Brett Sadler

Archive for the category “housing”

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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Working Out Loud

working out loud

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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A Single Digital Strategy?

digital_vortex

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.

DFStrategy

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.

Freedom 251

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?

Are you on a Digital Journey?

me!

Last week I spoke at the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru’s Housing Conference in Cardiff with Nick Atkin, Group CEO of Halton Housing on the subject of ‘The Future of Housing Technology’. This is a great subject to cover, not least because there is so much more we could be doing as a sector to catch up and embrace the future.

What were the key messages?

During our session, the main messages included:

  1. Digital is here, whether we are part of it or not: Generation Z are connected from birth. To gen Z customers and staff, being connected is a part of life, much like breathing. It is not an optional extra.genZ
  2. Going digital can save an organisation money in the long-term: Organisation’s like Nick’s have shown that moving tenants onto digital platforms saves organisation’s money. Fact.
  3. Tech is cheap and everywhere: I have blogged about it before, but the ultra cheap and better than its price £30 UbiSlate tablet represents so much. I called it a game changer in my blog post for a reason.
  4. The mobile device is key: We talked in our session about people always being on their mobile devices. You only need to walk down a busy street to see how many heads are down looking at their phones while walking (this guardian article calls them smartphone zombies). Scary, but true.

What about NWH?

My North Wales Housing CEO Paul Diggory was sat in the audience during the session and reflected that it was nice to see all our digital accomplishments in one place, including:

  • One-page Digital First Strategy;
  • Reviewed, renamed and relaunched My NWH (tenants portal);
  • Digital annual reviews for the past two years;
  • Recently launched Email Charter.

What I find amazing is that, despite the above, I feel we have only really scratched the surface of what we could do digitally. But at least we are on our digital journey. For the leading digital organisation in the Housing sector, look no further than Nick’s organisation, Halton Housing. They came number 1 in the Visceral Connected Housing Study 2015 (again) for a reason.

Final thoughts……

The Q&A session at the end of a session is always interesting. One question which really struck a chord, was whether as a sector, Housing looks far enough into the future at what the next digital/technological developments will be. The short answer is, definitely not.

Bear in mind that as a sector we are still generally getting to grips with everyone being connected, the networked individual and the 24/7 offer, we are not even close to fully future gazing about what is possible.

Another key point is that there is a lot of interest in the sector around digital and technology. The conference session was packed out and attendee’s seemed genuinely interested and engaged in what we were saying. So much so that a few conversations around digital technology in the Housing sector continued on much after the session finished. We need to harness this interest for the good of the sector, share our successes and failures, and continue the debate.

So to the real question: Is your organisation on a digital journey yet? If not, you might just get left behind……..

For more details on the above points and move, copies of our conference session Prezi’s are embedded below:

https://prezi.com/embed/cbknfeqwskic/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=1&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&landing_data=bHVZZmNaNDBIWnNjdEVENDRhZDFNZGNIUE43MHdLNWpsdFJLb2ZHanI0OUF4aDlrdEZxcmRRV2w5dW1tZXhqM09nPT0&landing_sign=trPxYhQwSuvMDAThii36ykhLS23YbhkCApm8fMJWkR0

And here’s Nick’s:

https://prezi.com/embed/oh92506owblj/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=1&autoplay=0&autohide_ctrls=0&landing_data=bHVZZmNaNDBIWnNjdEVENDRhZDFNZGNIUE43MHdLNWpsdFJLb2ZHanI0c3YxZFdUbW5lQkZiQVJaemgwK1NuOVlRPT0&landing_sign=UeX8n4MzwffkMNiDxl1cqetrde-F3Uu9qDYSoXoAjTk

What if Google did Housing?

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Everybody has heard of Google, right? Whether you are a fan or not, I’m sure you will have used some of their products before, if not today. For example, how many times have you heard ‘just Google it’?

Bearing in mind that Google have their fingers in a lot of pies, from their main Google Search offer, to Android and then to Google(x) products like self-driving cars and Project Loon, it is interesting to think what would happen if Google did Housing.

At this point I have to point out that Google are already dipping their toe into the Housing world. Maybe not in the bricks and mortar side, but through Ancoris they have effectively entered the Housing market, offering their Google for Work package to help Housing organisations improve their working practices.

But, I do wonder what would happen if Google actually built Houses, or even ran a Housing Association? Google’s famous ‘Moonshots’ are where they have a company culture that encourages experimentation and the free flow of ideas – the bigger the better.

I know what you are thinking, that’s fine for Google, they are a multi-national company. Yes they are. They have 50,000 employees worldwide, have a reported 2million applicants per year for their jobs, with a 1/500 chance of getting a position. But one thing I really do like about Google is that they see a problem and they try to fix it, but they don’t just do this incrementally. They work on things that could change the world. It may not always work out, but I for one really like this mindset. Too much of Housing is set in the past, based on old working practices and concepts that have just not moved with the times.

Maybe this blog has turned into a plea to Google, or for someone like Google, to have a go at sorting out one of the UK’s (worlds) biggest problems – Housing. I for one wouldn’t bet against them.

 

Crowdsourcing Ideas

Have you ever heard of this? I have used this quite a few times in the past and have had successful results pretty much every time.

The premise is simple. Instead of the traditional method of having a specific question you want a view on and just searching on something like Google, you post the query on one or more social media platforms and wait for the responses. The responses are much more current and you are often able to query them further.

Here’s a quick example. I decided recently to post the following query on Twitter and LinkedIn:

Twitter07-03-16

And within a short time, these are just some of the responses I received:

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And from LinkedIn:

LinkedIn07-03-16

If you have a decent network who interacts and comments, I can’t recommend crowdsourcing information enough!

 

Are you up for the Digital Challenge? Five takeaways

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As anyone who regularly reads my blogs will know, I have been pushing the digital agenda within my organisation and wider for some time now. Safe to say it has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.

I am by no means an expert and our organisation has by no means cracked the digital nut (although we are getting there), but, I can happily report that we are at least trying to crack this nut and that we will continue to try. An example of this would our Digital First project we have been running which has been a great success and we are now moving towards a more ‘business as usual’ approach to digital.

So, here are my top five takeaways for anyone who is either new to digital or wanting to further digitally develop within an organisation:

  1. Create some digital momentum: This obviously takes some time, but if you can get enough people on board, you can start to tip the balance towards digital being viewed as mainstream, core business, rather than a bolt-on.
  2. Digital resources: By this I mean you need some people power to do the work required to focus digitally. This helps in being able on the road to gaining digital momentum.
  3. Network with the wider digital community: This is really important, as there are other orgs and people already doing a lot of this. As the saying goes, why reinvent the wheel?
  4. Sell the digital vision: This is an interesting one, as this will to some degree differ depending on who you are talking to. For example, highlighting the savings from going digital will work a treat with someone from Finance, but a more customer orientated approach will be needed with someone working in customer services.
  5. Become a digital champion – I have done this within my own organisation, which means I can always point to some digital fact, figure or example to try and ram home the point of needing to be more digitally aware.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I do hope these are of some use to you.

Please leave a comment below on what your digital takeaways would be!

 

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