Straight From the Horse’s Mouth! – What It Takes To Be An Effective NED

Straight From the Horse’s Mouth! – What It Takes To Be An Effective NED

By Keith Butler

As part of a piece of work for one of our key clients, Wickland Westcott has been putting together a training programme to help experienced Managers step up into Non-Executive Director roles. As part of this, to help identify the skills and experience needed, we interviewed 12 people who had secured NED positions, many of them having undertaken several such roles. The key points gleaned from these interviews are as below:

1) How Do You Get a NED Role?

By a significant margin, the main way that NED roles were secured was via the individual’s network. Other ways of securing a NED role included being asked directly by a client, responding to an advert and being approached by a recruiter. However, networking accounted for over 80% of NED roles obtained!

What is also interesting here is that well over a third of the roles came not from the individual’s direct network but from connections of connections. As such, it is important to let as many people as possible know that you are potentially interested in NED roles so that they can recommend / refer you to their contacts as and when appropriate.

2) What makes a successful NED?

We asked the NEDs not only about what experiences and competencies they had that helped them be successful but also what they would look for when taking on a NED. The main factors quoted were:

  • Strong communication and stakeholder management skills.
  • The ability to robustly challenge the Board, including matters that you are not necessarily a subject expert on.
  • Do your homework! Research the organisation, the sector it operates in, what competitors are doing, the external marketplace and relevant Government legislation.
  • Know what you can offer the Board that will be of value and will supplement the skills and experience possessed by current Board members.
  • Hard work, commitment and good organisational skills. As one of the NEDs said: "You cannot play at it!"
  • An understanding of your own area of specialisation, but being able to also look wider, strategically and holistically.
  • The ability to take a step back from operational matters and focus on the longer term.

3) Some words of advice

Finally, we asked the NEDs for any other advice they could offer prospective NEDs, either to help them secure a NED role or whilst in post. Some of the most useful is as below:

  • It can be a good idea to apply for roles in smaller organisations first e.g. Trustee of a Charity, community venture or a school. Alternatively look to join as a non-exec on a committee rather than on a full board.
  • Network, network, network!!
  • Think about what skills and experience you have that others might not and look for organisations where this experience might be useful. For example, if you have managed a merger, look for organisations going through a similar process.
  • In a similar vein, do some research on the current Board members of an organisation you would like to be a NED for and try to determine where you could add something a bit different. Boards are most effective with a cross-section of skills and experience and the better Boards will look to increase their spectrum of experience.
  • Pro-actively market yourself, for example via LinkedIn and other social/business media routes.
  • Shadow a Board Member or existing NED to get a better idea as to what they do and how they do it.
  • Always maintain independence of thought.
  • Get the balance right between challenge and collaboration.
  • Accept and be comfortable in the fact that you will not understand everything in detail – that is not your role!

Is it for you?

Overall, the vast majority of the NEDs had really enjoyed the experience and felt that it had been beneficial to all parties. The organisations they had worked for as a NED benefitted from their experience and the different perspective they could bring to the table; the NEDs themselves benefitted from seeing how other organisations work and how they address the challenges they face; and – if they had a permanent job as well – they were able to bring back their NED learning experiences to help develop strategy and "see things differently". However, as well as these benefits, the NEDs we spoke to also wanted to point out that being a NED is hard work and is not for everybody, so it is important to go into it well prepared and with your eyes open.

If you are interested in hearing more about what is involved in being a NED or you are considering applying to NED roles, then please contact us at or contact Keith Butler on 01625 508100.

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

Newsbrands – Need to think BIG

Newsbrands – Need to think BIG

By Adam Hillier

The appointment of Tracy De Groose as Executive Chair for Newsworks indicates that the sector is still fighting to find its place in the ever-evolving market place.

Whilst the GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) continue to have a detrimental impact on newsbrands’ ad revenues, the last eighteen months has been a testing period for the tech companies as consumer trust continues to wane, ad blocker adoption increases, and privacy issues all converge. So, is the tide slowly beginning to turn?

Newsbrands have fought back in recent times by focusing their efforts on driving incremental revenue streams. Leaders in the sector are feeling upbeat and non-advertising revenues have become a high priority as evidenced by The Telegraph’s and The Times’ success with their subscription models and Guardian Media Group’s impressive turnaround strategy.

However, newsbrands must think big rather than tinker around the edges, because whilst these business models will allow newsbrands to continue to exist, for now, they won’t enable them to win longer term. Tom Knox, Executive Partner, MullenLowe and former President of the IPA, highlights that “newsbrands still have a lot to play for. However, in the context of margin dilution, revenues should not be sustained by employing opaque media practices”.

I believe that newsbrands have an opportunity to change the paradigm if they play to their strengths and focus on the needs of the audience and brand integrity.

