Behind each high performing organisation there is a mission and various successfully implemented strategies, usually with an aim of securing improvements and sustainability. However, moving from strategy to implementation may look easy or even
possible on the plan, but the reality is often different. This gap (between what science knows and what business does) is wide. Its existence is alarming. (Pink, 2018). If diminishing the gaps between reality and ambitions and the destination of
excellence were easy, then surely there would be more than 19% (Ofsted, 2021) of the 24,360 schools judged by Ofsted as outstanding.
Is this because of ‘good being the enemy of great’? (Collins, 2001). As the opening statement of Jim Collins’
best-selling book Good to Great suggests, most people settle for good and this would seemingly translate into most organisations being satisfied with being good, however the organisation or regulatory bodies interpret what good means against their set of metrics.
Good performance brings a degree of satisfaction, but aiming for good and not beyond, rarely sets trends or inspires the next generation of leaders and organisations. Furthermore, with limited ambition for being excellent, the organisation, over time, risks
getting closer to being satisfactory and failing.
Organisational excellence is not just about setting up a series of checklists of competencies and implementing them, it is also about having; a systematic approach to achieving success; a keen understanding
of successful business models; acquiring skills and knowledge of how to adapt to the changing tide and taking appropriate risks that competitors are sometimes adverse to doing. This essay will explore how organisational excellence can be augmented using
a series of processes, how some organisations have made the leap from good to great and finally it will explore by affording attention to talent management the organisation’s excellence can be sustainable.
Strategizing to achieve excellence in
the organisation is often central to its success. However, understanding the limitations of those strategies must be carefully considered to ensure the aims are realised. US Army General Stanley McChrystal (McChrystal et al., 2015) as cited in (Goodall and
Buckingham, 2019) identifies these limitations when planning for the unknown. Despite having the most experienced military agents prepared for action, their operational plans were frequently obsolete against a group of decentralised agile terrorists
in Afghanistan, who had no chain of command and could therefore be spontaneous and much more threatening. Whilst plans are necessary for any intervention or action, they only enable leaders to scope the problem, not the solution. (Goodall and Buckingham, 2019).
Does this help explain why moving from strategy to implementation is fraught with risks and why organisations sometimes fail to deliver on their targets? Planning against the unknown, using many models, only enables leaders to plan for a predicted world,
which can be very different to the real world.
Planning using ASPs, which detail the previous year’s pupil data, should come with a caution. That pupil data tells the story of those pupils and not of the current pupils. Implementing a series of
actions, staffing models, curriculum content, timetables, assessment, and reporting techniques, based on the performance of previous cohorts should be fully explored. Scrutinising data and profiles of current pupils, ideally undertaken in the autumn and early
spring, to plan curriculums, lessons, timetables, and events is likely to enable schools to adapt with more rigour, agility and intelligence and ultimately improve their predictability of outcomes. Similarly, with Ofsted’s recommendations, many
schools are likely to find the recommendations from two years ago are obsolete. Although Ofsted will seek evidence to give them confidence during subsequent visits that their recommendations were addressed, leaders must focus their attention and plans on the
challenges that their school is currently facing.
Being aware of the limitations of plans is necessary to attain organisational excellence, but so is creating a culture that allows employees to do and be their best to maximise performance. Essentially,
teachers use questioning to seek the experts and the novices within everyone and marry this intelligence with their plethora of skills to achieve set targets. Those leading leaders also need to ask the right questions and create platforms for listening for
everyone to better understand how they are a part of the success. Nokia, was once the world’s dominant leader in the technological world.
‘Towards the end of 2009, comparing it with thousands of other companies, McKinseys Organiszational
Health Index placed Nokia in the bottom twenty-fifth percentile.’ (Heffernan, 2020) p246-247
Bringing in a new CEO, Siilasmaa, an experienced Microsoft executive with a history of successful change management in the technological world, enabled
a significant shift with performance outcomes.
