In today’s education landscape more than ever, reading the market and predicting outcomes is a difficult task. We face tumultuous times with significant shifts in the political, economic and social paradigms that challenge many of the strategies and business models that worked so well previously. Colleges live in a dynamic world where change can happen so suddenly that confidently made assumptions become nothing more than guesses. What was previously ‘known’ becomes suspect and, at its worst, this can lead to hesitation, wrongly made assumption and even paralysis.

There is a renewed pragmatism emerging - one that is led by individuals who believe that strategy without effective execution is folly; many of this new generation of ‘doers’ believe strongly that success does not necessarily come from innovation or new thinking, but instead through flawless execution.

When we assess the capability of leaders on behalf of our clients, we focus a great deal of energy and time understanding where they come from and what they have actually done. We believe that the most powerful predictor of future performance is past performance. The chances are that if someone has done something before, they are likely to do it again. We are fundamentally interested in track record and, now more than ever, we look for the ability to execute - especially at Executive level.

In their book, ‘Execution, the discipline of getting things done’, Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan and Charles Burck outline the Leader's Seven Essential Behaviours. They are a great reference point for anyone interested in refining their own ability to flawlessly execute.

  1. Know your people and your business - do you really know how it works?
  2. Insist on realism – ‘hope’ has no place in the work environment
  3. Set clear goals and priorities - if your people can't tell you what they are, you are in trouble
  4. Follow through - get it over the finish line, not just through the committee
  5. Reward the doers - if you don't, you will lose them
  6. Expand people's capabilities - specifically regarding their ability to deliver
  7. Know yourself - "contain your ego and recognise your blind spots"

This is a great starting point for those who want to challenge themselves and ask the question, "Do I really know how to get stuff done in my organisation?"

The behaviours imply a true connection to the organisation - to really know what it is capable of and how it works. Interestingly, a candidate we recently placed, who had just moved into the sector after a long period with their previous employer, struggled in the first six months to really know how to get stuff done in their new environment. There was no manual, there rarely is, so they needed to immerse themselves in the business from the frontline up. They needed to know when they were being managed with only half the story and also needed to identify the likeminded ‘doers’ who could help activate the change agenda. Critically, they needed to ensure the organisation was crystal clear with what it was going to do, by when and by whom. The ‘doers’ were rewarded and others soon caught on - landing tangible results were what it was all about.

Vision, creativity and strategic insight are of course important qualities still, yet these are totally insufficient in today’s world that has no respect for longer term flexible planning. Customers want service and flawless execution now - those who are capable of delivering this are todays stars. One could argue they always have been.

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