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Are Ed-Tech Companies Suffering for Lack of Leadership?

A survey by the Ed-tech Leadership Collective found that many executives don’t think their middle managers are prepared for major leadership roles, and it’s hurting the growth potential of their businesses.

A lack of high-level management experience may be hampering growth in the ed-tech industry.

In a recent survey of 145 ed-tech company leaders conducted by the Ed-tech Leadership Collective, a membership organization for business leaders of ed-tech companies serving the K-12 market, a majority of respondents reported having trouble scaling up their respective businesses due to inexperienced middle management. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said their department heads have virtually no experience in scaling a company, and about two-thirds of department heads admitted that their current job is the biggest of their life.

Ed-tech Leadership Collective said in a news release this week that it conducted the survey in December to assess talent gaps, risks and professional development challenges within the ed-tech industry.

Roughly one-third of executive respondents felt that a lack of experience among middle managers was causing a huge impact in scaling their business, according to the survey. More than 80 percent of executives said that putting “mission-critical” work in the hands of inexperienced managers or department heads puts the business at risk, the survey said.

“The intensity of investment in ed tech has resulted in growth expectations that are outpacing companies’ ability to cultivate their emerging leaders,” Collin Earnst, a managing partner of the Ed-tech Leadership Collective, said in a public statement. “Executives are beginning to recognize these vulnerabilities and acknowledge their gaps in leadership development.”

When asked about mentoring subordinates in a business, functional leaders were most satisfied with the amount of time their managers dedicated to leadership development, with 54 percent of them saying their managers consistently did enough. Department heads and C-level executives were less positive, with 36 percent reporting that they consistently dedicated enough time to mentoring and 15 percent believing their high-potential employees were getting enough mentoring and support, respectively.

A major concern among department heads in the survey was company siloing, with 45 percent saying it causes “major obstacles” within a business. Twenty-five percent of executives saw siloing as a major obstacle, and 86 percent of executives and department heads believed cross-departmental challenges have hampered their business, the survey said.

Almost a third of respondents counted themselves members of historically marginalized populations, with 75 percent saying they aren’t receiving proper talent development. Seventy-one percent of those who didn’t identify as members of a historically marginalized population said their company did not effectively support the needs of employees from a marginalized population. Executives agreed with that sentiment, with 70 percent saying their practices were ineffective. Sixty-nine percent of department heads and functional leaders said their talent development practices were ineffective with historically marginalized populations.

Looking to improve, 65 percent of those surveyed said they would seek one-to-one executive coaching; 57 percent said they would pursue professional peer groups; and half said they would attend professional leadership conferences, according to the survey. The organization said that with the K-12 ed-tech market on the rise, leadership is at a premium, notably for companies attempting to scale up.

“In order to sustain aggressive growth expectations, ed-tech companies need to make a commitment to actively cultivate talent who can lead, communicate and collaborate,” Earnst said. “Ultimately, this becomes the key to successfully delivering on their mission and making an impact in K-12 education.”