housing · mentoring

#4.2: Who Needs a Mentor?

cih mentoring

During my working career I have been lucky enough to have mentors and to also be a mentor.

I had been with one previous mentor for five years and found the relationship immensely beneficial. OK, yes, I had probably held on to the mentoring relationship too long (isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?), but made the difficult decision to end the mentoring relationship. I have had other mentors since then, both for shorter and longer-term periods.

Back when I was looking for mentors originally, you just had to find someone you thought you would like to work with, approach them and ask them if they would do it. More recently I was able to find my last two mentors through the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) of which I am a member. Best of all, finding a mentor is part of the CIH member benefits package!

More recently, I am now a regular user of the relatively new CIH Mentoring Pushfar platform, which is where CIH members can find their next potential mentor and also offer to mentor others. The platform is great and certainly makes finding a mentor a simple process.

Having been a CIH mentor and mentee for some years, I was gladly part of the CIH ‘Introduction to CIH Mentoring’ panel session that took place online in October 2021, made up of current mentors and mentees. During the session we shared our experiences of mentoring to-date (and some top tips). It was great to see CIH members interested in learning more about how the mentoring scheme works and the benefits it can bring.

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So Why have a Mentor?

Having a mentor can be a really rich experience, where you have someone who you don’t work with day-to-day, able to give you an honest opinion or view on things. A phrase I often hear during mentoring relationships is the benefit of being able to ‘bounce ideas of someone’. It can prove absolutely invaluable at different stages of your career, particularly when you are faced with a difficult or challenging situation. Mentoring meetings can also take place online now, so there isn’t even the geographical barrier that there might once have been!

As someone who really does love mentoring others, its great to be able to offer some advice and guidance to other CIH members. I have benefited greatly from being mentored (both formally and informally) over my career, so I am more than happy to offer the same to others who are similarly working through their career journey.

My final request is a simple one – find yourself a mentor, now!!!

housing · MBA

#4.1: The MBA edition

Some of you will know that I have an MBA which I completed in early 2019.

I had wanted to do an MBA for many years. I finally decided in 2015 to take the plunge through the Open University.

It was three and half years of working evenings and weekends, writing assignments, reading the coursework and sitting exams. (NB: My wife often jokingly described herself as an ‘MBA widow’ during this time)

I look back on it now and wonder how I managed to complete the MBA through some very challenging times.

I have been asked a number of questions around the MBA, both during the studying and since completion. So I thought I would share these, along with my stock answers to each:

  1. Why did you choose an MBA?
  2. What has that got to do with your role/sector you work in?
  3. Do you use your MBA now that you have finished?
  4. What was your most/least favourite module?
  5. Would you recommend an MBA to others?

So, in order of answers they would be:

  1. I chose an MBA as I had always wanted one. I always looked with admiration on others who had an MBA and wanted to see if I could get one (and I do love a challenge).
  2. I purposely chose the MBA as it was not directly related to my role or the sector I work in professionally. I wanted to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone.
  3. I certainly do use my MBA learning all the time. One of the things I remember being taught during the MBA is about the MBA toolbox, which is all of the theories and learning from the course and I am often dipping into the MBA toolbox when faced with a challenging situation.
  4. This is a tough one to answer. I would say the Corporate Finance module was the most challenging, but I always say I probably learnt the most in that module. I really enjoyed the Dynamics of Strategy module as again it was really challenging.
  5. I certainly would, but its fair to say I saw a good % of the year one students drop out for a variety of reasons, so you really have to want to do it and you have to really commit the time to complete it.

I hope these will be of interest to some of the readers!

agile · Business · covid-19 · Digital

#3.1: Through The Lens (Webcam)

My Home office

Like pretty much everyone else, my working life has changed a lot in the last twelve months. Whereas previously I attended meetings in person and either drove or walked between meeting venues, it seems I am now often just pressing the button to exit one meeting and heading straight into another, while juggling Emails and phone calls.

The thing is, although sometimes the meeting attendees are different, the venue is always the same. Yes sure, it can be any of a number of different platforms, including Microsoft Teams, GoToMeetings, Zoom or Google Hangouts, but its still me, sat in my office, at home. Some days I can feel like I have done nothing else but sit in front of the screen and be in one meeting to the next.