‘Siilasmaa was prepared to go broad. Instead of trying to cut his way to prosperity he cajoled, encouraged, nagged and berated board members and employees to question everything... He conducted what
now looks like scenario planning on speed: multiple plans, diverse configurations of what they knew Nokia could look like.’ (Heffernan, 2020) p248
In came a culture that questioned everything and everyone; enabled appropriate risk-taking, and
one that encouraged longitudal and latitudal collaborations with competitors, board members and employees not yet in the boardroom. Modelling the possibilities of what the company could do, led Nokia to excellence once again.
Like many journeys to success,
there are potential victims. To keep values intact and like (Margetts and Buck, 2018) subscribe to Jim Collins’ belief that the right people are the organisation’s most important asset, then consideration should be given to how people are moved
around on the bus, (deployment), and how support is afforded to those that may be taken off the bus, so that each can continue to develop their career.
A two-form entry school with approximately 50% new teaching staff and 100% new SLT tells you something
about the previous culture of the school, and despite the reluctance to change things, change was desperately needed. Managing this level of change, when an incoming headteacher was on the periphery, could have caused chaos. With schools at the heart of the
communities listening to everyone, so that the baton with suggestions for further change could be passed on, while promoting a culture shift, meant that an intelligent strategy focussed on listening and wholesome values, was in place. With swift appointments
made in the last two weeks of the summer term, making sure the right people were on the right bus, so that learning could thrive, was necessary; clearly some people had boarded the wrong bus. Once mission, staff skills and the gap between their reality
and ambitions were identified, it was necessary to take some people off the bus. Networking with others, observing HR’s advice ensured that those taken off the bus were able to continue their careers in another setting, or on another bus.
is the journey to the destination ‘excellence’ on a straight road; it is often a winding one, with many hazards and warning signs. Each of those warning signs needs the leaders’ full attention to avoid the dangers ahead. Anyone being taken
off a bus deserves the support, guidance and wisdom of their leaders so they can thrive elsewhere. If leaders support the transition of that member of staff, provided they have skills and behaviours that are worth developing, the brand, the organisation’s
reputation, and the ecosystem of the workforce, is likely to be better protected and enhanced.
Responding to the wellbeing of all those in the workforce, even if they are not directly working with the organisation, is everyone’s responsibility.
The response to the pandemic, which, owing to the pace of work to address the needs, is creating many of the behavioural risks associated with the last recession of 2008, such as burnout.
(Gerry, 2013) ‘identified via a survey in 2011, that more
than two-thirds of respondents said that their employers had taken steps to cut costs as a result of the recession, like hiring freezes, layoffs, cutting work hours, rolling back benefits, requiring unpaid days off, increasing hours. All that increases demands
Given this, board members should act to ensure that the people that lead their organisations are equipped to remain resilient, competitive, functional and avoid burnout.
Creating a culture where people’s wellbeing is
considered and proactively managed to avoid burnout enables progress of the organisation to continue. Providing forums where leaders and board members can discuss wellbeing needs, tabling it regularly on agendas, affording space and time to reflect and monitor
the impact, enables people to feel appreciated. When staff feel appreciated and listened to, they are likely to keep momentum going and go above and beyond for the organisation. (Buck, 2018).
As illustrated by a school which had a strong reputation
for tending to the wellbeing of all, during the pandemic it increased the membership of its wellbeing team, which planned to address and update the wellbeing needs of the school and the wider community. It created; a room in school for people to reflect during
the day; timetables that enabled staff to better meet the changing needs of their home and school life; forums for parents; food and digital device banks, spaces for governors to proactively communicate with at least one member of staff each half term and
risk assessments that placed the safety of all at the heart. Consequently, staff and pupil engagement remained high and most importantly burnout, even though in any pandemic is a risk, was abated.
Creating spaces for the governors or trustees to gain
better clarity of what is happening in the classrooms or on the shopfloor is necessary, if challenging. With governors not having an operational role in schools, but being tasked with much accountability for its performance, understanding what is happening
in the school means they rely on honest relationships and evidence. Surveys can provide evidence of culture or responses to or impact of changes alongside an opening for governors or trustees to scrutinise more closely and address some of their lines of enquiries
that these may flag.
