Brett Sadler

Two years and counting…

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After finishing the second year of my MBA studying through the Open University, I finally have some spare time to write a few blog posts.

So for this one, I will be again reflecting on what I have learn’t to-date from undertaking the course.

The first thing is probably obvious, but it has been a huge challenge. Not just in terms of the workload, but in terms of time management. There have been days and weeks where I feel like I have been solidly working or studying and doing nothing else. There have also been days when I would happily have thrown the towel in. But I have survived.

The second thing is that I have again broadened my knowledge. I’ve just complete the Corporate Finance module which has well and truly tested all students. I would be willing to bet that the drop out rate is pretty high during this course, culminating in the 3 hour written exam at the end. Again, I have survived (just).

The third thing is that again my horizons have been stretched. I purposely chose the course as I wanted to move outside of my comfortable ‘Housing’ bubble and build a network of colleagues beyond my usual circle. Along with this, the course content has stretched my horizons as well, to talk much more about profit, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the big wide world of corporate finance. OK, so I may never be involved in floating a company on the stock market, but I have a much better idea of how companies are valued and the many intricacies involved.

But overall, I have survived the end of the second year. Roll on the third (and final) year.

 

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My blog posts – a success or failure?

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OK, so I’ve been a bit slack of late with blog posts. I’ve been busy both inside and outside of work, but I thought I would write this one about my experience of writing my blog!

So firstly, I’ve got the grand total of 78 followers for my blog. Considering I started writing it some years ago, this seems pretty poor, right? Well actually, I’ve been constantly surprised by how people mention that they have read some of my blog posts.

I’ll give you a recent example.

My last blog post was titled ‘working out loud’. It has been viewed 28 times, with 1 like. Hardly massive numbers. But I’ve had more than one person share with me that they have read my blog post and more than one positive conversation about its content.

It never ceases to amaze me that I can publish a blog post and feel utterly demoralised that its had so few views, only to find that it has actually made an impact on the very few people who have viewed it. It all depends on how you measure success.

The other consideration is that, although I only have 78 blog followers, I have over 1850 Twitter followers and over 750 LinkedIn links, so actually my potential audience for blog posts is a lot more than I give myself credit for!

So, would you call this a success, failure or at best indifferent? I would love to hear you thoughts…….

Working Out Loud

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Are you someone who likes to work out loud?

I have long been an advocate of working out loud and by this I mean being open about what I am working on and seeking advice and best practice from others.

The popularity and acceptance of social media makes this task so much easier. I can just pop a quick post on LinkedIn (or a quick tweet on Twitter) asking for some best practice advice, or even just asking a question I would like the answer to. It really has produced some views and information that I can honestly say I would not have had otherwise.

Of course, it doesn’t have to just be through social media that we can work out loud. For me, its a much wider approach that can be adopted, where whole organisations can be encouraged to work out loud through a transparent culture where customers and stakeholder views are really valued. I’m not talking about sharing trade secrets or commercially sensitive data, but just letting customer and stakeholders know what an organisation and its staff are working on and allowing them to help shape and influence this journey.

I realise that not every organisation operates a values drive culture where you are encouraged or even able to work out loud, but for me this should be the panacea for an organisation. Frederic Laloux in his book ‘Reinventing Organisations’ sums this up perfectly:

Any information that isn’t public will cause suspicion – why else would someone go through the trouble to keep it secret?

There is something really refreshing about being open, making connections and getting the best possible outcome, all of which can be achieved through working out loud. So go on, next time you are faced with a difficult issue or wicked problem, why not try and open it out to others. You might just get a useful answer.

An MBA (and Housing) – a perfect fit?

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What relevance does an MBA have in the world of Housing?

As some of you will know, I have been studying towards an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) through the Open University.

As I am now half way through the three year distance learning course,  I thought it was an opportune time to reflect on a few of the key learning points from the MBA so far, to help answer the very question of its relevance. Here are the main ones:

I have had to step outside my comfort zone.  I don’t just mean in terms of the course content here. I am studying with a much wider range of people than I would normally work with; people who work in the for-profit sector, internationally, in family run businesses and global institutions. This is definitely not my usual close-knit Housing network and the diversity of students was one of the key reasons I signed up for the course.