The Audience

We spoke to over 450 C-Suite decision makers, with the vast majority indicating that newsbrands lack confidence, are too introspective and traditional. In fact, 64% of these executives have a negative perception of the industry. Advertisers are largely unconvinced by the proposition, partly because marketing as a collective is incoherent, and deep relationships have not been cultivated at the most senior levels with clients direct. There exists a great opportunity for newsbrands to educate the market about the progress that is being achieved and better articulate the value that newsbrands provide to clients, agencies and audiences. Newsworks can become a key enabler by broadening its audience (and that of the newsbrands) and driving more value from the great content, editorial, and creative work that it produces. As Tracy de Groose states, “It needs to get better at storytelling”.

Brand Integrity

Repositioning newsbrands and raising the collective profile will help to create more positive sentiment, particularly at a time when the tech companies are coming under attack and facing challenges around: brand safety; GDPR/cybersecurity; new social norms towards personalised content and tighter channels of communication; and shifting consumer strategies centred on engagement. Newsbrands’ can compete effectively across these crucial areas and offer advertisers brand value, scale and effectiveness. Moreover, the relative transparency of newbrands versus Facebook and Google should be leveraged as a competitive advantage. The increased scrutiny over tech companies, and reduced tolerance from advertisers, has contributed to the comparative rise in perception of newsbrands.

The recent move away from open exchanges, as clients’ need for brand safety is heightened, plays into the hands of newsbrands quality proposition. Furthermore, as trust in newsbrands has increased so has people’s propensity to pay for journalism. Newsbrands have a very clear opportunity to steal a march at this juncture: by leveraging the editorial capability, using influencers, and focusing on building deep communities, greater levels of trust, engagement and commercial benefit can be derived.

There is also a strong perception that newsbrands are enemies. As one CEO points out “newsbrands need to collaborate as an industry rather than being a set of rivals”. The internal politics are stifling positive transformation at the pace required for newsbrands to become truly competitive. Collaboration should be viewed as the new data. As European publishers collaborate on joint consumer login systems to win the fight on fake news, lower front-end costs and enhance customer experience, UK newsbrands can also gain competitive advantage from a more joined up approach. Afterall, the newsbrand market is moving in that direction. Digital has created a shift from tribal readership to a more repertoire read – according to a 2018 Reuters Report the average number of newsbrands read per week stands at 4.5 – providing the opportunity for newsbrands to articulate a more coherent narrative to clients that focusses on scale and engagement. Whilst there will always exist a competitive tension, collaboration and competition need to co-exist and individuals need to work out how to operate effectively in that world.

Progress is being Made

The market is largely misguided about the level and pace of change within newsbrands, particularly around digital and technological advancements. Despite collaborations across the sector (namely The Ozone Project, PATS, PAMCo) and acquisitions in high growth tech businesses, exemplified by News UK’s growing portfolio and dmg ventures’ focus on minority and early stage investments, the perception remains that not enough is being done.

To make a profound impact will require a unified approach and a meaningful commercial value to be placed on the content they produce. Newsbrands also need to continue to find new ways to work with the GAFA and with new platforms to level the playing field and regain control over the supply chain.

The Time is Now

The appointment of an Executive Chair at Newsworks is a hugely powerful signal that the industry is seeking to change the negative perceptions and redefine newsbrands’ place in the market. To succeed, the industry needs to “Think Big” and “collaborate” and from speaking to over 450 executives within the sector this may be as much about self-belief and cultural change as anything else.

For a discussion about any aspect of leadership, please contact Adam Hillier on 0203 940 6446

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

Rising to the Challenge

Rising to the Challenge

By Tony Gascoyne

Last week I spent an interesting and thought-provoking day attending London First’s flagship event – Building London, a one-day housing and property summit. As well as local and national government representatives, it gathered together influencers in the property and construction sector to tackle London’s big development questions. Of the many discussions throughout the day there were a couple that stood out that potentially are impacting the recruitment and talent market and the sector that we operate in.

As one might expect there was no shortage of debate around Brexit. Overall there seemed to be a consensus that whilst the property and construction sectors were operating in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, this would straighten out over time and that patient investment is not overly under pressure, as the United Kingdom will still need housing to accommodate population growth. Economically it was felt that Brexit hadn’t yet had considerable impact on rental or build, however, transactions have stagnated since 2014 and some office clients have arranged back-up infrastructure outside the UK and of course we haven’t even left yet.

If there is an interruption to the supply of materials, then this would have a knock-on effect for the nations’ ability to construct the required numbers of housing and office space. And whilst there are opportunities to use technology and processes (new brick panel delivery and factory pre-fabrication) to offset skills shortage and speed up construction, there remains the fact that around 28% of all the capital’s construction workforce is from the EU (according to the ONS). The industry has already flagged that there is an increase in skills shortages as EU citizens re-assess their options.