Much research has been carried out to determine that rating others or rating the potential of others and organisations in surveys, is often flawed. The Idiosyncratic Rater Effect, which ultimately reveals that the rating of
the person or organisation being rated is not truly driven by who they think the person is they are rating are, but instead by the rater’s idiosyncrasies. (Goodall and Buckingham, 2019) suggest designing a different type of survey, one that avoids the
rater rating capacity, but one based on their own preferences or idiosyncrasies.
‘We need to stop asking about others and instead ask about ourselves. Once we designed questions like this, we could then simply ask team leaders…what
their experience was like of each team member …or do you always go to this team member when you need extraordinary results?’ (Goodall and Buckingham, 2019) 52.54 Chapter 6
Similarly, (Goodall and Buckingham, 2019) detail that people’s
self-serving biases skew accurate feedback. Feedback to help employees garner a better understanding of their next steps to self-improvement is often helpful. However, negative feedback, which often drives the plans and change, is more likely to reflect the
feelings the person has about the person they are feeding back to, based on their recent interactions with them, rendering feedback flawed.
‘These biases lead us to believe that your performance, whether good or bad, is due to who you are,
your drive or style or evidence, which in turn leads us to the conclusion that if we want to get you to improve your performance we must give you feedback on who you are so that you can increase your drive, refine your style or redouble your efforts to fix
a performance problem. We instinctively turned to giving you personal feedback, rather than looking at the external situation you were facing and addressing that.’ (Goodall and Buckingham, 2019) 15.45 chapter 5
Negative feedback can lead to action,
which often leads to better outcomes, therefore negative feedback continues to be used to drive plans. Coaching or group coaching may be a better strategy to use to help the coachee to plan their next set of actions. As coaching enables the coachee to see
how they can be part of the solution, as opposed to someone pointing out to them that they are part of the problem.
Void of the usual school KPI scrutinies and government accountability body action, the quality of the schools’ health checks
during this pandemic is at the mercy of their MATs or their LAs. With a school judged as good in an area of low deprivation the school and good community engagement, it would have been easy for it to hide that it was not coping well. If the LA’s
systems and processes were not robust and delivered on swiftly, the outcomes and risks for the community could have been devastating. By insisting that lines of enquiries were followed through and evidence produced, averted this potential disaster. This wasn’t
just luck finding out about the challenges the school was facing, but a clear strategic plan to achieve excellence, building intelligent capacity, relationships and systems, meant that the school’s challenges were identified swiftly, additional
capacity afforded and risks averted.
‘Great schools are the result of a great delivery, day in, day out...In a school context, great delivery comes from clear systems, processes and support, based on the evidence of what works.’ (Buck, 2018)
This floorplan for consistent success isn’t just true for schools, it is true for all organisations and it often starts with recruitment.
Undoubtedly, recruiting teachers has been through a variety of phases. In the primary sector in
the southern half of England recruiting teachers to good schools has rarely presented itself as a problem. Overall, 106% of the TSM target was achieved in secondary subjects and 130% in primary. (DfE, 2020).
However, recruiting in rural areas or in
areas of high deprivation remains a challenge. 83% of schools found it difficult to recruit heads, with 21% failing to do so. (Slide 109 Carter, David Sir). Equally as challenging, as pointed out during the same lecture, is managing budget; burnout; disengagement
and favouritism; workload and short termism, which can all contribute towards making the recruitment and retention problem further. In addition to this challenge is the plethora of accountability or regulatory bodies all wanting evidence that the school
is healthy. These include DfE, Ofsted, RSC, MAT CEO's, LA's, STA, TRA, FGBs, auditor's, trustees, pupils and parents. Despite being there to reassure and guide, they can also create tensions. Possibly resulting in the role of the school leader becoming even
more difficult to recruit to, particularly because those with ambition for the CEO or headteacher role, witnessing the seemingly impossible challenges that their managers are faced with.
Nevertheless, there are some actions successful
organisations take in order to attract, recruit, protect and develop the necessary talent to maintain high standards.
To meet these challenges and sustain a competitive advantage having a Strategic Workforce Plan can help, slide 105, which focusses
- Developing capacity to understand and respond to external trends.
