Ringing the changes

by Dr Mark Pegg

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Reinventing ourselves
There was nothing wrong with what we did before, but customers’ needs are changing and we must change too. Our new, refreshed and updated reality is based on tremendous energy and commitment from the LF’s team. But doing better is not in itself enough. Our research shows customers tend to retain a strong mental picture of the way we were, one that is hard to shake.

It means we must direct energy into spreading the word. It is absolutely our responsibility to present our brand and our image to our consumers. It is no use shouting at the cereal packet each morning – that no one understands us or knows we have changed. We have to fight for attention in busy lives. We have to create a compelling narrative and generate a powerful mental picture of what we are about.

A strong brand image
We know our higher education clients prefer evidence based conversations, where buyers review the business case, make their own minds up and decide. The questions they ask are: Is it value added? Is it going to deliver for us? Will we obtain better outcomes for our University? This is last place on the planet for pressure salesmen.

We must be good listeners and deliver what we say we will do; but what they don’t know, they don’t know and we have to be skilled in getting our message across. Word of mouth is best, personal recommendation is invaluable and that will remain our best recruiting agent, but the future is digital and the world wide web is king and queen. Many enquiries we receive are already on our website, reshaped to make it even more accessible, and we are blogging and tweeting, using social networks to get our message out there.

Staying ahead of the curve
One member said we try to pick their ideas – we sure do – if we don’t focus on customers, ask hard questions, receive difficult feedback, to listen and analyse then we will have failed. We use this intelligence to develop the services our members and clients want to buy. Our vision is to position ourselves ahead of the curve, not only what is but what will be.

Personalise our services
Finally we are terrific at top management programmes, developing existing and aspiring senior leaders, but it is not the only thing we do, in fact, leadership development is less effective without a wider range of learning processes. We provide leadership services in a form the sector needs in consulting, coaching, custom programmes and research. We develop leadership in student governors, we develop the next generation of women leaders, and we research into leadership for black and minority ethnic groups.

Go to the customer; don’t expect the customer to come to you
A common misconception is we are metropolitan and expensive because we have a small London office. In fact, we have staff located everywhere throughout the UK, based in the English regions, in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and we come to you, we deliver where you want us.

I make sure we look really hard at our business and our costs. Born in the provinces, I don’t assume London is best, it is hard headed analysis that the most cost effective service for our customers is dictated by Victorian railway engineering and international airports. It is still easier in terms of travel time and cost for the majority (I agree not all) of our participants to come to London venues for national programmes and events.

Future scanning
Many of our customers have a strong mental picture of where we are today – and that is not a bad place to be, but our reputation depends on changing and on communicating our change, so they have a picture of how we are going to help them take on the challenges of tomorrow.

Dr Mark Pegg is the chief executive of the Leadership Foundation. The Leadership Foundation’s annual review, report and accounts is available here.

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