Saturday, 30 March 2013

Leading an ELT organisation in an international environment

Damon Anderson
This was the title of a seminar, led by Damon Anderson, which took place as part of the Leadership Forum at the recent CamTESOL conference in Phnom Pehn.  The context for Damon's talk was the idea of the ASEAN Integrated Community which is due to come into effect by December 2015.  You can read about it here.

As a result of the formation of this community, there will be more need for English as the workforce becomes more mobile.  English is the working language of ASEAN.  Fortunately, there is the political will to facilitate this.  More mobility means more students moving around the region and, as they move into the workforce, there will be more and more need for ESP.  For example, Cambodians will be competing against other nationalities for jobs, even if they stay in Cambodia.

All of this will lead to the provision of more and more English programmes and the need for closer attention to standards.  There are factors which are important for any organisation to succeed and these apply just as much to English language teaching institutions as to any other kind of business. 

The key components for success:
  • Know who the stakeholders are and what they expect.  These will include the owners of the business, any investors and affiliate institutions, as well as the faculty and the student cohort.
  • Establish the working language of the organisation.  If you are running an ELT institution in a non-English speaking country, it is important that there is a common language between all the stakeholders in order for them to communicate effectively.  The working language needs to be agreed at the setting up of the organisation and all meetings need to be held in that language and all documentation needs to be published in that language.  Effective translation services must then be employed to ensure that all concerned parties understand what is going on.
  • Have a mission statement.  A mission statement is different to goals, which are achievable day-to-day aims, in that it sets the overall tone for the organisation.  What is the best ever mission statement? explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
(Star Trek)
  • A good team who have the knowledge, skills and commitment.  Too many language schools hire people just because they are native speakers.  We need to hire people because they have these three key qualities.  Quality assurance starts with this.
  • Good organisation of responsibilities.  Make it clear who is leading and managing and who is responsible for the various aspects of the organisation or particular project within the organisation. 
  • Time.  There needs to be a clear timeframe for every project within the organisation.  Planning is key.
  • Communication.  Modes and procedures need to be clearly stated and adhered to and known to everyone.
  • Meetings.  Regular, purposeful, concise meetings are vital to keep all interested parties in the loop.
    A 236-year old lesson in leadership from George Washington
  1. Creating a context. Leaders must paint a broad and complete picture for their team, providing the perspective that enables them to understand the meaning, repercussions and influences of their decision-making.
  2. Framing the problem. Leaders tackling complex challenges need to make certain that their team fully understands the dimensions of those challenges. No mincing words; no sugar-coating the problem.
  3. Seeking advice. To encourage discussion and contributions from the team, leaders must be clear that they are looking for solutions – without prejudicing the process by offering their own proposal at the start. Everyone who can contribute should be included.
  4. Reaching a consensus. While it’s important to encourage and maintain an open exchange of ideas, leaders must ensure that the group moves toward a consensus solution. Endless discussion is almost never a solution.
  • Budget.  There should be an adequate budget with laid down procedures and regulations.  There needs to be agreed reporting forms and formats which are clear and known to everyone.  How do people have to account for expenses?, for example.
  • Branding and promotion.  Put the name of your organisation on everything!
  • Client base.  Who are your students?  Where are they coming from?
  • Location.
  • Acknowledgement.  It's really important to acknowledge people's contribution in order to get their commitment to you and to the institution.
  • Cultural etiquette.  It is vital to be aware of and make allowance for local cultural differences and sensitivities.  Watch this advert for HSBC as an illustration of how important this is!

When it comes to cultural awareness, as well as the normal considerations, the most important thing to bear in mind is - location, location, location!!  Location affects so many things.  For example, in some cultures the number 4 is unlucky and if you put your language school on the 4th floor of an office building, you may find yourself short of students!  Location also affects:
  • rules and regulations regarding employees and budgets (taxes)
  • currencies and banking
  • possible time differences
  • import/export regulations (could significantly increase the costs of books and equipment, for example)
  • visas
  • national/international holidays (could have implications for academic holidays)
  • branding/promotion (acronyms may not mean the same in different countries)
To conclude,
If you consider all of these factors, your ELT organisation has a much greater chance of success.

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