I have a toolbox of useful business tools and concepts. I can now take these into my working career, whether that is ultimately within or outside the world of Housing. An MBA does not give you all of the answers, but it certainly helps to provide a wider and much deeper understanding of business. I feel more equipped than ever to tackle almost any issue at work.

The boundaries between for-profit and not-for-profit are difficult to define. The MBA course has brought this home to me on an amazingly regular basis. In Housing we are increasingly talking about profit, while in the next breath making it clear to anyone who will listen that we are not-for-profit. In a lot of ways, the definitions don’t matter – its more about having clarity of purpose within an organisation and ensuring that this is transmitted throughout the organisation.

There is a big world beyond Housing. I can’t stress this point enough. The MBA has shown me a taste of the big wide world out there beyond the Housing sector and I would argue that this ‘wide world view lens’  can be used to challenge and shed new light on old existing ways of working and thinking. I am the only ‘Housing’ person in my group and have really enjoyed being questioned and challenged on some of the Housing norms I have come to accept. I would like to think that I am a much better professional for it.

For me an MBA certainly has some relevance in the world of Housing. Sure, it might not be for everyone, but if nothing else it gives me a toolbox of theories and concepts with which to challenge the old ways of doing things, with a sound base knowledge of business which goes beyond the normal Housing world.

I for one am looking forward to taking this forwards in the rest of my career.

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The completer finisher

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I have always considered myself as a completer finisher, someone who can be relied on to get things done. But in terms of blog posts, the description just doesn’t fit.

I have recently realised that I now have 15 unfinished blog posts, ranging back over a number of years. Some of these are just blog titles and a few lines, whereas others are 95% completed. Often I get inspiration to write something but just fail to get the right tone, or the right ending or after I’ve written something, I think it just isn’t interesting enough to publish!

I find that generally I write a blog post in just a few sittings. I draft a post, then revisit it a day or so later to make some final amendments and additions, and then publish it. Maybe I should take longer writing my blog posts, but in honesty, this just slows down the process for me. I am much better just writing what I think, tidying it up and then releasing it to the world.

So this blog post is a confession of sorts. I am not the completer finisher I thought I was.

Being a Google Geek

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The entrance to Google and You Tube offices

Call it what you will, I am slightly obsessed by Google.

I have been lucky enough to visit their offices a few times, I have lots of Google related books, Google pens, even some Google drinks bottles (yes, you have read that right). But I often ask myself, why Google?

Over the past few years I have talked to different Google staff members (and also staff from organisation’s that work really closely with Google) and they are always interesting, inquisitive, can-do people. This isn’t by chance. Google are well known for having a clear corporate culture and rigorous recruiting practices. They pay well and pay staff according to what they produce.

So, just how do you whittle down a reported two million applicants per year, down to several thousand who are actually offered a job at Google? It’s a mammoth task, but one which they manage to do by having (amongst other things) clear processes, guidelines and consistency. Some would say that despite these shackles, Google have managed to still keep that entrepreneurial spirit, culture and wonder within the organisation.

I have blogged about this before, but Google engineers have ‘20% time’, whereby they work on anything they want, as long as it’s related in some way to Google’s work. Not that Google are the first or last company to offer this mind (see 3M’s post it note history), but it fits in so well with Google’s overall organisational approach, which includes innovation at its core and taking risks, from recruitment right up to 10 x Moonshots.

Google also only employ the very best applicants. (with two million applicants I guess you can). But they still actively search for potential staff members. Just think about that for a moment. They receive an absolute shed load of applicants each year, but they still spend time and money searching for the best.

This leads me on another area I love about Google. Every staff member is encouraged to ‘act like they are the owner‘. This helps build the entrepreneurial approach of staff, individual ownership and an inclusive organisational culture. I love this. I take this approach in my working life wherever possible.

They also have really cool offices. It is interesting to note that over the past several years, the office environment has been steadily changing, with lots more organisations using the same approach as Google – to have a fun, functional space to encourage innovation and (dare I say it) face-to-face talking! When I last visited the Google offices, there were loads of ‘in real life’ conversations taking place between Google staff, all over the building. Who would have thought it!

