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 allan.howells@wickland-westcott.email.

This article was first published on 5th November 2018 in wonkhe.com, https://wonkhe.com/blogs/merger-and-acquisition-the-elephant-in-the-room/.


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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 to 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.


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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 louise.earle@wickland-westcott.email.


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

2 Gladwell, M. (2018) www.revisionisthistory.com. 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.


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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.

Conclusion

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 adam.hillier@wickland-westcott.email


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Are Interim Managers Really Different?

Are Interim Managers Really Different?

By Keith Butler

Over the 15 years or so that I have been involved in interim management, I have worked with interims from most sectors and disciplines, ranging from first time interims to seasoned professionals with a wealth of experience. During this time, I have often been asked “what makes a successful interim?”. Alongside having a marketable skillset, the experience to make a difference and the ability to ‘hit the ground running’, I have always felt that the most effective interims tend to be good communicators, resilient and thrive in situations of change and uncertainty. However, this is a very subjective opinion. Therefore, on joining Wickland Westcott, I felt the time was right to carry out a more scientific exercise to determine whether experienced interims share any common attributes.

Wickland Westcott employs a team of experienced occupational psychologists and has a vast array of assessment tools at their disposable. We invited professional interims to complete a personality profiling test called Credo. Credo identifies an individual’s preferences, motivational drivers and likely behaviours in the workplace environment, and outlines the implications in a business context.

Collating the responses to the completed tests, we then compared them to our database of over 3000 assessments completed on permanent senior managers and professionals.
The key findings from the survey are as below, grouped into three general headings:

1) Interims flourish in ambiguity and enjoy a challenge

  • Interim managers tend to be more comfortable operating in flexible and ambiguous environments.
  • As such, they tend to be able to tolerate greater levels of uncertainty when compared to other managers and professionals.
  • They also had a slight tendency to be more enthusiastic and ‘up for a challenge’ than other managers and professionals.
  • This preference also indicates that they are less likely to enjoy environments that are highly process driven or where there is a lack of flexibility or autonomous working.

2) Their style of communication is low key and supportive

  • Interims tend to be more accommodating and measured in their communication style when compared to other managers and professionals.
  • This suggests a more supportive and collegiate leadership style.
  • However, they may be more cautious in what they say and at times may not assert their views as strongly as some. Whilst this might not fit with some people’s perceptions of interim managers, it may well be due to interims wanting to make sure that any views they give can be fully backed up by facts rather than subjective opinions.
  • There is also a tendency to be more sceptical and guarded when trusting people. This would suggest that they may be less inclined to give others the benefit of the doubt in certain situations. Again, this is probably due to them distancing themselves from politics and personalities and offering a more objective, facts-based solution to the challenges they have been brought in to address.

3) They are possibly more introverted than extroverted

  • Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, interims showed lower levels of social confidence and were more modest than other managers and professionals.
  • Less surprisingly, given the nature of interim work, they were less likely to seek out high levels of recognition for work efforts, possibly due to being more confident and focused on completing the task in hand rather than needing reassurance from managers and peers.
  • The results would indicate that the group may, at times, need to proactively raise their profile, for instance when joining a new organization where their track record will be less well known. However, given that we are evaluating responses from interim managers, it is more likely to reflect the fact that they do not feel the need to promote themselves too much. They will typically have high level backing and will focus more on achieving results for the business as per their brief, rather than on self-promotion.

Conclusion

Overall, interim managers and directors showed similar personality traits to their permanently employed counterparts in many areas. However, as is to be expected, they appear more comfortable in situations characterised by change and have developed an approach and communication skills needed to be effective in such circumstances.

What might initially be unexpected is that interims tend to be more introverted than extroverted. However, this probably reflects the fact that they do not necessarily need external validation or the approval of others to function effectively and achieve the results they need to. This backs up my own experiences in that the better interims tend not to shout from the rooftops about what they are doing but rather will quietly and confidently go about making the changes needed improve business performance and achieve their assignment aims.

As such, it might well be worthwhile clients assessing these skills when they meet with potential interims and, possibly more importantly, individuals considering a career in interim management reflecting as to whether they have these attributes before ‘taking the plunge’ and entering the interim world.

