The Education sector is changing rapidly and it’s becoming increasingly clear that those colleges with foresight, commercial instinct and boldness of approach have an opportunity to significantly improve their prospects in the future. There is growing evidence that Senior Management Teams with a commercial and customer centric focus will be better placed to outperform those with a more homogenous make up. Diverse, inclusive and representative executive teams benefit from fresher perspectives, new ideas and broader experiences, and are more likely to be truly reflective of the people they serve, and therefore better able to understand their needs.

So how can your organisation achieve a greater level of diversity and inclusion on their SMT and Governing Boards when approaching the market?

Challenge your own principles – Team members of similar age, gender and ethnic background can bring homogeneity, shared values and an efficiency of operation. But on the downside such teams can be narrower in their thinking, with limited challenge and less creative dissatisfaction (and therefore innovative insight). The benefit of a broader range of experience is that it often leads to a more enriched discussion of ideas, thoughts, solutions and perceptions. This is especially the case when contributors are drawn from different professions with contrasting perspectives developed in different contexts and under different paradigms.

Do you really understand the capabilities of your SMT - This can be achieved with a root and branch review of the structure of your SMT, addressing current skills, and the strategic focus going forward and what knowledge, experience and personalities are needed to facilitate this. It is important at the outset that you understand and build in the diverse competencies needed, rather than shoehorning in those that merit promotion on loyalty and good service alone.

Good Governance - We are starting to see the composition of Governing Boards change, with a clear need to streamline and be more reflective to the needs of a College. It is important to understand good governance and the need for transparency as well as having the capability and capacity to hold the Executive to account. We are also seeing an increase in the number of commercial non-executives, although there is still much work to be done in this area. Many Boards need to start thinking about their composition from a different perspective – they need to be complementary not similar - in order to provide a robust leadership and governance mechanism. It is important to understand that to be successful a good Chief Executive needs a strong Board to challenge them.

Be flexible with the parameters of the brief to widen the candidate pool – Education institutions that are serious about change need to seriously think about targeting non-traditional backgrounds, using search/headhunting to attract a more diverse candidate base. Traditional advertising routes are fine (although no longer effective) but will not generate real diversity and choice in terms of the new skills required. The best candidates need to be sold too and drawn into a process that fits with their aspirations. We all have our part to play by pushing back against conventional, this is about risk and reward; often the non conforming candidates add the greatest value or have the biggest positive impact.

Where to look - The next challenge is to attract those with the leadership, commercial and change management skills to deliver the step change that many organisations are seeking from their senior management teams, and they are less difficult than you might think to find. The education sector is in a unique position at present, offering an environment of change, growth opportunities and a level of complexity and learning that many executives find hard to source in other sectors. The same can be said across other regulated sectors, NDPB’s, Agencies, Local authorities as well as the Health Service, where futures are less clear and there is limited opportunity to affect change. Given these

dynamics, the education sector is well placed to attract talented professionals who will bring the political, cultural and commercial skills required for change.

Ensure a thorough and transparent process – It is always important to ensure probity and a high level of transparency to the recruitment process. Such auditable processes including documented sifting, competence based interviews, formal shortlisting as well as psychometric testing, to ensure that the selection board make a more informed decision against tangible criteria. However putting candidates though a process where they meet is un-necessary and unprofessional and it genuinely puts candidates off applying for roles. Such rigorous processes also enable organisations to pinpoint core attributes and behavioural traits that will be essential to the composition of any new or changing organisation. It is important to realise that the best candidates do have a choice, so build a process that draws them in and ensures a level of confidentiality that makes them feel special.

Choose a search partner with the right connections – Seek to build relationships with search partners that can access a diverse range of networks to ensure you get the very best talent across a number of sectors. Today’s market is all about value for money and ensuring you get an appropriate return on investment from your search partner. By putting in place clearer expectations as to the diversity of your shortlist, you will have a better chance of achieving this.

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