Whilst ‘Talent’ is a complex area, fundamentally in order to attract the right talent and enhance a company’s prospects, there must be the infrastructure in both living and office space to support this and this is true for companies in London or the rest of the UK.

As a nation we need to provide high-quality and affordable accommodation for our growing population, but also to do it in such a way that the new housing is integrated into the communities where it sits. In London the affordability of accommodation is a problem as both rental and buying prices are out of reach of many individuals. There is less desire by new graduates to work in London, evidenced by the fact that around 60% of their intake from 2018 opted for roles outside the capital, predominantly due to accommodation costs. (Recent research by PWC) These decisions ultimately have a knock-on effect to the talent pools and pipeline of major businesses operating from London bases.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, one of the most talked about topics was Build to Rent (BTR). During one of the panel discussions, Pete Gladwell from L&G thought that perhaps we need to have a change in the way we approach renting and treat housing as part of community infrastructure, as opposed to a commodity.

‘If it is affordable, of high quality, and available with flexible rental agreements, would people be happy to live there longer term?’

Providing high quality, purpose-built accommodation designed for student living is a model adopted by student accommodation providers and examples exist elsewhere e.g. in Germany, where often people will stay in the same premises for decades with a regulated rent.

Build to rent (BTR), therefore focuses on the longer term not short-term profit gains and partnerships between businesses engaged in house building and the finance industry are allowing county councils and housing associations to build rentable homes, using investment from outside the industry; such as Pension Funds and Private Equity.

The property and housing challenges in London, and across the UK, are complex and the summit played an important role in bringing these all together. The business challenges can be boiled down into having the right skills available and the right leadership. At Wickland Westcott we offer leadership solutions ranging from finding the right people (permanent and interim recruitment) through to developing new and existing talent (assessment and coaching) as well as enabling effective teamwork (team facilitation and Board reviews). We may not have a silver bullet, however, like the property and housing summit we bring people together and look for solutions, whatever the leadership challenge.

For more information on our services please contact Tony Gascoyne on 01625 508 100 or email him at

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

Trust and Team Performance

How to capitalise on ‘conflict’ within Leadership Teams

By John Milsom

I’ve been reviewing the research that sits beneath the development of teams lately and recently came across this article by Simons and Peterson of Cornell University. This study is focused on pin-pointing the reason why both successful and unsuccessful leadership teams highlight “Conflict” as the basis of their high or low performance.

In other words, the authors were trying to explain how it is that successful leadership teams tell stories of fierce debate leading to the development of brilliant solutions, while unsuccessful management teams tell stories of the same fierce debate preventing decisions being made and creating divisions that undermine their efforts. Their research findings are clear, and worth keeping in mind by anyone looking to build a high performing leadership team.

Within their research Simons and Peterson differentiated between ‘Task Conflict’ and ‘Relationship Conflict’. The former relates to disagreements about tasks, issues and problems that teams face. The latter relates to disagreements based on interpersonal incompatibility, and typically includes tension, annoyance, and animosity among group members.

Previous research had shown some contradictory results about the way these different types of conflict impact on team performance. Although some studies showed that Task Conflict enhanced team performance and Relationship Conflict reduced team performance, other studies had found the two forms of conflict to be highly correlated, with one leading to another. This doesn’t make sense without there being some mitigating factor. It also doesn’t help leaders to build teams in a way that capitalises on the positives of conflict without experiencing the negatives.

Through a rigorous and statistically robust study of over 70 similar organisations their results revealed three factors that prevent healthy disagreement about tasks from leading to the kind of unhealthy interpersonal conflict that has the potential to derail teams. The three factors they identified were:

  • High levels of Trust between team members.
  • Structured processes that provide a safe and controlled context for differences of opinion to be aired, and then decisions to be reached quickly.
  • Clear behaviours that exclude “loudness” (i.e. raw aggression) within teams.

Of these three factors, it is the first, the development of high levels of interpersonal trust between team members, that was found to be most powerful, and the most important factor in supporting the performance of teams. From a statistical point of view, this finding was highly significant (p < 0.001).

The implication: If you want to build a high performing team, then stimulate conflict about tasks and problems whilst mitigating the risks of disagreements becoming personal by building trust.

Leaders should also look to provide structure that allows issues to be explored in an objective and constructive way that doesn’t allow individuals to derail or prolong the conversation, whilst also take steps to ensure team members’ behaviour does not become disrespectful.

Wickland Westcott specialises in assessing and developing senior teams and individuals. If you would like more information on how to choose the right leaders for your organisation, or if you are looking for input on the development of Partners please email John Milsom at Wickland Westcott ( or call him on 01625 508100.

