Nov 14 2014

Leadership and talent management in higher education

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Over the last few years there has been increasing pressure on universities and other higher education institutions to become more competitive. With increasing fees, greater student demands and ever changing technology, both academic and support staff are being asked to take on more of a leadership role.

Kim Thomas in an article in the Guardian used a quote saying that academics can be difficult to lead as they can be individualistic rather than team players.  In addition to a group who may be reluctant to be managed, university leaders are facing a number of  other challenges including cuts in funding, staff dissatisfaction and increasingly complex student demands. For example, the changes in technology, the growth of MOOCs (massive, open, online courses) and the need for more personalised learning pathways.  The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) conclude that the higher education sector in England will face ‘significant financial challenges over the next three years’. (24 October,2014)

So building and maintaining a global reputation for research and teaching excellence is now more important that ever to secure funding and attract students from around the world.  To do this leaders need to engage and motivate staff and support them through a period of radical change. Many universities and their associated bodies such as the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education are offering programmes to improve leadership capability and build a leadership talent pipeline. The focus of these programmes is to encourage academics and support managers to become more strategic, motivate others towards service excellence and facilitate large change initiatives.

Some universities have been changing and prioritising their succession planning strategies.  Patrick Devlin from Cornerstone OnDemand believes that universities can plan for success:

“Leaders can think more broadly about the skills and competencies a workforce (as opposed to the individual) must possess and contribute across all levels of the organisation.  Career paths can be developed to guide employees to acquire needed skills and prepare to take on increased levels of responsibility and leadership – also aiding retention efforts, as staff will possess clearly defined growth paths, encouraging them to stay on and build their careers as opposed to looking elsewhere for opportunities”. (Devlin, May 19, 2014).

Some of the benefits of having a clear talent strategy include being able to identify and provide appropriate personalised support for development to meet real organisational challenges; aligning leadership behaviours to the university’strategy (for the whole of the employee life cycle) and improved staff engagement leading to greater service excellence.

Training Zone and Cranfield University are currently running a survey on talent strategy practices and the areas they are covering include:

  • Talent strategies
  • Measurement of employee engagement
  • Rewards and recognition
  • Succession planning
  • Talent technology
  • HR Analytics

Talent management and succession planning can go a long way to help ensure universities have the right leadership talent in place for the future demands they face.  A round up of the latest trends in leadership and leadership development can be downloaded here.




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