July 2016
Leadership blog by John Landeryou - independent educational management consultant

Take a minute to think how much of your working time is taken up doing things and how much is devoted to thinking, not just about what to do next, but about the future and how you could do things differently or better.  Have you got the balance right?  If we’re honest most of us probably don’t find enough time to think.   But, arguably, what with the radical changes to apprenticeships, area reviews and so on, there has never been a greater need to fundamentally question how we do things.  And, as we do this, we need to be on the look out for new ideas; potential game changers that break away from the established orthodoxies.

All this starts to raise questions about the type of leadership that we need.  Most organisations refresh their leadership teams at regular intervals, and doing this often stimulates new questions about how the business operates.  If this recruitment is from within the sector there are clear benefits in terms of direct knowledge and experience.  But are we setting to much store by this and actually just recruiting in our own image and hiring people who are adept at solving yesterday’s problems?  Or should we be casting the net more widely and be more open to a wider range of applicants that might help us look at things in a completely different way?            

There does seem to be a trend towards recruiting more broadly; not only in the more obviously transferable areas such as finance, HR and information technology.  And, according to those who have made the transition, there is very little difference in the nature of the leadership skills required in FE and skills compared to other sectors.  In most cases what they lack in sector awareness is made up for in other practical areas, but most significantly by their willingness to ask searching questions and challenge how things are done.  In some cases the ability to take thinking off in a different direction has been a key determinant in the recruitment process.

That’s not to say that recruiting from outside the traditional talent pool is easy.  Getting the message out about the attractions of working in our sector is a continuing challenge that we need to do more about.  So, if you do decide to go in this direction what do you need to consider?  Providing a clear picture of your organisation and the challenges that it faces is key, especially for those who won’t understand all the nuances.  Then there is the problem of framing interview questions and tasks that don’t place too much store on sector knowledge.  Once things get to the appointment stage, getting the right cultural fit between the individual and the organisation is one of the keys to achieving maximum benefit from out sector recruitment.  Both fitting in too easily and being too different and unable to adapt are both sub optimal.  There needs to be enough edge to bring something genuinely different but not so much that it will cause new colleagues to put up their barriers.         

Once in the organisation, an extended induction including plenty of opportunities to develop that sector knowledge is vital, as is a set of clear parameters to work within.  The wider staff of the organisation needs to know why an ‘outsider’ has been brought in and what they may be able to contribute.  They also need to know that the individual has permission to look at things in a very different way.  Asking apparently daft questions can be a powerful way of getting people to think about things from another perspective; but it helps to know that they might be coming.  If all this isn’t clear, misunderstanding can arise and the job becomes a whole lot more difficult.  As time goes by, the time to think needs to be protected and the temptation to slip uncritically into traditional sector assumptions avoided.     

There are benefits to the provider or college itself in this type of recruitment, but there are wider benefits too as we expand and diversify our sector leadership community.  Exchanges between groups of new and established leaders have proved very stimulating and it seems clear that we should be doing more to encourage these sorts of debates across all different types of providers.  Only by doing this type of system wide thinking, and by being willing to look outside our traditional pastures for new ideas, will we give ourselves the best chance of facing up to the current challenges and shaping our own future.                               

Based on research funded by the Further Education Trust for Leadership (FETL) and conducted by AELP and the 157 Group, ‘New Blood; the thinking and approaches of new leaders in the FE and Skills market’.


A short video summarising the work can be found here:


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