How we aimed for gold – and achieved it

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Earlier this year we became the first ever Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ rated National Careers Service prime contractor. This was a ground-breaking result for the careers advice sector nationally and for the prospects of Futures. We achieved this thanks to the skill, determination and professionalism of our staff. Ofsted’s strong recognition of the impact of leadership in driving these standards was also significant.

A leader – whether in sport, business, education or politics, is only as good as the team, around them. But, it is the role of the leader to inspire, support, encourage and adjust the direction of travel as they see fit to get the desired results.

Achieving ‘Outstanding’ was more of a marathon than a sprint. Our initial quality improvement plan, from the establishment of the vision to be Outstanding in 2015, was akin to a pre-internet version of the Yellow Pages. Keeping the momentum going during the two years from the start of the project was my role. The ability to cross items off this extremely long list was therefore important. We achieved some quick wins to give us the confidence that some of the more intransigent issues could also be resolved. I needed to bring others with me, so effective communication with staff was important, along with trust, in gaining colleagues’ buy-in. We built confidence within the team through the development of our coaching approach, established on the principles established by Lencioni’s model of high functioning teams. We invested in developing the skills of staff, delegated effectively and involved people from all parts of the business who had specialist areas of expertise. Hierarchies were displaced– we all played a clear role to the overall prize that we were striving to reach.

As someone with a very strong preference for planning – my ‘Judgement’ rating on the Myers-Briggs profile is almost off the scale – I do believe heavily in the mantra of: ‘fail to prepare… prepare to fail’. Because of our collective attention to detail and the thoroughness of our preparation for Ofsted, we achieved our goals. We left no stone unturned. We refined our practices where we felt we fell short and put in place SMART targets. Our customer-focussed approach is at the heart of everything we do and has helped us to achieve outstanding. Our achievement is testimony to the work our expert advisers do on a daily basis empowering people into work and training, many of whom are facing difficult challenges, across the east midlands and central eastern parts of England. Everything we do is about providing exceptional services.

Understandably, some colleagues were anxious about the scrutiny that Ofsted inspections bring. We ensured that the right support mechanisms were built into the preparation so that colleagues felt comfortable during the process. We overcame challenges by designing innovative solutions which resulted in improved service delivery.

The work to place us on a more stable financial footing over recent years enabled much of the investment in quality improvement to take place. This reinvestment into the development of high quality products and services continues. The united ambition that we shared as a company was built around the genuine desire to ensure that we are delivering the best possible services for our customers. It wasn’t a vanity project or a status thing. What we do fundamentally transforms lives for the better. And by doing this to the best of our ability means that outcomes for our customers are significantly enhanced. This is amplified by Ofsted which reported:

Thanks to this experience, we learned a lot about ourselves, what we’re capable of achieving and what we need to do maintain the quality for which we are becoming increasingly known for. We are delighted that Ofsted, at the highest level, has recognised our continued commitment to quality.

We won’t rest on our laurels but remain absolutely committed to offer an outstanding service. Our recent journey has provided a significant boost for staff as they’re proud of the outcome not least because it validates what we do for customers, many of whom are facing difficult challenges. We are dedicated to inspiring people of all ages to achieve their potential, and in doing so, help reduce unemployment and support economic growth.

John Yarham
Chief Executive - Futures Advice, Skills and Employment
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