From education to employment

Implementing WHY in FE

My recent article The answer to FE problems is “Why?” seemed to resonate with many people. Those that phoned and emailed me wanted to know more about the benefits of implementing a WHY strategy and how providers might put it into practice.

At its heart a WHY strategy is about getting people to buy into your core beliefs. In my original article I suggested that people find it easy to buy into Martin Luther King Jnr’s ideas when he expressed them as “I have a dream”.

Another example of this would be Sir Richard Branson’s WHY. Dyslexic Branson “failed” at school but started his first business, a magazine, while still at school.

He soon became known as a man that stood against the “injustices” that big business perpetuates. So Virgin Music was formed because he believed it unjust that large records labels controlled the music world.

Later the “injustice” of British Airways dominating the air routes to North America prompted Branson to launch Virgin Atlantic. People bought into this WHY, as they understood how “unjust” large record companies and airlines cost the consumer dearly.

A provider adopting a WHY such as, “we believe everyone is entitled to a chance in life”, or, “we believe everyone deserves a good education”, is also likely to be understood and find people quickly buy in, provided they implement it well.

The benefits of a WHY strategy

With course funding tightening by the week, many providers have revisited their work with employers only to find it more competitive than ever. But businesses, such as my own, as well as corporates are willing to pay royally for training if they have bought into your WHY.

We have to remember, however, that there is a huge difference between repeat business coming our way because we are cheaper than our competitors and loyal customers that have bought into our WHY. The second group don’t research the market or entertain alternatives simply because they believe in WHY we do what we do.

For five years I was a non-executive director of an environmental consultancy that was known for being quite expensive. Customer loyalty, recommendations and repeat business was very high because we demonstrated our WHY by contributing all our profits into environmental projects. That was our WHY. It was why we were very good. It was why we charged more than our competitors and it was why our clients paid our high fees.

If your WHY includes investing your “profits” into, say, bursaries for disadvantaged young people to train to enter the workforce, and if you involve the business community in this, then it soon becomes part of the local business culture. It then becomes part of the DNA of local businesses and they will pay more, recommend you more and use you more.

Once students and their families understand that your WHY is to help them, and people like them, then they also buy into your WHY.

Staff that understand WHY are far more productive and tend to stay in post much longer. Examples in the outside world are many. Just look at non-profits and charities like the RSPB, whose why is “to give nature a home”, and the various Air Ambulance Trusts. In organisations like these the WHY is implicit in all they do and they are well supported by staff and volunteers and are relatively successful in raising donations.

Implementation reality

Implementing WHY in FE isn’t easy. If it were everyone would have done it.

Step one is to agree your WHY. And if it took you an away day or weekend to produce a mission statement, just think how more difficult the simple question WHY will be!

Once devised, your WHY has to be articulated and embedded into your culture and DNA. Where people have previously focused on Ofsted prescribed targets, embedding the WHY is never going to be easy. But bear in mind that Ofsted targets are much easier if you know WHY – and that it isn’t just to get a good Ofsted grade.

It is only once the WHY is accepted as being desirable that the hard work of embedding it really starts.

Suddenly, when you live the WHY, things that have “always been done that way” start to appear different. For example, there is strong evidence to show that the longer forms are the less likely people are to complete them. Sixteen year olds, and some will be low achievers, are less likely to even attempt online forms that are long.

These forms are long simply because providers have to capture so much information. A provider that has a WHY that believes everyone deserves a chance will come to understand that their long forms aren’t giving everyone a chance. They’ll understand that long forms can equate to non-application and more NEET statistics.

The provider that lives its WHY realises that only very basic information is necessary from the outset and that the other information can be gathered later. Gathering all the information at the outset is for the provider’s benefit and doesn’t satisfy the WHY.

Where I’ve raise this with providers they sometimes explain that they can help applicants that visit them to complete the forms. The only problem is they don’t communicate this to every applicant and many escape the net.

Implementing WHY is a topic far larger than the few hundred words this article permits. But if you have more questions about the 50-60 other steps implicit in implementation then you’ve already made more progress than many providers ever will.

Now is the time for action and not words.

Marketing consultant Stefan Drew was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and now works with providers throughout the UK, Europe and the US – visit:

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