Early on during this change, people often commented that they were conscious of looking at themselves when online, but fast forward twelve months and the vast majority of us don’t give this much thought now. (NB: I am still a stickler for having a tidy office though, or at least as far as you can see on the webcam screen).

Water-Cooler Moments

One thing I have found myself commenting on more and more lately is the lack of those water-cooler moments. Back when I was working in the office, I would often find my most useful interactions during a working day were not during meetings, but in fact in places like the kitchen, hallways or the car park. These chance conversations were not staged and there was no pre-build up, unlike on-line meetings were its really difficult to ‘just have a catch-up conversation’.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of online meetings, having been one of the minority previously shouting about the virtues of this form of meetings, as it ties in nicely with much more agile working.

One problem I can see with the current set up is that although the digital side of things is working really well, with access to pretty much everything you could need at the touch of a button, there is no real agile working at the moment as we are all working from home. OK, yes, granted I could move from the office to the kitchen at times, but this isn’t quite the agile way of working that I was thinking of. Of course, its worth stating at this point that this is highly likely to be a temporary (albeit longer-term than originally thought) situation and I for one am looking forward to when we can work in a much more agile way.

Agile Future

As an organisation, one thing we have been working hard on during this last twelve months is our future agile vision. One simple aim is to keep the good bits from the way we have worked in the last twelve months and to articulate how we can continue to work agilely when things go back to some normality. This has quite rightly been a conversation that we have been having right across the organisation now for several months and we will continue to do so as we co-create what this will look like for us.

So how about you? Are you missing those water-cooler moments? Are you missing the office at all, or are you really enjoying the working from home revolution?

Email

#2.1: ‘My Adventures with #InboxZero’

For any of you who regularly read my blog posts, I have mentioned a few times during the last few years about #InboxZero . In fact, I reached #InboxZero a number of times during 2020. A quick search using the hashtag on Twitter for example shows how many people also keep to this same principle. So, is it as good as reports would suggest?

I blogged about my initial experiences of #InboxZero here and had a really good reaction from readers. The principle sounds great; dealing with all of your Emails in a timely and organised fashion should mean that you are on top of your work and have dealt with everything you need to. Sound simple right?

In reality, keeping to #InboxZero can be difficult to regularly achieve. I have always been someone who liked to keep on top of my Emails, deleting unnecessary mail and responding pretty quickly to things. But reaching that fabled #InboxZero proved really elusive for quite some time. Once I had reached it, I realised it was possible to keep with this. But things can get in the way. Annual leave/holidays (you may have heard of these!) actually can make it harder to achieve, as even if I am off work, I will still receive Emails. Also, just the sheer volume of work sometimes doesn’t give sufficient time to concentrate on systematically going through and clearing my Emails.

Since first reaching #InboxZero in August 2019 I have managed it a number of times, although I can honestly say that there have also been many months where I haven’t got even close. I made a concerted effort to do so again prior to Christmas 2020 and managed to reach it before the break. I have since kept at it so far in 2021, reaching #InboxZero pretty much every week. I aim to do this by the end of the week as it gives a great feeling of achievement and that I can step away from the computer for the weekend in the knowledge that I have not left anything incomplete.

InboxZero 23/12/2020

So after doing this for quite some time, here are my (updated) #InboxZero tips:

  1. Use the 2 D’s as a guide – Deal with it, or Delete it!
  2. Use your diary for reminders instead of keeping Emails as reminders
  3. Send less Emails out – the less you send, the less you receive
  4. Challenge the source of some of the Emails you receive – do you really need copying in to everything?
  5. Use other methods of communication, like phone, Micrsosoft Teams or other platforms!

What about your experiences of #InboxZero or even Emails in general? Do you think you could ever get to this, or do you even want to?

I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below!

Business · Email

#1.2 ‘The To-do List’

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In my working life (and personal life), I have pretty much always been someone who didn’t write ‘to-do lists’.

Its not something I have consciously fought against, but just found that I never really had to write a list of things to do. In my working life, I have used a combination of my Email inbox, my calendar and what I had in my head that needed doing. So each day I would have a clear idea of what I aimed to achieve and could assess at the end of the day whether I had achieved what I wanted to.

But lately I have been doing something I never really thought I would do:

I have started writing to-do lists for work.

It all started when the Covid-19 lockdown began at the end of March 2020. Things were so busy with work, that I found myself scribbling notes down on paper throughout the day, but I found after a number of weeks that I had just accumulated a huge pile of papers with notes on, that I often never went back to. The feeling when seeing this pile of paper on my desk (and on the floor) did not make me feel in control.

