Jody Goldsworthy: Achieving change in the education sector

Jody Goldsworthy, senior partner at Gatenby Sanderson on achieving change in the education sector

Jody Goldsworthy, senior partner at Gatenby Sanderson and head of its Leadership and Talent consultancy, discusses the need for change in the education sector, and how it might be achieved

A tumultuous climate of increasing demand and economic uncertainty in the education sector is acting as a catalyst for change. In response, many organisations are committed to changing their operating model, structure or technological capability to evolve and achieve financial sustainability.

A recent poll of public sector CEO and chairs conducted by GatenbySanderson found that 80% of boards are driving such a transformation agenda as a top priority. However, research from McKinsey & Company shows that 75% of transformation initiatives fail to achieve the outcomes they were aiming for.

Sustainable change is far more likely to be achieved if decision-makers also define what capabilities they need in their future workforce

How can public service organisations avoid these pitfalls and make change stick? The answer is twofold; organisations need to embed the skills of change leadership into their culture and they also need to organise change programmes which consider and reflect the hard-wired deliverables as well as the skills and behaviours a future leader will require.

Defining requirements

Many hours are spent around boardroom tables discussing operations, structures and initiatives to address teaching outcomes or to achieve financial sustainability. The resulting solutions often feature a new set of business objectives, stretch strategies and a new leader or team to oversee a change programme. Sustainable change is far more likely to be achieved if decision-makers also define what capabilities they need in their future workforce and consider the behavioural characteristics they want their leaders to display.

Most education organisations invest in formal assessment when hiring senior leaders into key roles – it’s far less common to see this examination include role-fit and future-fit

People, not processes deliver change

Delivering a successful change or transformation programme starts with the leadership group which commissions it. It’s a great first step to have change leadership in place through a project management resource, be that informal or formal, such as a PMO or an interim leader. However, real change impact will come if the organisation has an entire leadership cadre in place with the right capabilities, skills, experiences, outlooks and behaviours to deliver in the new world. Great change leaders communicate continually and engage the organisation in the mindset shift required to work in new ways.

The top four leadership skills gaps cited by CEOs were: lack of long term strategic vision; inability to deliver change; inability to collaborate and manage partnerships and lack of innovation

Best practice assessment beyond recruitment

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If very few organisations ask the question, ‘If our strategy has changed what capabilities do we need to deliver in a new way?’ fewer still embark upon any formal exercise to see how their current leadership group stacks up. Most education organisations invest in formal assessment when hiring senior leaders into key roles – it’s far less common to see this examination include role-fit and future-fit. This is especially true when transformation triggers a structural or accountability shift, resulting in leadership redeployment or leaders facing different or expanded portfolios within the organisation.

It is no surprise to hear, then, that the GatenbySanderson study cited above also revealed that most executive respondents lacked confidence about their future leadership pipeline. The top four leadership skills gaps cited by CEOs were: lack of long term strategic vision; inability to deliver change; inability to collaborate and manage partnerships and lack of innovation.

Placing the behavioural aspects of leadership at the forefront of talent decisions provides a clearer blueprint for success and improves the success-rate of change programmes

In times of change, investing in an audit of the leadership group’s capability against future skills and behavioural requirements can bring significant long term benefits. Objective consideration on how well leaders stack up against their current and future role requirements gives powerful data upon which to base future talent decisions, coach or develop individuals or groups, ensure the right people are in the right roles and to identify whether critical roles have credible successors.

Looking Forward

Placing the behavioural aspects of leadership at the forefront of talent decisions provides a clearer blueprint for success and improves the success-rate of change programmes when compared to schemes which rely on skills and knowledge alone. The right talent processes can help ensure that education organisations not only have a clear business plan to adapt to the challenges that come their way but also have leaders with the right experience, temperament and behavioural characteristics to succeed today, to tackle tomorrow and to build better futures.

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