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Google floor 9

I could go on. As you would imagine, in an organisation the size of Google, there are lots of approaches, guidelines, mantra’s and stories, but I will save some of these for future blogs!

If you want to learn more about Google’s approaches, I can highly recommend Laszlo Bock’s book ‘Work Rules’. It gives a really in-depth insight into the recruiting and retaining practices at Google. It is honestly a fascinating read, whether you are a fellow Google Geek or not. You may read the book and think, ‘that would never work in my organisation’ (or at all), but I am sure you will pick up at least a few jems.

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A Single Digital Strategy?

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For my last blog post of 2016, I thought I would write about my experience to-date of developing a single Digital Strategy.

As anyone who has read my blogs before will know, we wrote a one-page Digital First Strategy some time ago.

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Our current Digital First Strategy

This was a challenge in two ways:

  1. Our strategies had always previously been several (or more) pages long;
  2. Would it make sense in just one page.

The reality is that the one-page strategy was quite successful. It has led on to our organisation developing future strategies with a ‘no more than 2 pages’ mindset. This is definitely progress.

But one question that always troubled me, was why we had a separate Digital First Strategy and Digital Inclusion Strategy? Actually, to me they were quite different strategies, not least because in both cases we were starting very much from scratch. But now that we have successful delivered the first phase of our Digital First project and we have a new Digital Officer in post, it seems the perfect time to merge the two in to one Strategy. This is serving as a useful time to review where we are up and work out where we want to go next.

One of the acid tests will be whether other staff and customers also understand the Strategy. This is something we will have to test in the new year. But so far, the ‘stop and reflect’ stage, and the ‘draft a new one-page strategy’ stage is working quite well.

Another, arguably more important acid test, will be whether the new Digital Strategy actually results in any positive changes on the digital front. For that, we will have to wait and see what 2017 brings!

 

Innovative thinking in #ukhousing

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I have been reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography over the past few months. It’s a fascinating read and although Steve Jobs character is hard to like a lot of the time, I really like his approach to business, constant innovation and striving for the best. There are a lot of Jobs quotes I like, but this one in particular jumps out:

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”

It has got me thinking. Where is the truly innovative thinking in #ukhousing ? I’m talking about truly innovative thinking, that stretches the currently accepted norms and could truly move the sector forwards?

What strikes me most is the backdrop for Steve Jobs’ success; it’s not just about his drive and innovation, but the team of really talented people he brought together and worked with. So, following this thought through, it stands to reason that one of the keys for innovative success is to build an ‘A Class’ team (to use another Job’s quote).

How many ‘#ukhousing organisation’s truly create an ‘A Class’ team around innovative thinking? One where they sweat the detail, but under a truly challenging vision of the future? To borrow an idea from another favorite innovation organisation of mine – Google – their ‘big ideas: 10x thinking’ approach to work is also a great way to push the boundaries of what’s possible. Its by thinking big that you get big innovations.

So much of this goes back to getting the right building blocks in place in an organistion – the right culture, the right leadership and building an ‘A Class’ team.

So, going back to the Steve Jobs quote, would you consider yourself an innovative leader or a follower? Are you truly pushing the boundaries wherever possible?

 

Here’s to the Digital Disruptors

If I called you a digital disruptor, what would be your reaction?

A digital disruptor creates changes in tried and tested industries by effectively forcing them to re-invent themselves. High profile examples would be Uber and AirBnB to name two and arguably the taxi and hotel industries will never be the same again as a result.

My reason for mentioning digital disruptors is due to a very current example that has the ability to disrupt the world – the £3 smartphone that is being produced in India by Ringing Bells.

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Freedom 251 – described as ‘iPhone like’

If you have kept up to speed with this since it’s announcement, the global response has been a mixture of awe and ridicule, with industry experts stating it just isn’t possible to produce a working smartphone for such a small amount of money, with others pointing out that the smartphones ‘vital stastics’ are a pleasant surprise.

