New improvement body deserves to be embraced

1st August 2008 at 01:00

From conversations across further education, I know we are all experiencing an increasing pace of change. Unless we find more radical solutions for improvement and excellence, this might take a heavy toll. Leaders throughout the world face rapid change and a shifting landscape, presenting them with some of their biggest challenges, but also their biggest opportunities.

The smartest will find better ways to navigate their world, focus on areas they can change, make smarter decisions and take advantage of new opportunities. In FE and skills, it is too easy to be cynical about the shortening lifespan of national organisations and their leaders' tenure. We may praise or query the government mantra of "simplification, simplification", but one thing is constant: we want things to get better, and to continue transforming the lives of our students.

So, is the formation of the new Learning and Skills Improvement Service yet another example of superficial structural change? We should suspend our disbelief and give the new organisation our full support. As the outgoing chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL), and as an optimist, I believe what is intended is a profound change in the very nature of the leadership, business and organisation model on which it is based.

This is in tune with the hypothesis of Gary Hamel, the management thinker who says that the old management models are a huge drag on innovation. Leaders must be more creative than their forebears and must develop a new set of practices, based on new principles such as community and creativity. It is on this basis that we at CEL, with the confidence of five successful years, have risen above any desire to maintain our organisation as a separate entity and have agreed to support the formation of this radical new organisation.

We will reconfigure ourselves to serve the sector's "greater good", its leaders, staff and learners, in the belief that an even better new organisation will be allowed to flourish.

Old-fashioned procurement should be replaced by an expanded idea of intelligent commissioning that is customer-centred and linked to the wisdom and expertise of sector professionals. It should be geared to what is happening on the front line, and to the genuine needs of our sector leaders and professionals.

We must avoid the temptation to resist this new model. We must cede control, say goodbye to our old management methods and take on board the radical trust needed in partnership working to create a self-regulated, responsive, powerful and successful organisation and sector.

One of the core reasons for CEL's success has been its ability to trust the customer, our staff, and to allow innovation, autonomy and leadership to thrive at all levels and in every aspect of the organisation. This has led to outstanding high performance.

As a small body, CEL has punched above its weight and has overachieved against every target. Our customer satisfaction rating of 97 per cent is reflected in a recent survey that confirmed high levels of trust, loyalty and legitimacy.

Other areas of improvement highlighted in inspections included higher attainment and achievement, greater motivation among middle and senior managers and a higher capacity to improve. We accept the difficulty in isolating CEL's role from other forces that have shaped leadership and management performance, but we were delighted that this independent study showed evidence of positive impact.

More than 1,160 organisations and 38,000 individuals have engaged with CEL. In just five years, we have helped to develop a vast pool of talented leaders and managers who are ready to embrace the challenges of self- regulation and continue building an FE system that offers real value to learners, the economy, employers and society. This is the enduring legacy for which I hope the centre will be remembered.

I end with the wise words of the business and management guru Peter Drucker: "The best way to predict the future is to create it - together."

Lynne Sedgmore is chief executive of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership and has just been appointed to run the 157 Group of large colleges.

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