- Quality HR teams that support and challenge the status quo.
- Providing clarity on professional development plans and career pathways.
- How feedback
and workforce views will be delivered and used.
- How the organisation manages change.
A high-quality HR team operating with intelligence and integrity can help provide the protection that leaders and organisations need. Like a high-quality
clerk to the FGB, HR can help quality assure systems and processes and prevent or buffer disasters. Rita Trehan, (BBC 2015) explains why some organisations find themselves in a scandal and the importance of HR.
‘Pressures to perform against performance
metrics causes companies to take shortcuts; big incentive programmes that drive short term 'goals', people taking unnecessary risks; over-zealous CEO actively removing those that challenge them; organisations’ lack of transparency in reporting
systems, by over-complicating them thus making it harder for board members to query what is happening. Which is why HR can be the vanguards of high-quality behaviours, preventing corruption by revealing what is actually happening.’
structures that enable the talent to respond to the needs of changing climate, with a carefully balanced succession plan in situ, the organisation can continue to thrive. Providing high quality CPD and diversifying the workforce has also proved to be drivers
‘Today’s organizations are more conscious than ever of their board reflecting their customer base, which means a stronger drive for gender balance and all forms of diversity.’ (Association of Executive Search and Leadership
Consultants (AESC), 2019)
(Dixon-Fyle et al., 2021) provide evidence (Fig 1) as data sets and performance outcomes for a case for diversifying the workforce.
Fig 1 Chart to show 2019 analysis finds that companies in the top quartile for gender
diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile, up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014.
Whilst organisations would clearly benefit from diversifying their
workforces and addressing calls to ensure the workforce reflects the communities they serve, many are not yet. To illustrate this further, in 2019, 92.7% of headteachers were White British against a 2011 working age population of 78.5% and 0.2% of headteachers
were mixed Black Caribbean against a working age population of 0.6% in the 2011 census. In 2019 there were approximately 45 of the 22,000 primary schools with a mixed black headteacher and 20,394 of the primary schools have a White British headteacher. (DfE,
2020). This data points out the disparity in numbers and points to question why, answering this is beyond the scope of this essay.
Between one trust and one local authority serving 200+ schools in communities where pupils are mainly from the global
majority, they have just 3 headteachers from Black African heritage; this should be no surprise.
However, change is on the horizon, several public bodies, including universities such as UCL, Local Authorities, including Bracknell Forest, schools including
Cotham Secondary School, Bristol, have recently announced changes to their recruitment plans, and inclusion and diversity policies to ensure equity and better representation of their communities. According to the Charity Commission’s Diversity
and Inclusion Party
‘The core basics of fairness and respect for differences and equality of opportunity and treatment across gender, disability mental and physical and different abilities, BAME and LGBT+ rights, championing those with caring
responsibilities, including dementia care, part time workers and more’ (Russell, 2019)
Similarly, UCL (Black Lives Matter, 2020) committing to change by stating:
‘We must commit to systemic change and do so by working closely
with our Black staff and students both within and outside IIPP.
- Focussing on Teaching and curriculum content
- HR and Recruitment
- Policy Engagement
- Communications and Events’ - representation, engagement
This essay sought to identify which strategies help drive organisational excellence. Whilst recognising the limitations of plans, planning and modelling, they are necessary to help determine the future.
Not only is it key to
appoint the right people, but also to consider how the organisations gives clarity to managing the talent of employees or how it manages people when they are considering terminating an employee’s contract, as networking across the ecosystem enables sustainability
of the wider workforce.
Garnering the views of the workforce by asking cleverly crafted questions, ones which eliminate the self-serving biases, enables the employee to see how they are part of the solution.
With large companies and government
offices that influence, regulate and monitor change leading the way to diversify their workforces and addressing the inequalities and managing talents intelligently, it is hoped that the datasets will better reflect the communities within the next decade.
In addressing disparities to encourage a more diverse workforce better secures equity for all diverse groups and brings about better performance, not just for the organisation, but for the world of work and its communities.
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