 

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So one weekend a few weeks ago I decided to clear up all the papers and move them away from my desk. I also decided to stop writing further notes down. At first I made some notes on an Email and either kept this as a draft record or Emailed them through to myself. But I quickly realised I was in danger of just collecting a virtual electronic pile of papers instead.

Then when clearing some items from desk at work I found an A6 notebook I had been given some years ago (a promo gift). So one Sunday night, I found the A6 notebook and decided to write my first to-do list of things I wanted to achieve on the Monday. It was a revelation! I wrote a lot of the things going around in my head down on paper and was able to prioritise what I needed to do, ready for the next day. That Monday was probably my most productive day since the Covid-19 lockdown, with lots of items crossed off my to-do list. I felt I had some level of control.

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The funny thing is, I have always been someone who is quite proud of not needing to write down lists of things to do at work. But I have come full circle on this, at least for the time being, and I am finding myself writing a list of things to do at work each and have expanded this into other lists as well!

In my note book I currently have:

  • My daily to-do list;
  • My medium/long-term to-do list;
  • My longer-term personal goals list;
  • Important meeting/training notes;
  • Future blog post titles.

So now that I am ‘one of those lists people at work’, I felt compelled to share my experience in this blog post!

So what about you? Are you a to-do list person, or is it all in your head? Or do you have another method completely for work? I would love to hear from you!

Please leave your comments below.

change · coronavirus · covid-19 · housing

#1.1 ‘The New Norm’

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My home office is not always this messy…..honest!

It has been a real roller-coaster period during these last three+ months of lockdown.

Like the majority of people, I have been working from home this whole time. I had always wanted to work from home more regularly, even thinking about how I could commit to one day working from home every fortnight, building up to one day a week. Then in a matter of days, it was 5 days a week!

The phrase being increasingly used by a lot of people during this period is that this is ‘the new norm’. I have heard comments both for and against this phrase; for some its a framework for talking about the new ways of working, whilst for others its a rejection that this is a new normal at all.

For what its worth, I’m not a big fan of the phrase ‘new norm’ but I do think its serves its purpose: ‘things are different, so we need to find new ways of working’. Whilst some of these changes are short term based on needing to respond to the impact of Covid-19, some of this is also tied up in longer term change.

So here are a bunch of my (fairly random) personal takeaways from this lockdown period:

  • Its nice to have an office space at home that I can close the door on at the end of the day;
  • No commute at all;
  • It can be harder to switch off from work at the end of the day as my ‘office’ is always so close;
  • I am LOVING using the technology;
  • I am planning on working from home as a permanent arrangement;
  • Email overload has become even more of a problem;
  • I’ve managed inbox zero only once during this period;
  • I am still managing to have cups of tea ‘on tap’.

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Decent brews at home

From an organisational viewpoint this period has been really interesting as well. We have come together as an organisation like never before, with staff pulling together in super quick time and traditional barriers were discarded in favour of ‘getting done what needs to get done’. Yes, we have also had some tough periods, but we have come through this together and arguably stronger as an organisation.

traditional barriers were discarded in favour of ‘getting done what needs to get done’

So the real test for our organisation, like any other, is to see which constituent parts of this ‘new norm’ are worth keeping as part of this new way of working. This is something we are currently working through as an organisation. We have recently surveyed staff as part of our ‘Future of Work’ programme, to see what our future workplace might look like. (Hint: its very agile compared to our previous traditional workmodel).

I’ve heard a variety of senior leaders describe how this Covid-19 lockdown period has accelerated their organisational agile plans, with periods quoted between 3 to 20 years. What is clear is that organisations have changed in a very quick time frame, but what isn’t clear is how organisations will look like in the future. I for one am really interested to see where this journey goes.

I would love to hear how your organisation has changed during this lockdown period and what plans you have for the future – please leave comments below!

 

Email

Inbox Zero – Fad or The Future?

Image-Too Many Emails

Have you ever heard of Inbox Zero? Inbox Zero can be defined as ‘a rigorous approach to Email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty, or almost empty’.

