Thinking differently: leading and thriving in a VUCA world

Tracy West and Jenny Tester of GatenbySanderson reflect on the ETF leadership innovation workshop they led in March, considering how leaders develop the skills and resources to navigate large, complex and ever-evolving challenges in the political landscape, and with budgetary constraints and the emergence of new technology, and asking what innovation and disruptive thinking are and how leaders can apply them in their own institutions.

Exponential change has created a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world where the need to innovate and disrupt has become crucial for Further Education (FE) to thrive. The Education and Training Foundation (ETF) and GatenbySanderson delivered a workshop for FE leaders to explore these questions, and to reflect on tools, techniques and frameworks to support innovation and the capabilities of leaders who succeed in a VUCA world.

The day focused on the following areas.

Innovation and disruption in education

The ten types of innovation framework (Doblin) is a tool which supports the identification of areas for innovation. The framework has three components – configuration, offering and experience – and a total of ten types of innovation. The framework was originally used in a corporate environment to encourage leaders to consider innovation across the organisation rather than just in product development; hence the reference to ‘profit’ rather than ‘financial sustainability, which is more normally talked about in FE. Nonetheless, it provides a helpful tool to consider different facets of FE, and to consider new advancements and ideas in a new light helping drive positive disruption in an educational context.


Profit: How is our income generated? What is our model for income generation and could we explore alternatives?
Networks: Who do we collaborate with? Are there opportunities to use partnerships and networks differently for greater impact?
Structure: Do our structures set us up for success? How could we be configured differently to best achieve our goal?
Process: Do our processes set us up for success? Could different or adapted processes better support us to achieve our goal?


Product performance: What is unique about our offering to learners and stakeholders?
Product system: How does our offers connect to each other? Are there opportunities to connect our offers for maximum impact?


Service: How do our learners and stakeholders experience our service? Are there other ways in which they could experience the offer?
Channel: How do our learners and stakeholders access our offer? Could we offer alternative learning pathways?
Brand: What does our brand stand for? Are there ways to communicate our offer and brand more clearly?
Customer engagement: What is our customer experience? How do our learners experience our offer? What could be done differently?

Tipping point – the seven levers of change

The second half of the workshop focussed on the practical levers for change, using the seven levers for change model (Shapiro, 2012) which outlines the seven areas leaders need to consider in order to build momentum for a change project and buy-in from teams and stakeholders. These are:

  1. fostering contacts with advocates of the change
  2. using mass exposure
  3. hiring expertise if necessary
  4. shifting resistance
  5. providing needed infrastructure
  6. leading by example
  7. rewarding successes.

The practical session provided participants with the opportunity to consider the impact of the emphasis on these different components, requiring a balancing act to drive forward successful change. There was space for participants to reflect on their own opportunity for innovation and disruption, providing practical support to think differently and focus on investment required in each of the lever ‘areas’ to drive forward success and the implementation of change.

The workshop finished with an action planning activity that allowed delegates to bring the learning together and apply it by way of a plan that would work for them personally.

Tracy West, Associate, GatenbySanderson
Jenny Tester, Senior Consultant, Leadership and Talent, GatenbySanderson