FE Management is complex. Providers not only teach up to 15 curriculum areas, each with its own managers, the senior FE management team is responsible for a diverse range of departments that reach far beyond the curriculum.
Finance, MIS, Estates, IT, Marketing, Employer Engagement, Transport and Commercial Ventures and other departments need to be run cost effectively with an eye on quality and the student plus the seemingly always impending Ofsted Inspection that hangs over every provider like a Sword of Damocles. This level of complexity may seem huge but the fact it reasonably replicates most businesses is a positive. It means we understand our customers because they are similar to us AND it means we are able to learn lessons from them. FE management is not so different to any other business.
What is perhaps notable are the different forms of FE. From publicly funded colleges to private providers. Including fully funded courses and those completely funded by employers or individuals. From face to face courses to those totally online. Some providers are huge groups and some are individuals working from home (this group is very large but often hidden from other providers). FE is not only huge, it is diverse and it cannot be described by single words such as college.
There are thousands of management books on the market. From Drucker, Peters and Porter to Jim Collins and his Great to Good message. All have impacted and challenged FE Management. But although books are useful they are only a set of ideas and words that mean nothing until implemented correctly.
Great and Good FE Management
Judging by the numbers of providers internationally facing financial issues and, in the UK, Financial Notices of Concern there are still a lot of management lessons still to be implemented. The problems are not limited to FE or even the UK. In South Africa the Walter Sisulu University went into administration in 2011. In 2014 it was still suffering and in 2016 it was identified along with 15 other SA universities as needing help. 16 out of the 26 universities in South Africa, or a staggering 62 percent will face financial distress in the 2017/18 year,” said DA MP, Belinda Bozzoli.
So we are not alone.
However if we do not manage correctly we will stand alone. One of the challenges is to break down the silo mentality that sadly still persists in some of the providers we examined. In the Understanding Financial Viability section we address the fact that every department impacts others either directly or indirectly. We cannot manage any of them in isolation.
Some of the best providers I see are those that are capable of reflection. They reflect upon their business and upon themselves. They put themselves in the other person’s shoes and try to understand how they are impacted by the way the provider, or they themselves, operate.
Good planning starts with a business plan/strategy. It needs approval from the Board and is often formulated with them. This then, in turn, guides the various curriculum. estates, finance, marketing and other strategies, plans and tactics.
For any plan to work it needs to be agile, i.e. capable of flexing to a changing environment. It is no good adhering to a plan to recruit 1000 adult students to evening classes when the Adult Education Budget has been severely cut UNLESS we can find ways to fund it. It’s not impossible to run these courses, many providers focus solely on this market and thrive, but we need to flex our strategy. That is the role of FE Management.
Plans needs to be managed. That again is the role of FE management. Some providers do it very well. others, despite dashboards and other sources of information, fail to make the right decisions. Sometimes there is a infighting; often simply because everyone has KPIs to meet and there is no common understanding of the direction of travel and overall objectives. Meeting KPIs often requires high level project management skills. They aren’t always available in-house and providers will often outsource this to specialists for high cost projects like a campus rebuild. They rarely do so for other projects. This means these projects are at risk unless skills reside within the FE management team.
FE Management: Sourcing Good Managers
Over the years we’ve seen many examples of CEOs, and other senior managers, being recruited from outside of FE. It makes sense to do this although there are fewer examples of success than I’d like to see. However, where any skill is deficient in senior team members it makes good sense to call upon mentors or coaches. Sadly FE management often seems to regard calling for help as a weakness that must never be displayed. It isn’t. Is is a sign of strength and those providers that thrive often employ coaches or mentors to work with the senior team and sometimes the managers.
FE Management: Identifying Issues
Another characteristic we’ve identified as common amongst successful managers and CEOs is the depth in which the dig into problems, systems and processes. Instead of just identifying a problem and telling others to sort it out they frequently help the directors or managers to scope the issue and identify potential issues. They don’t take away ownership of the problem but will frequently coach the person responsible.
For example one CEO I work with on a regular basis will often identify an area that appears to be running OK and ask how many years it’s been since the process was last audited. The CEO understands that where a process has been running for 3+ years it is likely that the need for the process has either changed or that new technologies mean there is a possibility it can be improved in various ways. This CEO isn’t necessarily looking for something that is broken, they are looking for something that could be improved.
By constantly looking for improvement they find ways to improve processes and save money. Staff are supported in questioning processes and challenging “we’ve always done it that way” attitudes. The spin-off of this is that system malfunctions are less frequent and less money is wasted. There is less firefighting needed.
More on FE Management Support
For those providers that want to discuss how we can help them with FE Management we are available on 01404 891920. Where mentors and/or coaches are required we have access to some of the best available. They are drawn from FE and businesses across Europe.
We also provide management and other FE ideas at ProviderMasterMind.com