If you need any further advice, please contact me at keith.butler@wickland.westcott.email or on 01625 508100.


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Digitalisation in the Aerospace sector

Digitalisation in the Aerospace sector

By Jerome Bull

Whilst data has been used as the basis for productivity gains across industry for decades, the advent of new digitalisation technologies is now being talked about as the basis for a 4th industrial revolution. This is particularly relevant to the aerospace sector where companies are increasingly using digitally-generated information to add value to customer propositions.

Wickland Westcott recently worked with two global original equipment manufacturers (OEMS) supplying aircraft systems and through-life-support to airlines worldwide. Both companies were seeking senior people to lead their technical services organisations, helping them harness the value of performance data generated in-service across their entire fleet and asset base. With the application of the right analytics to evaluate ‘big data’, OEMs are able to partner much more closely with customers to optimise the performance of critical systems, impacting on the airline’s daily operations and, ultimately, passenger experience. The data is used to inform not only long-term systems design and major overhaul decisions but, increasingly, to anticipate and pre-empt faults through more immediate line maintenance.

Our search focused on the identification of senior leaders working in maintenance environments for airline engineering services organisations and other commercial aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul companies (MROs). The core requirement was for candidates who could work hand-in-hand with high profile international airlines, translating digitally-generated data into operational requirements whilst leading geographically-dispersed teams in the delivery of best-in-class line maintenance support. Both assignments yielded successful appointments, enabling these companies to pursue their mission to build closer, more strategic relationships with their customers in a highly competitive market.

The Executive Search industry is increasingly alive to the value of offering coaching, assessment and development services alongside their traditional talent-finding capabilities. Wickland Westcott has been providing a fully integrated leadership service for nearly 40 years. In-house occupational psychologists work alongside market-focussed Search professionals to deliver exceptional client service and satisfaction. With extensive experience at ‘C Suite’ level, and half of our top 20 client list featuring in the FTSE 250/NYSE, Wickland Westcott has a clear picture of what makes for leadership success.

For more information on how to source the best leadership talent to grow your business, please contact Jerome Bull, Head of Industry Practice on 01625 508100 or email him at jerome.bull@wickland-westcott.email.


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Unconscious bias and the search for talent

Unconscious bias and the search for talent

By Allan Howells

In the race for talent, the education sector continues to recognise that unconscious bias can be a significant stumbling block.

How many times have you met someone for the first time and come away with an instantly positive impression and wondered why? There are various reasons for this: your frame of mind, a realisation that you both share a common interest or the fact that you studied at the same university. You may even come away from that first meeting speaking highly of the individual without really knowing them, which is fine in everyday life. However, when this is part of an interview process unconscious bias can distort your view of a candidate.

Fundamental to hiring the right talent is understanding the requirements of the role and then objectively assessing capability against that. Historically ‘the interview’ was designed to cover this. Yet the risk of conscious or unconscious bias is high and research suggests that the interview alone provides a positive correlation of only +0.2 when looking to recruit the right talent. To improve the correlation towards +0.7 (with +1.0 representing perfect correlation), competency-based questions, personality profiling and assessments are increasingly used alongside traditional recruitment processes.

We worked recently with an education client to help them secure a Director of Human Resources. The organisation was keen to widen its potential candidate pool and was therefore open to consider talent from both inside and outside the education sector. We used our considerable experience of psychometric testing to evaluate six shortlisted candidates. Suitability in terms of technical ability and cultural fit were assessed using a range of psychometric tools. Each candidate took our proprietary online personality test (Credo), along with a test of managerial judgment. They then received a one-hour telephone interview to discuss and verify the outputs from their psychometrics. We were then able to advise the final selection panel on themes and individual questions that the panel could explore with each candidate at interview. We delivered our advice to the selection panel in person so that members had an opportunity to explore our findings and seek additional insight. To deliver a positive candidate experience, we provided each candidate with copies of their psychometric reports and a personal debrief.

The client recognised the value that psychometric testing offered alongside the other elements of the selection process. In arriving at their decision, they were able to assure themselves that the risks of unconscious bias had been mitigated. Although they ultimately appointed a candidate with a background gained from the education sector, the overall approach taken demonstrated that the search and shortlisting delivered appointable candidates with diverse backgrounds and experience acquired from working inside and outside the education sector. Retaining an open mind, avoiding preconceived expectations, and adopting an evidenced-based approach to decision making enables the best talent to be sourced and secured.

