The media love to promote Industry 4.0 or I4.0 or even I4 as the next “silver bullet” solution for manufacturing companies; and often in doing so create an unhealthy expectation which has the effect of alienating exactly those organisations that should be excited about such things. At a recent industry dinner event hosted by Wickland Westcott and Barclays the collective 32 leaders representing the sector expressed their dislike of the term I4.0, preferring the more accurate descriptor of “Digital Manufacturing”.
Brian Holliday, MD of Siemens Digital Industries, explained that as more automated tools and computer systems have become used in manufacturing plants it has become necessary to model, simulate, and analyse all of the machines, tooling, and input materials in order to optimize the manufacturing process. Overall, digital manufacturing can be seen sharing the same goals as computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), flexible manufacturing, lean manufacturing, and design for manufacturability (DFM). The main difference is that digital manufacturing was evolved for use in the computerized world. That said, this is not just something for large scale operations to consider.
On the evening many examples were shared of how digital manufacturing can add cash returns to small and large companies alike, one being a small “metal bashing” company on the Wirral. With £5m sales and employing 50 staff, the company improved their operating efficiency from 30% to 70% by tapping into government backed initiatives, like Made Smarter that offer funding and insight. On this occasion they largely provided knowledge and were able to advise the company on how they could improve machine utilisation, with little / no investment, and benefit from government subsidies to encourage the adoption of digital manufacturing, resulting in the delivery of £500k of cash profit.
The event was held at the 1830 station warehouse, part of the Science and Industry museum in Manchester and home to the worlds’ first inter-city passenger railway. Back in 1830 representatives from other cities visited and then copied this approach and a new era dawned. Seeing something working in practice helps to crystalize the potential, therefore, following on from this event we are arranging a digital factory tour for clients to help further their understanding.
Flexible working is becoming the norm, with the rise of globalisation, enabled by advances in technology, it now means that people can work pretty much anywhere. This has a big appeal for employees wanting the flexibility and freedom to work when and where they choose so that they can more easily juggle work and personal commitments. It also offers benefits to employers which include greater talent attraction and retention, access to expanded talent pools, increased productivity and performance, and reduced estate costs. In addition to the well documented benefits of flexible working the competition for talent means it is evidently a growing trend that more and more organisations are feeling pressure to adopt. Yet according to research by the CIPD in January 2019, a significant proportion of the workforce are not being given the option to work flexibly.
Therefore, do all employers really believe the reported benefits? The truth is that many don’t. Many organisations report operational pressures, industry sector and the nature of their work as barriers to adopting flexible working. Add to this that many managers simply want their workforce where they can see them and able to get hold of them when they want. However, the trend towards virtual teams and remote working presents ever increasing challenges to such managers, especially when under pressure themselves to deliver against stretching targets. Given the competitive imperative, organisations should challenge such paradigms and seek to evolve rather than risk becoming obsolete. Whilst we acknowledge that there are some sectors and job roles that are less suited to flexible working e.g. manufacturing or health service workers, there are a growing number of sectors where more flexible approaches are working effectively. Indeed, our experience tells us it is not sector being the largest blocker it is often more about a lack of trust and the need to equip leaders with the appropriate skills to manage such teams.
To remain competitive, there may be no choice but to embrace flexible working. Therefore, for businesses and employees to truly realise the benefits that it can bring, and be leaders in their field, it requires fundamental culture change, starting at the top. In our experience the following components are key to successfully building a flexible and remote working culture:
Root it in the strategy: Identify and communicate the ‘why’ i.e. the business drivers for adopting a flexible way of working. This could be to support growth without increased establishment costs, to better meet the changing needs of customers and employees or to expand the talent pool outside of office locations, for instance.
Senior leadership sponsorship: Like with any culture change, proactive support for remote/flexible working and role modelling of the right behaviours from the most senior people within the organisation is vital to engaging the wider organisation. There is no point in senior leaders saying that they are onboard and then placing demands on employees which make it impossible for them to work flexibly.
Leadership training: Managing virtual and flexible working teams will require a bigger shift in attitude, skills and behaviours for some leaders more than others. Fundamentally a trust-based leadership approach needs to be adopted with clarity on objectives and deliverables yet greater emphasis on outcomes rather than when and where work is completed. Providing greater autonomy to teams and enabling them to self-manage, engage and stay connected is another important shift. This includes being sensitive to cultural differences within a team and being the mediator in balancing corporate and local needs.