I had seen Inbox Zero, or more specifically the hashtag #inboxzero used for several months. I even looked into it briefly, but put it to onside as an unrealistic goal.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always tackled my Email inbox. I use the flag system as a reminder of Emails that I need to follow-up on and even blogged about it previously. My aim has always been to keep my inbox at under 100, and I even got it down closer to 50 a few times. My inbox was purely for Emails that either I hadn’t read or responded to. I always thought this was pretty good. But I kept on seeing the #inboxzero hashtag and realised I would have to give it a go!

So I decided to really aim for Inbox Zero.

First things first. Anyone who sends and receives Emails will realise just how difficult reaching Inbox Zero is because, whether you send Emails or not, they just keep on coming.

I quickly realised that the number of Email I sent, had a direct correlation to the number of Emails I received. Sounds simple, right? Send less Emails to receive less back. But that didn’t stop the flood of Emails coming in, it just slowed them down a little. I also realised that I used my inbox as an action list, so even if I had responded to an Email, I kept it in my inbox as a reminder to chase it up if I hadn’t a response. This approach was futile when working towards Inbox Zero!

Despite really wanting to reach Inbox Zero, I am not sure I really ever thought I would be able to genuinely reach it. But I one week I recognised that I had managed to naturally reduce by Inbox Box down to 40 and that #inboxzero was within touching distance! And so it happened, on August 23rd 2019, I managed to reach Inbox Zero.

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I have to say, the satisfaction was immense! But it also meant that I had dealt with some of those Emails that were always in the ‘difficult to deal with’ box. I wasn’t able to postpone dealing with them and just to deal with them. This was a great outcome in every way. I felt truly in control of my Inbox (for the first time……..ever).

I was on annual leave for a four day stint over the following few weeks, so I decided to do an impromptu test to see how many Emails came through, by not dealing with any Emails over this period at all. It showed the following:

217 new Emails over 4 working days

So I set to work on dealing with the Emails and was able to quickly reduce it:

52 deleted straight away

20 filed straight away

19 further deleted

22 further filed away

This left me with 132 Emails in my Inbox (113  of them new). Interesting results, right? Nearly half of the Emails I receive I could deal with really quickly. But not necessarily a surprising result. I quickly worked through my Inbox over the next few days and reduced it significantly.

The real litmus test next. Would I keep to Inbox Zero? Well, yes and no. I haven’t managed a regular zero inbox, but I have kept it generally very low – less than 5 most weeks. For any Inbox Zero purists, I am not sure this counts, but I am really pleased!

So, in summary, here are my top Inbox Zero tips:

  • Use the 2 D’s as a guide – Deal with it, or Delete it!
  • Use your diary for reminders instead of keeping Emails as reminders
  • Send less Emails out – the less you send, the less you receive
  • Challenge the source of some of the Emails you receive – do you really need copying in to everything?
  • Use the traditional methods of communication, like phone and face-to-face!

So that’s my Inbox Zero journey to-date. I would love to hear your Email journey – please comment below!

Business · MBA

Reflections on Completing my MBA

First of all, I have finally done it!!!!

After 3 and a half years of studying really hard, this year I successfully completed my MBA (Masters in Business Administration) through the Open University.

As I said in a previous blog post, an MBA is not often seen as a natural qualification in the field of Housing. But, along with always wanting to undertake an MBA, I thought it might be a good qualification to help me differentiate myself from other candidates in progressing my future career.

I can honestly say it has been one of the hardest but most rewarding things I have ever done. The nights and weekends spent studying and the time spent every day thinking about the course – it was intense. The first six months of the second year in particular were really challenging, completing ‘The Dynamics of Strategy’ alongside ‘Corporate Finance’. It was also really difficult reaching the finishing line as at this stage of studying I was ready for a break! But the feeling of submitting my last assignment was only topped by receiving confirmation that I had successfully completed my MBA!

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I have previously blogged about some of my reflections from learning, including three reflections from 2 years into my MBA. These still hold true for me.

But now that I have completed my MBA, I can further reflect on how I have used some of the learning:

  1. I now have a ‘toolbox’ that I can dip into when faced with any business problem that I need to tackle – anyone who has completed an MBA will know the power of a two-by-two matrix for assessing almost any problem;
  2. I can successfully utilise my MBA skills and experience to provide added value to my role and organisation – I do this on a near-enough daily basis.