If, like us, you believe that recruitment is a strategic investment for the organisation then why wouldn’t you support your decision making with an evidence-based approach that complements the hearts and minds outcomes secured from traditional face-to-face interviews?

For more information please contact Allan Howells on 01625 508100 or email education@wickland-westcott.email.


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Ingredients to lead

Ingredients to lead

By Allan Howells

Start with an academic who is well connected in the sector, add a dash of leadership skills and an ounce of ambition and charisma and you used to be able to find your next leader: Head Teacher, Principal or Vice Chancellor.

Not so today, with the demands of universities, colleges and MATs being more akin to those of large businesses and the heads of these organisations becoming more like CEOs. The recipe has changed over the years and rather than reading from a cookbook the recipe is now akin to an ‘app’, which asks you to select from a list of preferred skills, including commercial, international, sector specific, sector agnostic, values, strategic thinking, builds high performing teams, customer focused…etc. However, all good cooks know that even with the right ingredients, it is how they are sourced, sequenced, blended, cooked, arranged and then served, which delivers the perfectly tasting dish.

Whereas in the past you could draw on your local network ‘the corner shop’ to find candidates with the right ‘ingredients’, today you need to look nationally and internationally and often outside of your traditional network – because finding the perfect fit is critical. Get it wrong and the price, in a very competitive market for students, funding, leadership and staff talent, can be very high.

We recognise this challenge and, unusually, in our team we combine the skills of those who have worked in leadership roles with those of experienced search consultants and business psychologists to help organisations within the education sector get it right.

Take for instance a recent example where a northern based, Russell Group University was looking for an experienced individual with the ability to bridge the gap between academia and industry. The specialist role needed would build upon a well-established function that delivered innovative knowledge exchange and technology transfer to go forward and develop strategic and operational partnerships with key organisations.

Finding a credible individual who can understand the world-class research taking place across the vast array of disciplines found in a large research-intensive university is a challenge in its own right! A key ‘ingredient’ for our client was the individual’s ability to operate at a senior level and to establish delivery of new sustainable income streams. They would also need to have a track record of commercialising and transferring leading-edge research. We looked beyond traditional search pools to secure a unique candidate who could engage academic researchers and industrial R&D managers alike.

Throughout the assignment we spent time working with the client to ensure that candidates could demonstrate both competency and cultural fit. The successful candidate had gained the majority of their skills and experience from outside the education sector whilst working in a multi-national corporate (pharma) industry in roles where they partnered with universities undertaking research and development activities. The ‘ingredients’ of cultural understanding and fit were visible and clearly demonstrated, so much so that there was little need to utilise our offer of integration coaching to support their smooth transition into the role and the sector.

The care and attention that we take is reflected in our key performance indicators. These show that 98% of candidates appointed a year ago are still in post, that our candidate net promoter score (NPS) currently stands at +75 and the respective client NPS scores at +83. We care enough to get it right on all fronts and ensure brand reputation is always protected and as a business, we offer more than securing permanent senior appointments. We have completed similar assignments helping organisations secure interim managers, along with Trustees, Governors and Non-Executive Directors.

Finally, it is worth remembering that leaders aren’t born, they are developed. They are individuals, just like you and I, who want to make a difference. Organisations succeed not because of the organisation but from dynamic and effective leaders. Leadership is key and talented leaders are, just like 5* restaurants, rarely just around the corner.

If you would like to speak further about the services covered by our Education Practice please email education@wickland-westcott.email or contact Allan Howells on 01625 508100 or email allan.howells@wickland-westcott.email.


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CEOs in Private Equity

CEOs in Private Equity – Getting the Best Return on Investment

By Mark Benbow

The outlook for the UK private equity industry is an interesting topic for debate. With annual returns from existing investments continuing to outperform the FTSE All-Share Index, many would argue the industry is showing strength and resilience, despite the uncertainty surrounding the UK market. Others would suggest these returns are lag indicators and the decline in transactions is cause for concern. Though 2017 showed renewed levels of confidence, activity for the first half of 2018 has been lower again. A continued lack of clarity regarding Brexit makes it difficult for firms to identify sound investment opportunities and, when they do, the level of competition is significant – recently we worked with a tech business looking for PE backing who had 64 different equity houses vying for investment.