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

It’s a Two Way Street

It’s a Two Way Street

By Jerome Bull

Accepting a job with a new employer represents a significant and often daunting decision.  Whilst employers tend to be increasingly thorough and scientific in the way they assess candidate suitability, how do you satisfy yourself that the job opportunity is right for you?

Recruiting companies use a range of techniques to assess job applicants for any given role.  They often require candidates to go through a multistage process involving interviews with a variety of people and, increasingly, the completion of psychometric tests and/or simulation exercises.  This extensive data-gathering enables organisations to make well-informed, high quality decisions about the individuals they recruit.

Having successfully reached the end of a challenging selection process, candidates understandably tend to be delighted to receive a job offer, particularly in a competitive marketplace.  Relatively few, however, invest the same level of effort to research whether the opportunity is absolutely right for them.  In undertaking their due diligence, we recommend that candidates address the following questions before making the leap:

1. Is the role clearly defined?

It is important to understand the background to any appointment, and to ensure that the role is well defined with a clear set of deliverables. If expectations are not set appropriately at an early stage in the relationship, it is difficult to measure your contribution and thereby satisfy your employer that you are delivering.

2. Is the company’s strategy well thought-through, commonly understood and realistic?

Most companies will have a mission and vision including a set of clearly stated aims.  It is worth discussing at interview how the strategy was formulated, who was involved and what measures are in place.  You need to be satisfied that the strategy is robust and achievable, and that the required resources are available to deliver success.

3. Does the company have a successful track record?

Company accounts for PLCs tend to be readily available on their website, providing full details of their financial performance. Whilst it is less easy to research organisations not publicly listed, details are accessible via Companies House, and it is worth searching for on-line press releases. You should aim to identify and explore trends associated with company performance to understand the health of the business.

4. How will the move be interpreted by future employers?

This is particularly relevant when candidates are faced with the prospect of changing sector, moving from a large to a small company and/or shifting from a functional role to a generalist post (or vice versa).  Under these circumstances you should consider your long-term career aims and reflect on any gaps in your CV before reconciling this with the skills and experience you will gain from making the move.  Is there a match?

5. Can the organisation offer longer term career prospects?

It may be worthwhile exploring the organisation’s people development policies to establish whether or not future career prospects are likely.  Candidates with aspirations beyond the role offered should seek evidence of people moving up through the organisation.

6. Is the chemistry/culture fit right?

It is critical to meet a representative sample of people including a range of prospective colleagues to ensure that there is fit from a cultural perspective.  Many organisations will have a set of explicitly stated values and these are helpful, but a more realistic feel for the business can be gained by directly experiencing the working environment.  Is it busy?  How do people dress? Is it open plan? Do people appear enthusiastic and upbeat? Are ideas welcomed?

7. Was the selection process professionally managed?

The recruitment process, and the way it is managed, often tell you a lot about a company – speed, for example, tends to indicate a positive intention to fill the role.  How long did the process take?  Was it structured?  Who was involved? Were you kept informed? Was it two-way?  Were promises delivered on?

8. Is the remuneration fair?

In a competitive and ever-changing marketplace, it is sometimes difficult to gauge the value of a role in terms of salary and benefits package.  Given the current economic climate, candidates are more inclined to make compromises in the belief that the dynamics of the market are against them.  This is not necessarily true, however, as good people are always in demand.  Make use of contacts and on-line resources to benchmark salaries and always believe in the value that you bring.

If you are considering a job offer and would like to discuss the relative merits of the opportunity, please contact Jerome Bull, Head of Industry Practice on 01625 508100 or email him at

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

How do you manage the rebel in the team?

How do you manage the rebel in the team?

By Louise Earle

In a separate blog post (The Trend to Recruit Disrupters) I cautioned around hiring the right kind of disruptor when you are seeking a change agent, favouring non-conformity instead. That said, once in the team, what are the issues with managing a rebellious individual?

For many leaders who bring a rebel into their organisation, there is some level of conflict that they are seeking. They seek to ruffle some feathers so that simply "doing things as we’ve always done them" ceases to be the easiest option. There are benefits to this, as the status quo becomes less easily preserved. And though there will be conflict, perhaps the rebel is simply bringing to the surface conflict that already exists so that it can be addressed. The downside is that confronting that conflict takes energy and distracts, and the risk lies in how that conflict plays out.

It isn’t easy to be the rebel in the team. Those who are disruptors by their nature bring with them a history of sitting on the outside of groups, be they family, school or friendship groups. They may well be more comfortable and familiar with conflict than most, and this comfort will increase the likelihood of challenge. But that doesn’t mean the role they play is comfortable or easy for them. For those sitting outside of the prevailing norm there is likely to be frustration, exhaustion, isolation and insecurity. I have seen this in a team member with a history of consistently adopting the rebel position, and becoming scapegoated. This had become a default in every group she was in, and despite seeming wilfully antagonistic to others, she found it a painful place to be. Whilst some people carry this experience with them into most aspects of their lives, in others rebellion may be more situational. In the former case, the rebelliousness is likely to be more pervasive and potentially disruptive. In both cases, rebels often express frustrations and challenge on behalf of their team members.