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The UbiSlate tablet

I’ve blogged some time ago about the £30 tablet from UbiSlate, also from India, which works pretty well for the cost and is in the same vain. I’d go as far to say the £3 smartphone is another ‘game changer’. But before you go googling it, the smartphone is only available in India currently (boo hoo).

The story goes that the more established the industry, the more ripe it is for disruption and unsurprisingly there are lots of people pertaining to be disruptors, either self declared or otherwise.

From a #ukhousing point of view, it would seem to be a ripe industry for a bit of disruption. I recently attended the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Manchester and whilst I really enjoyed attending, I did come away questioning how much had truly been really new and innovative thinking?

So the question for me is, are you a #ukhousing disruptor? Do you think differently and question the norm? Are the worlds of tech and digital a harmful distraction to the industry, or the path towards the new future? Or to take it a step further, is your organisation a #ukhousing disruptor? Or even your CEO? Who will be the #ukhousing equivalent of Uber or AirBnB?

#HMdigitalfutures

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As anyone who follows my blog knows, I have a real interest in digital services for #ukhousing and beyond. It is with this in my mind that as an organisation we signed up to the Housemark Digital Futures Club #HMdigitalfutures.

I have already blogged previously about the brilliant Housemark Digital Futures event visit to Google in late 2015, so I was really interested to see what a more ‘normal’ club meeting would look like in a hotel in London.

 

So here are a few of my thoughts from the day:

Torus and their digital transformation journey

For me, the best sessions of the day was hearing from Nasrin Fazal from Torus on the digital and business transformation journey they have been on.

From an interested onlookers viewpoint, the Torus blueprint would be an excellent starting point for any organisation’s who are either thinking of or just starting their digital journey. I for one would have loved menu of suggested options to choose from when we started on our digital journey and you could do a lot worse than start with the Torus journey as your starting point.

I also really liked the level of metrics they were using to identify progress on channel shifting and new digital user.

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Channel-shifting

One theme that I felt came out of the day was that every organisation is grappling with moving more tenants from traditional methods of communication like telephone and face-to-face, to more digital transactions.

Obviously organisations need to be clear what their ultimate goal is for channel shifting (like Torus stating that they are aiming for 80% of transactions to be online by 2020), as this ultimately helps to drive forwards the changes necessary to make this goal a reality. But it was also painfully obvious again that more debate in #ukhousing is needed around this in terms of sharing the learning points and pitfalls from organisations that are already well into their channel shifting journey.

There is also of course the question of whether using the term channel shifting is the right term to use in the first place?

 

How to keep the conversation going…

One of the challenges of running a more traditional club is keeping the conversations going after attending the club event day. In this sense, the Digital Futures club suffers the same fate as many others. Yes, there is a hashtag to use on Twitter, but in the past it has had very little use beyond leading up to and on the day of the event.

There was some debate during the club meeting about the best channel to use for this; the Housemark forum, Yammer, Slack? As was raised during the day, arguably it’s not choosing the right channel that will keep the conversation going, but just having some buy-in from all the members and the desire to share, debate and collaborate on the digital agenda more often than during the three events over 12 months.

 

Every organisation is different

One maybe obvious learning point was the realisation of the vast differences where Housing organisations are on their digital journey.

At NWH we have been on our digital journey now for over three years and although we have by no means cracked the digital code needed for a successful future, we have definitely made some real progress. Other organisations were right at the start of their digital journey.

 

The future…

With over 50 organisation now part of the Housemark Digital Futures club, it’s inevitable that there will be some differences between the level of digital progress and awareness in organisation, but of course it could be argued that catering for (and pleasing) such a wide range of organisations at different stages of their digital transformation is near impossible during a club meeting. NB: Personally I have always said that as long as I can take away a few things from attending an event, it’s been worthwhile, so for me, the Housemark event ticked that box.

But with over 50 organisation’s having signed up, this does show the high level of interest in digital transformation within the sector. The only question is, will the #ukhousing sector be able to successful digitally transform (and quickly enough), or are we facing another few years of discussion rather than real challenge and progress?

Only time will tell.

 

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