From education to employment

Growing your own


Creating the ideal management team is a difficult task for even the seasoned professional.  The main reason is that while we can draw up the most elaborate of structures, it is the people who fit into those structures that create the impact.  So how does one go about achieving the “dream team”?

Generally I would advise the mixed economy approach, take some good established managers and join them with people who have great promise but need to realise their dreams through major exposure to the real world of FE.

At Weston College we did just that some two years ago and the results have been dramatic, as indeed were the teething problems.  My experience was to actually identify more colleagues than you actually need and to sub divide roles so that particular expertise can be developed quickly and robustly. It is through this micro analysis that skills and competence rapidly develop but actually the real skills are the ability of people to act individually and as part of a team, to learn to delegate but at the same time retain oversight and most importantly to take calculated risk. In taking that risk, they do need to prove that the risk is at least balanced and identify stepping off points if it becomes evident that the plan is not going to deliver the original goals.

So did the exercise work?  The answer is yes, but not in isolation.  My role as Principal, for the first twelve months, actually became more complicated as initially colleagues needed significant hand-holding or approval of the direction they were taking.  The situation did improve however and now nearly two years later much greater autonomy is being achieved but equally as Senior Managers moved into corporate positions, there was the need to advance the skills sets of the middle management team.

The approach with the middle management team was very different.  In recognition of the need for the College to become even more commercial in operation it was decided to bring in a team of business people from commerce and industry to work with these staff on a series of projects that were pertinent to the forward development of the College.  The results here over a twelve month period were dramatic; not only were difficult real scenarios tackled, but the solutions were both entrepreneurial and in many cases cost effective.  I was impressed – and it takes a lot these days!  The most obvious difference after the commercial exposure was the level of confidence of the middle managers after training and the business leaders certainly put them on their mettle. The success of the development was so great that now the NHS and other organisations are looking to follow suit.

I suppose the one thing that has emerged from the whole exercise for me is that if you want to “grow your own” managers then you will have to devote significant time to the process.   It has most definitely worked but it is not a quick fix process, rather one that requires integrity, perseverance and attention to detail.  Neither does this process stand in isolation, you will still need to go out to the market to ensure you have the very best staff for the future – my team stood up very well against the external competition in the main but I have occasionally still had to use locum agencies when up against it.

So should your college be growing its own?  I think it is a most definite ‘yes’ but once you create the ideal team they are of course liable to be poached and there has been no shortage of attempts to draw the team away.  This brings me to my last point – the dream team need to be well remunerated and need to have clear targets which are challenging but achievable. I think my team would say that they are very stressed at present with the significant demands of a changing FE world.  I would be surprised if they weren’t to be honest – I do expect results from every one of them.

So here at Weston College we are getting ready for the next academic year.  The GCSE and A Level result days in August will be very important days for existing and future students of the college.  The long term vision is very challenging and exciting and we need to keep our feet firmly in the ground to avoid distraction.  I still get incensed at the levels of bureaucracy the college faces in terms of creating the best opportunities for our learners but equally as long as we remember what we are here for, we all have a real chance.

Paul Phillips is principal and chief executive of Weston College, Weston-super-Mare

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