We adopt roles in groups unconsciously, and rebels will often find themselves in the rebel role without being sure how or why, facing negative reactions from colleagues. Whilst colleagues who are less comfortable with challenging may not realise just how much the rebel might be expressing something on their behalf, and carrying their burdens. They may have loaded the gun for the rebel to shoot, so to speak – sometimes with, and sometimes without any awareness. It is important for leaders to remember this when frustrated with a rebel employee.

The benefit of a rebel, if effective rather than disruptive, is that they may well help to combat bias in the team through increasing the level of challenge in team decision-making. I’ve had many colleagues in my career who have the ability to voice those things that are unspoken in a team, and bring challenge, but yet pick their battles carefully and build positive relationships along the way. Wickland Westcott’s Bias-O-Meter highlights a number of biases that teams can fall foul of, and the presence of a rebel can challenge many of them. For example, the status quo bias will not stay unchallenged for long in the presence of someone driven by changing things. In teams where groupthink reigns, challenge may manifest in hidden and passive-aggressive behaviours. In this environment, increased friction may well be worth it for the improvement in team decision-making.

As a leader, you are likely to invest far more time in managing conflict if you are to take advantage of the benefits of the rebel. You will need to back them should the rest of the team try to scapegoat them, however disruptive they’ve been. That is, if you want to keep the team together. Things are more complex if the rebel is also a group leader. For example, in digital transformation leadership roles. The roles of rebel and leader can conflict, and these individuals have to tread a difficult balance between leading and challenging. You will have to watch closely to ensure that their teams are not put under strain by the drive to rebel, and are led to work with, not against, the rest of the organisation.

Our need for team members who can challenge the status quo is set to continue, and the rebel will not lose their appeal any time soon. Rebels can bring positive change, and with careful management, could be the key to overcoming biases in teams.

For a discussion about any aspect of leadership, please contact Louise Earle on 0203 940 6446 or email

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

Merger and Acquisition – the elephant in the room?

Merger and Acquisition – the elephant in the room?

By Allan Howells

Higher Education is experiencing a period of unprecedented and significant change, the likes of which has not been witnessed by many of the current leaders. Whilst some development appears cyclic (surely subject TEF resonates with aspects of the 1990’s subject teaching quality assessment), others are going to deliver something which is very different. We have now entered a new phase which is market-led and commercially focused. Are our universities leaders preparing for the commercial world of merger and acquisition?

Governors and senior leaders shouldn’t just wait until their diary flags that it is time for the next strategic planning cycle. The world is changing too quickly for static strategic planning – the continued existence of some of our higher education providers remains precarious because of the post-18 funding arrangements and the increased competition for students.

One of the consequences of Higher Education and Research Act (HERA) 2017, was the demise of HEFCE: replaced by the Office for Student (OfS) and Research England (part of UK Research and Innovation). Although there has been a great deal of focus on the OfS and its role as a regulator to "protect the interests of the student" and ensure that "choice and competition drive innovation, diversity and improvement support competition", very little has been made of a key function that the former HEFCE provided. Over the years it was incredibly successful in maintaining stability and confidence in the HE sector by deploying policy levers that avoided catastrophic institutional "failure". Whilst there are a few examples where universities merged, reconfigured or renamed, it was HEFCE’s ability to work in partnership with institutions that underpinned the stability of the sector.

The strategic management of the block grants it provided for teaching and research was a major tool – large funding shifts were smoothed out at the institutional level. Alas, the OfS does not carry this responsibility. Its remit is focused on the student, rather than institution. The new safety net isn’t transition funding or policy levers, it is a suite of institutional drafted documents containing powerful words that highlight strategic risks and high-level actions that will be taken to “protect” the student. Somehow this doesn’t inspire me with confidence.

Each university really should be looking at itself and considering what actions it is taking now and will have to take in the future, rather than just produce papers. The retail sector has shown that the high street can change very quickly – Woolworths and House of Fraser are hard examples and even the solid brand of John Lewis has seen its profit margins wiped out in a matter of months. A lack of cash, the inability to make their capital or loan repayments and the absence of a supportive sector agency all contribute conditions that are ripe for acquisition. This could quite easily be in the form of a foreign investor or organisation, rather than a current UK provider. Campuses may survive but new names may appear over the doors.