Whichever of these views is closer to the truth, the fact remains that PE firms need to maximise returns from their deals. Critical to this, is ensuring a leadership team in each portfolio business that can deliver on the value creation plan. Investment teams need to conduct a delicate dance with each potential opportunity. They must ensure a critical eye when analysing the leaders of a business, but they equally need to ‘woo’ these management teams who are often sceptical about a change of ownership. Moreover, the competition surrounding each business means the natural tendency is to value relationship building over objective review of leadership strength.

The risk, of course, is that a three to five-year cycle begins with a leadership team in place that lacks the experience, capability or mindset to ensure performance against the investment thesis. Research suggests this is already an issue, with a Bain & Co study reporting that CEOs were changed in nearly half the portfolio companies they looked at. Only 40% of those changes were planned at the start and the majority of CEOs were not replaced until after the first year of ownership. To avoid lost momentum such as this and to maximise value creation, it is critical to understand what differentiates high performing CEOs in PE backed businesses.

Private equity is a unique environment, and for management teams, it can be a very different experience to working in a PLC. What then makes the context so different, and how does this impact leadership success?

  1. The Board is typically much more hands on, especially earlier in the cycle or at times when business performance is below target. Compared to PLC Boards, engagement will be less formal, more frequent and more granular. The stance from investors on the Board will be aligned, which can also create a less independent dynamic.
  2. With the business strategy largely being defined at the outset of the investment, the impetus will be on strategic implementation rather than strategic thinking. This creates a sharp focus on delivery in relation to the targets that have been set out. With this comes a greater level of scrutiny, where the need for transparency, collaboration and operational grip are heightened.
  3. Aligned to this is an accelerated pace of play and a desire for action ‘now’ rather than ‘tomorrow’. This offers the reward of seeing real impact faster than one may see in a PLC, but also brings the relentless demands of urgency and prioritisation.

With this in mind, leaders who can demonstrate a track record of success in private equity are at an advantage and highly valued by PE firms. Nonetheless, investment strategies are diverse and so digging deeper to assess the relevance of an individual’s track record is key. An operational or sales leader who has delivered success in similar investment strategy may well offer more valuable experience than an existing CEO. Nevertheless, every leader needs to prove themselves for a first time in PE and it would be naive to discount a candidate on a lack of PE experience alone. Relevant track record can manifest in many ways and a leader may bring a wealth of situational experience (such as leading a turnaround) that can support a successful transition.

Whilst a proven track record is highly beneficial, it is not always a feasible option and, clearly, successful CEOs in private equity are not solely defined by the previous experience they bring. What other indicators then should we use to identify those who can deliver success within a specific timeframe, where the strategy is pre-defined and enhancing operational effectiveness is key? Through assessing leaders during the due diligence process for many PE firms, we have observed several traits that differentiate successful CEOs in this context:

  1. Significant intellectual horsepower – they conduct rapid analysis and they are all over the detail, often to the point of obsession
  2. Operationally savvy – they know how to get stuff done and they also know how to scale
  3. Heightened financial skill – they have a grip on cash and tight cost controls
  4. Urgency and adaptability – they like pace and are comfortable with change and ambiguity
  5. Entrepreneurial and willing to take calculated risk – they have courage and self-belief
  6. Flexible, robust and humble – they are willing to roll their sleeves up and get stuff done
  7. Problem solvers not dream weavers – more operational than strategic
  8. Galvanise and bring focus – they understand the value of teams and good people

Many of these traits align with the PE environment described earlier in this article, yet they are not context dependent and there are many ways in which leaders might evidence strength in relation to them. Building trust and exploring capability in these areas will help PE houses identify leaders with strong potential to succeed.

In summary, investment teams can benefit from asking three questions of potential leaders for each portfolio business:

  1. Where have they delivered success before and is it replicable in this context?
  2. If they have not done it in private equity before, what elements of their track record will support a successful transition?
  3. What evidence do they demonstrate against the eight traits outlined above?