Self-managed teams: Empowering teams to take greater ownership for their collective learning and delivery of outcomes is essential when working remotely. Encouraging collective rather than single responsibility combats issues with supervising trainees when work patterns don’t match. It also enables leaders themselves to work the hours they want to work, helping organisations to retain and access all good leaders rather than just those willing to work 24/7.
Embrace technology: Choosing the right technology and training on how to use this is critical to enable virtual teams to interact in a different way, without people feeling isolated or disconnected to their colleagues. Instant messaging and video conferencing platforms, such as WhatsApp and Skype, are growing rapidly in popularity due to this new way of working.
Like many aspects of business change there is no silver bullet and each business should start with what they are trying to achieve and why. There is no point treating this as a "tick box" exercise, to appease one or two key individuals or to try and give the impression of a business which is forward thinking, when the underlying culture does not support it. In the world of social media and connected networks the illusion will be short lived. That said, with a clear purpose and rationale, it is possible to make small changes to start along the path towards a longer term goal – since demonstrating an aspiration to become more flexible and to embrace the benefits associated with flexible working will send positive signals across your organisation and into the market place.
Wickland Westcott provides support to organisations grappling with the challenges of leading virtual and flexible teams. Whether it is simply advice you are looking for or leadership training and development, please contact Liz Lawson for more information on 07970 377481 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few years ago Wickland Westcott was asked to pitch for some work to support the identification and development of High Potential leaders within a large FMCG multinational. The brief for the tender process included a request for our perspective on the latest thinking relating to the identification and development of future talent. This prompted us to summarise our thinking in the model below. We have subsequently embedded this approach within a wide range of assignments and believe it offers something to everyone looking to develop themselves, those around them, or whole organisations.
The model itself originated from our own experiences combined with a surge in publications relating to talent management and the development of expertise. The literature suggested a convergence of thinking within Management Science, Psychology and Neuroscience which tallies with our own reflections that the development of high performers, high potentials and even those seen with ‘innate talent’ lies in the experience that these people gain through practice rather than through gifts that they are genuinely born with.
Certain attributes such as drive and intellectual ability are clearly useful in supporting learning. Coaching also accelerates the process of learning from experience. However, ultimately the most notable characteristic of those who excel within any field is that they all have extensive exposure to high quality developmental experiences at an early stage in their lives or careers. In other words they do a lot of the right kind of practice in order to establish a base of knowledge and skill that can be drawn upon and applied when needed.
Further analysis of the research literature revealed five clear factors that characterise the ‘right kind of practice’. These are:
Exposure to excellence – visibility of role models who inspire and demonstrate what success looks like and show that it is possible
Isolation of key components – working on specific subskills in isolation before integrating them into a whole performance
Repetition – repeated exposure to groove ways of thinking and ensure perspectives become embedded
Continual stretch – being continually exposed to tasks that are challenging but achievable, with the high bar continually being raised
Reflection, introspection and assimilation – Support in continually reviewing experiences in order to separate key learning
We have used these insights within assignments in a variety of ways. For example, when looking to assess leaders within Search and Leadership Assessment programmes we look to profile the experience base that candidates are able to draw on as well are their current capability or track record. The key thing here is to differentiate between (as my ice hockey coach once described) those with a genuine ten years’ experience and those with one years’ experience ten times. It can also be useful to understand the points of inflection within an individual’s career where lessons started to sink in or when individuals were exposed to new experiences to learn from.
From a developmental perspective, we seek to include practice and repetition into leadership programmes through the use of Self-learning Development Centres and tailored Business Simulation Exercises. The more opportunities for practice we can build in the better, and the deeper the level of processing we can achieve the more powerful we know the learning will be. These approaches provide the opportunity for key skills and perspectives to be stretched within a controlled and supportive environment. Within Executive Coaching our coaches also consistently work towards supporting their clients to learn from the experiences and opportunities they have around them, maximising the value they get from their work.
In summary – the secret to building capability lies in providing the exposure needed for knowledge to be acquired and skills to be practiced in the right way. The same applies to both individual leaders, teams and organisations. The challenge therefore lies in stretching ourselves and those around us with valuable experiences that provide opportunities for high quality practice whilst ensuring the support is available to learn from these experiences.
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 email@example.com or contact Keith Butler on 01625 508100.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call him on 01625 508100.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.