Governors and leaders need to take action now. Preparations which they put in place may be deployed by their successors, but their responsibility today is to determine future needs and start preparations. For example:

  • Refreshing the Governing body with individuals who have worked in, or have experience of, merger and acquisition;
  • Ensuring that external legal providers have both commercial and educational expertise, and that competitive rates are negotiated into the contract now – it is far easier to negotiate rates at this stage than when operating in a cash constrained environment;
  • Strengthening the commercial skills within the senior team, using external advisors and assessors to help secure new talent and mitigate the potential for unconscious bias to appoint in your own image;
  • Reviewing contracts, commercial arrangements and partnership agreements for legacy clauses and costs to identify key risks and then where possible renegotiating more favourable terms;
  • Ensuring that there is diversity within the leadership team and a confident leadership culture which encourages the leadership team to both think and discuss the unthinkable, and have the humility to look beyond individual egos and do the right thing.

The silent elephant in the room is merger and acquisition. Whilst no leader may want to be the one to take the difficult decision, leadership is ultimately about taking tough decisions. Great leaders do the ground work and preparation to enable them to execute the tough decision at the optimum time, rather than when they are forced to. Just like Brexit, when engaging in negotiations on topics as fundamental as these, it is important to know which cards you hold and then how best to deploy them. Even with a weak ‘hand’ you still have cards to play and gains to be won if you play your cards strategically and tactically.

REF2021 is just around the corner which means that the next significant shift in QR funding will be less than four years away. That is one undergraduate recruitment and fee cycle. With no HEFCE around to bale-out universities and an OfS prescribed with a student-focused remit, it would be pure madness to rely on Augar’s review of post-18 funding to deliver a solution. In this new world success will come down to leadership – having the courage and the bravery to think and prepare for the unthinkable.

Allan Howells heads up the Education Practice at Wickland Westcott. A former Deputy Vice Chancellor, and holding a personal chair in Higher Education Administration, Allan supports a range of higher education providers find and develop leadership talent.

Allan Howells can be contacted on 01625 508100 or

This article was first published on 5th November 2018 in,

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

Executive Coaching: Does it work?

Executive Coaching: Does it work? How do you buy it well?

By Stuart O’Reilly

There is no shortage of opinion regarding the usefulness of coaching, but what does the research tell us?

Does coaching work?

Two composite studies give us an overview of the evidence. Jones, Woods and Guillaume (2015) focused exclusively on research looking at work related outcomes. (That is, more general effects such as increased life satisfaction were not covered). They reached three major conclusions.

  • Coaching is effective: All studies showed coaching impacted positively on work related outcomes – with a less than ten percent chance these results were spurious.
  • Internal coaches were more effective than external coaches.
  • Coaches supported by multi-rater feedback generated superior results.

The final finding is interesting because often the data utilised in coaching is self-report in nature, coming from the coachee him/herself. Perhaps these multiple perspectives add value because they help clarify the coach’s understanding of the context, whilst giving the coachee insight into their own strengths and development areas. This point about context may also be the reason why the study found internal coaches to be more effective.

Page and Haan (2014) summarised the results from two meta analyses (including the one described above) and built on this by incorporating data from their own study. They concur that executive coaching is effective, and specify its benefits in goal setting, idea generation, and in obtaining superior coachee ratings (from both direct reports and managers). They are most interested, however, in those active ingredients of coaching which determine success and conclude the following.

  • The relationship between the coach and the coachee is the strongest predictor of effective outcomes. (This factor also predicted whether the sponsor of the coaching believed benefits were delivered).
  • The coach/coachee relationship needs to be strong, but also focused on goals.
  • A further predictor of effectiveness is the extent to which the coachee can motivate themselves.

What can we take from the above?

  • Coaching works: for multi-dimensional organisations in a VUCA world, accurately evaluating any people intervention (training, change programmes, assessment processes, wellbeing etc) is fraught with difficulty. But, based on the evidence available, executive coaching is a sound, worthwhile initiative.
  • Appreciating context is crucial. This includes understanding what the sponsor (ie the person funding the coaching) wants from the program. Perspectives from others in the organisation can also help to constructively shape the outcomes and calibrate the leader’s development needs within the operating climate and direction of travel.
  • The relationship between the coach and the coachee is key. What is meant by ‘strong’ is not defined in the research, but crucial value is likely to come from the coachee’s willingness to open-up, explore, share how they feel, and tell the coach things that might sometimes show them in a poor light. To do this they must feel that the coach truly represents their interests and that their feelings, actions and thoughts are not being judged. In this way, the coach becomes a conduit for the individual to evaluate their own actions.
  • Can the coachee motivate themselves? It could be that coaching motivates certain coachees to develop. But based on Wickland Westcott’s own experience coaching has a much greater likelihood of success if it is welcomed by the coachee rather than foisted upon them.

How do you buy coaching well?

We suggest the following tips.

