As a Business Leader and MBA I’ve always considered competition to be a good thing. It makes a business think harder about their structures, their overheads, production, marketing and pricing strategies. It makes them work on researching and developing their market and their position within it. It makes them look outside their own market to diversify and evolve, keeping the products, and services, fresh and keen. The customer is always the winner.
However, recently I’ve noticed a negative side of the growing competition in my own industry. One that doesn’t sit well with me and my role, and makes me wonder a) what I’m doing here? and b) is there anything I can do to change it?
Through no fault of my own company, we find ourselves in a position that any future success achieved will have an equal and opposite negative effect on another business nearby (and, it has to be said, visa versa). So? I hear you say. That’s business – live or die by your ability to compete. But do you feel the same when I tell you that my “industry” is publicly funded education?
The Academy programme, in which all schools were going to convert from a locally to centrally funded system, gain more autonomy, work together and be able to set their own vision and operations (ie compete), has met with mixed results, government u-turns and media mis-information. On the one hand we have massive Academy Trusts, dominating a market, reducing parental choice and siphoning money away from the frontline user with excessive back office costs; on the other, we have stand alone academies who were happy to convert to start with, but who now fiercely protect their boundaries for all they are worth, for fear of losing “control”, effectively hampering any kind of school improvement and clinging resolutely to the ‘outstanding’ grade they received from Ofsted’s last visit in 1855; and lastly we have locally maintained schools who have chosen to do nothing, with their heads firmly in the sand, who now sit waiting to be picked off and forced into joining a MAT.
But it isn’t all bad. Somewhere in there are the slowly growing MATs who are actually in it for the collaboration, who can see the advantages in joining together, either formally or informally, to share best practice, to identify efficiencies and savings, and to ensure that as many students as possible benefit from a targeted education which might make them more able them to secure a job in their local area. This is a) why I am here and why b) I can do something…I can ask for your help.
The pace of change, either light speed or non-existent (never in between), means that local Business Managers and Leaders are needed now, more than ever, to become School Governors and Trustees with the aim of helping schools navigate the inevitable changes and compete on terms with which they feel comfortable.
The skills required of a Governor are not the same as yesteryear. I don’t need you to pick over the income and expenditure with a fine tooth comb. I don’t need your input on who to employ. I don’t need you to tell me how to operate the teaching and learning. What I do need is someone to challenge me, to talk ideas through, to help me with vision, progress, continuous improvement, social responsibility. I need you to understand, support and be involved. In return for all that you can have an insight and voice into the likely skills of your future employees, an opportunity to raise the profile of your business in the community, and a fulfillment, for relatively little time outlay, like no other.
So, Business Leaders of the Nation. Get in touch with your local school, or not-so-local if you prefer, and ask them how you can get involved. If they say “No thank you” without an excellent reason, move quickly on to another school (because you don’t want to be involved in a school still operating in the Stone Age) and if when you get there you discover the Chair of Governors has been in post for more than twelve years, you have my permission to stage a swift (but preferably bloodless) coup.
You won’t regret it. Thank you.