Without doubt, the reduction in deal frequency and the competitive landscape will place greater pressure on investment teams to ‘sell’ their proposition to each business they see potential in. However, it will be crucial not to lose sight of ensuring high quality leadership that can bring the investment thesis to fruition. Knowledge is power and through identifying any gaps or risks in the leadership personnel, investment teams can define any changes or support required at the very outset of the investment lifecycle, giving the best chance of optimum value creation.

For more information or a discussion, please contact Mark Benbow on 07834 974325 or email mark.benbow@wickland-westcott.email.


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Perceptions through the eyes of a child

Perceptions through the eyes of a child

By Liz Lawson

Last week I casually started a conversation with my 7 year-old daughter, telling her that I have a new boss at work. She looked up at me, curiously, and asked, “what’s his name Mummy?” I was shocked, disappointed and saddened that my intelligent, confident, enthusiastic little girl, with so much potential ahead of her, automatically assumed that my line manager must be male. I was taken aback by this, that at the age of 7 she was already imposing her own ‘glass ceiling’, by putting boundaries around how far she can expect to progress in her future career. So, I asked her (as calmly as possible), why do you think my boss is a man? She explained simply that her immediate role models, in a position of senior leadership were male. My previous boss was male and her head teacher (in a primary school full of female employees) is male.

So, is it any wonder that she assumed the majority of senior leaders are men? Yet how disappointing that in 2018 and with constant media coverage about gender equality, equal pay etc., that our young people – our leaders of the future – are already forming the view that men occupy the top jobs; and this despite having a female prime minister and female monarch. Whilst there is a big push to increase the number of women on boards, the percentage of women in FTSE 100 boardrooms stands at 28% (www.gov.uk March 2018), a vast improvement from where we were five years ago, but is this really a figure to be celebrated?

So why aren’t we as far ahead on this as we should be? What’s holding organisations back from getting a fairer balance of men and women on their executive teams? Many organisations have tried and failed because they view it as a tick box exercise rather than it being routed in their strategy and led from the top down. Even when organisations have a clear strategy and business rationale, it can still be difficult to achieve, because without intention, their recruitment and talent management processes may favour men over women. Therefore, what can organisations do to attract and retain more diverse talent?

  • Ensure their advertising strategies are diverse
  • Have a diverse interviewing panel, with a range of backgrounds, cultures, experiences and perspectives
  • Use structured, evidence-based processes for assessment i.e. suspend judgement and reduce the risk of bias creeping in
  • Raise awareness of unconscious bias – so that key decision makers know what it is and how to reduce it
  • Blind sifting – remove personal data at an initial sifting stage to take away the risk of bias judgement based upon biographical data
  • Use critical thinking techniques to ensure decisions are objective and not based on inferences or assumptions
  • Challenge the parameters/criteria set around what is essential or desirable in a role. Why is five years’ experience necessary when two years might be enough? Why do candidates need to be sourced from a particular industry/sector that may be traditionally male dominated? Why not widen the net and link in with networking organisations that specialise in attracting hard to find female talent e.g. female senior engineers?
  • Create an inclusive working environment and culture which provides equal opportunities for all to progress. This may include flexible working patterns, a review of incentive schemes and greater emphasis on ‘how’ results are achieved rather than simply focusing on the result itself. However, most important is role modelling from the most senior leadership that this is the type of organisation they want to create.

As leaders, educators and parents we have a duty to remove unconscious bias and to promote diversity. Whilst not conclusive, there is a growing body of evidence that organisations with greater diversity prosper better and are also happier places to work and lead the way on innovation due to a greater range of skills, experience, perceptions and ideas to draw upon. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Coming back to my seven year old daughter; we talk often as a family about “dreaming big” and “following your own path” and with both my husband and I following professional careers, we don’t promote to gender role definitions within our home. However, it is clear that talking is only part of the solution, there needs to be visible change and until my daughter sees more examples of women in leadership roles in her everyday life, she is unlikely to change her perception. The same could be said for business organisations also.

Diversity and Inclusion is also the topic of forthcoming workshops being held in Cheshire, Warwick and London. Contact the team on 01625 508100 if you are interested in further information.

Should you wish to discuss any of the other services that we offer you can contact Liz Lawson on 07970 377481 or email liz@wickland-westcott.email.


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