To clarify, the MBA units I undertook were:

Strategic human resource management (BB845) 2018 15 credits
Managing in the digital economy (BXM871) 2018 15 credits
Making a difference: the management initiative (B839) 2017 30 credits
Management beyond the mainstream (BB847) 2017 15 credits
Corporate finance (BB831) 2017 15 credits
The dynamics of strategy (BB835) 2016 30 credits
MBA stage 1: management: perspectives and practice (B716) 2015 60 credits

As part of the above units, I was also able to successfully pass three three hour written exams, in Corporate Finance, Dynamics of Strategy and Management: Perspectives and Practice (I never realised how much I could write by hand when under time pressure).

I can now also (proudly) sign off with:

Brett Sadler, MBA

housing

Housing jobs, jobs and more jobs?

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I tidied up my office at home recently and came across an old issue of Inside Housing, from 2006.

Apart from asking myself why I still had such an old issue, I was struck by one thing. The thickness of the magazine. It had loads more pages than the current issues. And why is this I hear you ask?

One word. Jobs.

There were 22 pages of jobs in 2006.

Yes, you read right. 22 pages. Compare this to recent Inside Housing issues which have around 4 pages of jobs. I realise this is a far from scientific analysis between the two periods, but it has got me thinking.

When I first started to work in the Housing sector in the early 2000’s, I remember the vast array of jobs advertised in the back of Housing Today (now called Inside Housing). It was a big part of the reason I felt Housing would be a good career choice, as I could see that, if I worked hard, there were real opportunities to progress.

A more detailed look back at the 2006 issue of Inside Housing shows that, apart from the sheer volume of jobs, there were lots of officer level jobs. Sure, there were some senior level roles advertised, similar to today’s issues, but the vast majority were for lower and middle manager level jobs.

Does this mean there are less Housing jobs now than in 2006?

Of course, the other thing I distinctly remember when I started my career was that it felt a really exciting sector to work in. Nineteen years into my Housing career and I still feel excited by the sector, but I do wonder….

Is this still how people joining the Housing sector feel today?

Do new Housing professionals feel the same sense of wonderment, that the world is their oyster and anything is possible?

Leave your thoughts on a postcard (or below this blog post!)…..

 

Blogging · Digital · Google · housing · innovation

Why all orgs should ‘Default to Open’

We’ve all heard of the term Open by Default, right? Its the principle by which governments and increasingly organisations make its data and information accessible to the public by default, unless there is a sufficient justification to explain that greater public interest may be at stake, as a result of disclosure.

For most organisations I would argue that a default to open stance is vital. It helps to build stakeholder relationships both internally and externally, instills a ‘nothing to hide here’ mantra and genuinely promotes open network building.

This is no different in the world of Housing where there has been an every increasing drive towards transparency, with the most recent example being the publishing of organisational gender pay gap information to the public. This is combined with the ever changing world of work meaning that current and future employees more than ever value open and flexible organisations, where they can feel part of a ‘high trust’ culture.

Social Media:

Consider the use of social media. Turn back the clock to before Twitter and Facebook and how many people would have considered telling anyone (and everyone) in the world almost anything. Now its commonly accepted that people and organisations use multiple social media platforms. I for one use quite a few platforms, with the vast majority of my use for professional purposes.

But the key point here is that I use Twitter in particular as my form of ‘default to open’ approach, in that I will share what I am working on at work. This inevitably runs the chance of some negative (and positive) comments, which at times can be quite difficult to accept, but I can hand on heart say that I am a better professional for having these conversations and debating the points.

Open Source:

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Another example of default to open is the rise of the term ‘open source’. Open source is often used to describe projects or software where. Google’s Android is one such Open Source Project. Some would argue that one of the main reasons for its success has been the fact that Google opened up Android to developers for free and as a result, it has become one of the most used operating systems for mobiles and tablets ever. Chances are you own at least one device that runs on Android.

Closer to the world of housing, but similarly open in nature, there is an ever increasing range of open source 3D print floor plans available on the net.

Think of almost anything and you can find an open source version on the internet.

New Digital Age:

The NDA

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen cover much of this and more in their book titled ‘The New Digital Age’. The book is a fascinating and challenging read, and for anyone truly interested in digital, I would recommend reading it. At times it is downright scary, but much of what they write about is an important view into our likely digital future. If you think default to open is a challenging concept, this is the just the beginning of where digital things are heading.

What about you?:

So how about you?

  • Do you work in an open organisation?
  • What about your personal approach to work?

I would love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below!