, than quantitative research.
How do you see the role of the editorial board, in particular the role of the consulting editor, Professor Howard Thomas?
An editorial board plays a significant role in any journal. As well as refereeing and reviewing articles, members offer intellectual capital, have excellent networks with fellow academics and practitioners, and provide advice . A strong editorial board is indicative of the quality of the journal and the basis for its development.
In our journal we also have an advisory board which has a slightly different role: we hope to attract prominent practitioners. What is clear is the advisory and editorial board include leading international scholars.
Howard Thomas is the journal’s consulting editor. He is one of the most distinguished strategy and management academics worldwide. He is extremely well networked and has huge respect from his peers. His experience and knowledge of the subject is enormously beneficial. He has been instrumental in setting the direction of JSM, developing its vision and ethos, and guiding its progress. Howard’s role is to ensure that we develop the journal to a high standard, and his advice on strategic and operational issues is invaluable. Moreover, we as the editors hold him in highest esteem and it is a privilege for us to work with him.
You spoke earlier about wanting to make the journal truly international. Are you actively on the lookout for papers from parts of the world that are sometimes under-represented, for example, China, India, and the Middle East?
It all depends on what kinds of papers we get, but we would like to have associate editors responsible for some of these regions. We encourage papers from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries and from people who are researching them. We want top-quality research from all over the world, not just Europe and the USA.
We were talking earlier about the importance of corporate social responsibility, ethics, and sustainability to strategy. Why have these areas been neglected by other journals?
Previously, firms designed their strategy by focusing on their competitors and customers; that was the extent of the analysis. We would argue that the old model is not going to work in the future: organizations will need to look at a broader range of stakeholders. Think about the availability of information through the Internet and 24-hour news services. This means that when designing strategy it’s no longer enough to find low labour costs; it also matters that when relocating to low labour cost countries, labour is not exploited and is treated in a similar manner as in the home country.
So organizations need to take a broader look at their stakeholders and make sure that they don’t have strategies which will adversely affect them. A dissatisfied stakeholder can cause a lot more harm than in previous decades – all they need to do is to find an Internet site and get a campaign going against the organization.
So I think that we’re seeing a shift in the mind set of society and the way society behaves, which in turn has an impact on the way strategies are made and implemented.
I think that research in this area is going to increase, and it will of necessity be qualitative rather than quantitative. And unless there is a suitable outlet then that research will not see the light of day; it doesn’t mean the research is poor, but that it is not following the existing trend, and more established journals are really only interested in pursuing the existing trend.
So, do you think that journals determine research trends?
Yes, journals certainly have an impact on the behaviour of the researcher. If you’re a researcher you want your research to be published. Increasingly if you work in the UK it’s publish or perish, because if you don’t publish you don’t get into the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and if you don’t get into the RAE it looks as though you’re not contributing. Researchers naturally try and do the sort of research that they think will find a home, so they follow more conservative, traditional lines to ensure that their work gets published. But if you have a journal which takes a much broader line and doesn’t follow a particular methodological or theoretical stance, then that journal can encourage people to do more innovative research and, providing it is done well, it can find a home.
From what disciplines do you expect contributions?
Sociology, psychology, political economics, all these subjects have a relevance to strategy and strategy making. Take for example a country like France. Organizations in France tend to establish very good relations with government; that is traditionally their strength. Now, if you are a multinational and wish to enter the French market, it’s very difficult without having that kind of network of contacts. So probably the best thing to do is acquire a French organization, simply because of its relationship with government. That’s a political as opposed to an economic issue.
Another example is regional electricity companies in the UK. They have a relationship with the regulator and they need to manage that relationship because it has an impact on strategy. Again, that’s a political issue, and any research on the relationship between organization and government, or the impact of the regulators on strategy, must draw heavily on political economy. And I think you will find that very few existing journals will publish this sort of article. You are more likely to find studies of whether regional electricity companies are more productive compared to pre-nationalization days.
What plans do you have for the journal’s first two years, for example, how many papers do you intend to publish, and do you have plans for special issues?
We are going to publish two issues a year initially with about five or six papers in each one. The first issue is about to be finalized and we have attracted articles from leading researchers.
What are the particular challenges in starting a new journal?
I think that a lot of the challenges are at the product development stage, determining the mission and positioning the journal in the marketplace. We also spent a lot of time on the editorial content, which had to be both national and international, and cover a range of fields. And last, but not least, is getting the right publisher, and we feel that we’ve found that in Emerald.
Do you see yourselves as particularly supporting young authors and researchers – who often find it difficult to break into publishing – and, if so, how?
The issue for us is not youth versus experience, but good research – irrespective of methodology – with practical relevance. If there are researchers who have that capacity and capability, whether they have more experience or less experience, the article will find a home in our journal.
What plans do you have for your journal’s peer review?
We have double blind review. We decide who are likely to be the best reviewers depending on the paper and forward it to them, with a time frame for response
We also hope to attract articles from practitioners, and have a different set of criteria for these. Obviously in these cases we cannot expect the same degree of research rigour, or links to the literature. But we will be looking for coherent arguments and presentation of a situation. These articles will be more descriptive but will also include some reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of the approach, such as what worked well and what didn’t.
Would you say that this is the quality of a good case study, i.e. reflection as well as description?
Absolutely, but the originator of the case can either be an academic who goes and observes, discusses and analyses, or someone actually involved with and part of the process who has critically reflected on it. So there is a degree of evaluation, reflection and criticality as opposed to pure description.
Your joint editorship is another step in a very long and considerable collaboration – 46 articles, books and chapters – what is the key to successful academic partnership?
Tongue in cheek, patience and nagging, but the basic thing is to understand one another and respect what each other is doing. You also need strengths that complement one another – we have different backgrounds in terms both of research interests and managerial experience. But it’s also trying to achieve a particular set of goals which I think we have achieved very well, knowing that the other person is doing something to a standard that you would expect yourself. So I think all of this has contributed to a reasonably successful partnership. Of course we are both very young yet so there’s a long way to go…
Professor Abby Ghobadian and Professor Nicholas O'Regan were interviewed in May/June 2008.
Visit the information page for: Journal of Strategy and Management