  1. Explain to your potential coachee(s) what coaching involves, gauge their interest, and only spend money on those willing invest time and effort into their coaching program.
  2. Articulate how a strong coaching relationship should feel, and then offer them a choice of coaches. There are good reasons for ‘chemistry meetings’. Use them. The right coach should offer these obligation-free.
  3. Enlist coaches who will work with the coachee to deliver tangible outcomes. Insist clear goals are in place for all coaching programs.
  4. Ensure that the coach speaks with key stakeholders, particularly the coachee’s line manager, to obtain a truly rounded understanding of context.
  5. Expect clear bounds of confidentiality to be specified and respected.
  6. Monitor the regularity of coaching sessions to understand coachee engagement.
  7. Suggest scheduled review points between coach, coachee and sponsor/line manager to establish if/when the defined outcomes have been delivered.
  8. Think about how you might bring these coaching skills in-house, and indeed start to develop a coaching culture within your organisation. At Wickland Westcott we find that more senior individuals tend to want external coaches, therefore it is probably worth having clear criteria for when to use internal and external coaches.
  9. If using more than one coach extract key themes from their observations and build into the L&D agenda. Also, link any coaching to other development activity.

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

The Trend to Recruit Disrupters

The Trend to Recruit Disrupters

By Louise Earle

From Maverick in Top Gun, to James Dean as the Rebel Without a Cause, we have a cultural romance with the rebel. The Donald Trump presidency is perhaps a perfect example of how much we love a rebel in tough, unstable times. The political climate and the business climate is becoming ever more VUCA1, and many leaders left with the challenge of getting their organisation to respond to a disruptive environment are hiring ‘disruptors’.

Disruptor is a trending corporate term for the rebel, and hiring for the right mix of attributes needs care and thought. You need someone who can bring change. But should they be disruptive? Rebelliousness can take different forms. Carl Jung described the archetypal nature of the rebel, with the drive to identify things that are not working and change them. Preferring to do things differently, the rebel can often be driven to break the rules.

But what is the price? Driven by disruption, rebels can also desire to destroy or to shock. There can be a lust for freedom in those with strong rebel leanings, and they will fear powerlessness and a lack of impact above all else. Their desire to leave a mark can become destructive where they fail to get traction for creating the change they believe is needed. It is therefore key to understand the rebel’s sense of purpose before hiring them. Is there a strong sense of social conscience and desire to do good things, or is there a hint of anger and lust for power in a candidate’s rebelliousness? Has their pattern always been one of rebellion or do they know how to work with others as well? How big a part of their identity is rebellion? I have seen those who rebel and challenge to undermine and jostle for position, and contrast this with those who, whilst ambitious, seek to challenge how things are done out of a drive to achieve goals that are bigger than themselves.

In the podcast “revisionist history2” Malcolm Gladwell describes how it might be disagreeableness, rather than disruption, that is the key in driving innovation. He cites Steve Jobs as one example of the disagreeable high achiever. Gladwell cautions; be disagreeable in action not in temperament. I.e. be prepared to make unpopular decisions, but don’t upset people. However, often the two go together. Memoirs and accounts have suggested that Steve Jobs was disagreeable in both action and temperament, and here lies the risk when you recruit for the rebel.

Academic studies exploring the correlation between disagreeableness and innovation have supported the link in some cases, but the evidence is not conclusive. This is probably in part due to methodological issues. Agreeableness is a big 5 personality trait, and measures likeability, friendliness, social conformity, compliance and love3. The dominant theme here is temperament, but as Gladwell points out, for innovation you seek the willingness to reject social conformity whilst not being disagreeable in temperament. I think here of a Head of Innovation, who whilst willing to challenge or ignore bureaucratic processes even where this would not be popular, was effective at building relationships with her peers and selling her ideas in a compelling way.

For this reason, more detailed assessment of candidates than that provided by simply taking a big 5 measure is beneficial for organisations looking for people to bring change. For example, the Hogan Development Survey (HDS) is a psychometric tool that offers a lens on how a candidate might exhibit their disagreeableness, and how they might ‘derail’ when things are not going well for them. It is based on the work of psychoanalyst Karen Horney (1938) who theorised that we deal with this stress in one of three ways – by either moving away, moving towards or moving against others. Or you could reframe these classifications as flight, freeze, or fight behaviour, respectively.

Thorough assessment supported by in-depth psychometrics is critical to understand the risks that a ‘disruptive’ candidate might bring. A rebellious candidate always carries risk, however, this has to be traded off against the risk of having an ineffectual jobholder in a key role, conforming to company culture but lacking real impact. At Wickland Westcott, we always provide our clients with a clear view on a hire. If you are looking for someone who can drive change, the willingness to be nonconformist is critical, but take care not to take the trend for ‘disruptor’ too far.

