Wednesday, 8 January 2014

New Year Resolution - 100% College Roll Out

I don't normally go in for New Year Resolutions but I have had a goal in mind for a few years now which I'd like to share;

I would love to work on a project that gets 100% roll out across FE Colleges

Sounds like quite a feat doesn't it? Indeed, given that I have not been able to find any products that every college uses (and this includes some great services that are free of charge) some might see this as an impossible task... just the kind of challenge I like.

But something that I think is as important as this challenge are my reasons for such a goal.

Money? Nope.
Am I a megalomaniac who wants to be liked by everyone in FE? Might be nice, but nope. Because am an "alpha male" and feel the need to conquer all and/or win at all costs?
As I've worked in the corrosive culture this personality type can create... Most definitely NOT!

Core Values... And a Noble Cause
My motivation comes from something that is way too undervalued in UK business - my core values. I discuss core values in my culture report through highlighting companies like Zappos and their Core Values;

While working on my EdTech report "Developing Relationships & Delivering Value" I contemplated on what the core values of any organisation that I might want to work with, or establish (watch this space!), might include. I came to the conclusion that my core values are;

1) Quality products - Organisations that delight their customers so much that they become evangelists & fans (e.g. Apple, Google et al), or companies that educators universally praise on social media and who grow more through word of mouth rather than using aggressive or unwelcome sales tactics. 

2) Making a Difference - My favourite success stories in education include Sugata Mitra and KIPP. Mitra uses technology to make a real difference with young people; KIPP has had some amazing results with underprivileged kids through the positive culture they establish. 

3) Ethical - That products should add value to the customer/user. My favorite observation on this comes from Henry Ford;

“A manufacturer is not through with his customer when a sale is completed. He has then only started with his customer... the sale is an introduction. If the machine does not give service, then it is better for the manufacturer if he never had the Introduction, for he will have the worst of all advertisements – a dissatisfied customer…”  

Dave Logan's book, Tribal Leadership, researches common attributes of great teams, which includes having "a shared set of core values and then aligning those values to a noble cause," any product that gets 100% uptake will surely add value to the college and, hopefully, improve the outcomes of our young people... that's a noble enough cause for me! 

Person-Environment Fit - Difficult Job Search

I have tried to look for FE suppliers like this within organisations where my skills and personality would be a good "person-environment fit" (Being engaged in an occupation, role and/or setting that fits your personality) but there were not too many organisations that jumped out at me, those that do either have my CV and/or know that I'd like to collaborate with them.

I am not being critical of any suppliers here, but it is a fact that there are few products or services that are working with 80%+ of FE Colleges. Indeed what if we stop for a moment and think about how hard it is for an organisation to get everything right with a service and become a market leader, whose customers are evangelists and fans.

We all know about the success and ubiquitous use of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube etc, but this is a relatively small number of companies who have reached this stage and successfully "Crossed the Chasm" of their initial niche target markets, before going on to achieve universal roll-out to become household names. Imagine what it takes to;
  • Get the product right 
    Apple and Microsoft's products were not quite right straight away
  • Getting the right people
    Steve Jobs lost his job at the company he created as a result of board room battles with John Sculley
  • Establishing the right culture
    Steve Jobs created a "Let's be Pirates" counter culture with his Mac team Vs John Sculley and the team working on the Lisa PC.
  • Getting the sales and marketing right
  • Rolling out at the right time... and to the right kind of customer
    One of the main reasons that companies fail is because they scale the business too soon
  • Maintaining FocusGoogle focused only on search while their bigger rivals, Yahoo and Inktomi, saw search as a small part of their business 
  • The aims, goals and strategic vision of the founders and investors to be in sync as the company matures. 
Open for Business
Not only have I read a great deal about these issues, but I have also had the painful experience of having a front row seat watching the "Five stages of decline" that Jim Collins describes in "How the Mighty Fall" at a previous company I worked for... not something I wish to repeat.

I have also been accepted onto this course on
Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Stanford University, which I am SO excited about and looking forward to.

All of which suggests that I'm ready to take on my goal of finding the kind of products and services that might achieve 100% roll out. But, as Socrates observed;

Which is definitely the case with me... I have learned;
  • From working at start ups who promised much initially... but failed to deliver
  • About tried and tested principles for effective roll out of successful companies
  • That there are A LOT of things you need to get right to develop good products
  • Why collaboration with potential customers at an early stage is so key
  • The ONLY way to have any chance of finding the right product is by getting input from FE
Which leaves me with the only 2 things that I know today is that;
  • Getting the mix right and roll out a product or service out across FE will be a challenge.
  • Such a task would be impossible without the input and support of the sector.
Help Wanted... Apply Within!
The core message from my EdTech report is that collaboration is a prerequisite for successful products/services. This is reinforced within education through the success stories from Start up Education weekends and from startups who achieve viral growth.

So what do you do if you don't have all the answers? Ask the right questions? Who better to explore the answers to these questions than with your prospective customers?

I have put together 4 surveys that have been designed to help identify areas of best practice to help confirm some of the ideas that I have. This feedback will help provide a plan of action based on my EdTech report, I would be extremely grateful if you could take a moment to complete any of the surveys that are applicable to you or your department;

Report Feedback Survey - I have produced 7 reports and it would be great to hear your thoughts on our exploration with "Inbound Marketing"

Supporting FE - Before making any marketing plans we would like your input on how people in FE feel suppliers can best support FE & their students at a national, regional & local level.

FE Tech Products: Best Practice Survey - We are keen to hear about which products/suppliers are meeting and exceeding their FE customers expectations

Critical Friend Network - The only way that any organisations can achieve product-market fit and a welcome and efficient roll out plan is through close collaboration, I am looking to develop a network of critical friends who can help me assess various products and ideas that will be new to FE.

I would also be extremely grateful if you could share this post and/or these survey links with your colleagues.

Working on projects that achieve product-market fit is only possible with input from FE.

By the way if you're an EdTech supplier reading this (ideally a startup) that shares the core values above - get in touch I'd love to have a chat about seeing if there is any scope for collaboration! Suppliers may also be interest in my #StartUpEduChat post and follow @KatrinaStevens1 & @StartUpEduChat for more info.

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