For a discussion about any aspect of leadership, please contact Louise Earle on 0203 940 6446 or email

1 VUCA refers to Volatile, Uncertain, Changing and Ambiguous.

2 Gladwell, M. (2018) Season 3, Episode 7.

3 Barrick, M. R & Mount, M. K. (1991). The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44.

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required

Four Steps to Digital Transformation – #4 Leadership

Four Steps to Digital Transformation – #4 Leadership

By Adam Hillier

From talking to CEOs and Board Executives, I have identified there are four essential ingredients needed to drive digital transformation – Structure, Culture, People and in this, the last of four articles, we address the importance of Leadership.

The difference between winning and losing within digital transformation is the ‘leadership’. Digital must become a top agenda item, and driven from the top. The digital leader needs Board exposure and the ability to incubate a digital team and identify what needs changing. It is the digital team’s role to make these changes, to educate people and demonstrate the value of digital to the wider business. This ethos should pervade throughout the organisation so that everyone owns and contributes to delivering the strategy. According to a Managing Director at Google "Ultimately the success of digital transformation depends on how high it is on the agenda".

Strong digital leaders understand the importance of the wider company mission; if they are too technical they tend to be unable/unwilling to step back and look at the bigger picture. Digital is about multiplying the customer touch-points and it is the digital leader’s responsibility to maximise those touch points. At the embryonic stage, digital leaders must join the dots between online and offline: brands, products, technology, and exploit opportunities for greater synergy – the digital leader is the glue. Leaders also need to instil the right behaviours in the organisation around output, decision making, financials, metrics, pace and how communication takes place.

Communicating success gets people behind digital and generates momentum. People with strong digital experience should be very familiar working with data and they need to translate this into clear messages and actions across the business. Explaining the need and benefits of digital, creating an open collegiate environment where experimentation prevails and instilling a fail fast mentality is essential. This needs to be combined with clarity around decision making and the foresight, vision and ability to motivate the team.

Creating a supportive framework, which is visible to the business, will help drive participation, engagement and bring about confidence in digital. Using hard measures to engage individuals, for example, shifting KPIs, remuneration, bonus structures and offering training and development, and hiring top calibre digital talent all help to engender a deeper level of commitment and loyalty to the business. Those who demonstrate the right behaviours should be highlighted and encouraged. People need to be given permission to experiment and staff should be moved around.

A former digital executive and CEO highlights the importance of prioritising what is required, and then allocating resources, which need to be sanctioned at the top. It is likely that new skills will need to be brought into the organisation to instil a faster pace of change and to explain the opportunity cost of not doing it. The digital leader’s relationship with the CEO is crucial. They obviously need very strong interpersonal skills, but their credibility in the digital market is also crucial. People offline might think they are great but digital natives might not think they are great! People with true digital experience know it is about portfolio management and risk management – they are comfortable launching if something is imperfect, good at working in teams and generating a sense of cohesion, they operate with pace, urgency, curiosity, and intense enjoyment of learning, drive change and embrace technology, digital natives by choice – not viewing digital as a profession. None of us are experts and should not pretend to be.

To drive digital performance requires quick implementation of digital plans. At the embryonic stage, the business should monitor how digital operates relative to the traditional business and any signs of similarities should be rectified – you should notice an evident change in behaviour and the business should be aware of this and measure it. Any sign of hierarchical decision making will turn people off – team-focused decision making must be promoted. Equally, questions should be framed at the top and outcomes discussed, but it should not take the form of process and detail as this reduces impact and traction.

In a digital business, your ability to understand your audience and become truly customer-centric in your approach is even more important. This requires you to monitor and understand the core metrics: growth in audience, engagement, revenue and EBIT, and competition in the marketplace.


In conclusion, these four recommendations for creating a great digital business should not be implemented in isolation – structure, culture, people and leadership – each is interdependent on the other. Also, before embarking on such a journey, companies should consider the scale of the transformation in the context of their business and their competitive landscape. The rate of digital disruption is different depending on the scale and type of business and industry; what is important is blending the opportunities offered by digital with the traditional strengths of a large company. Finally, there should be some caution around the level of investment made in digital in context with the revenue line – whilst digital is very important it does not represent the lion’s share of revenues in most businesses – yet!

There are low investment steps which can be taken first, starting with raising digital’s profile if it is not a priority. The burning platform argument is unhelpful and loses credibility very quickly. Companies need to build steam and momentum over time and bring the whole organisation along on the journey. The reality is that everyone needs to be a digital professional in the future!

For a discussion about any aspect of leadership, please contact Adam Hillier on 0203 940 6446

Signup to our Newsletter

By signing up to our newsletter, you are agreeing to receive monthly marketing emails containing thought leadership, event invitations and other industry insights. You can unsubscribe or change your preferences at any time. View our privacy policy for more information.

* indicates required