Brett Sadler

Archive for the tag “Housing”

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?

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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?

 

The Power of the Apprentice

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I was lucky enough to be a mentor for the first ever Welsh Apprentice Challenge, run by Community Housing Cymru at their Annual Conference in Cardiff in November 2015.

When I was asked to be a mentor, I jumped at the chance. It sounded like an interesting opportunity and represented a chance for me to be challenged and stretched.

The truth is that being a mentor for the Welsh Apprentice Challenge was an absolutely fantastic experience. The challenge itself involved 15 apprentices, nominated from Housing Associations across Wales, the opportunity to develop a campaign from scratch to recruit more young people into a career in Housing. I was one of three mentors with five apprentices in each team.

Here are three things I learn’t over the few days:

  1. Apprentices have an amazing amount of enthusiasm: They are not constrained by their previous experiences of working in Housing. They have a can-do rather than can’t-do attitude which is infectious.
  2. If you want new ideas, employ new people: I was amazed that in the first 20 minutes of meeting each other for the first time, the team I was mentoring had introduced themselves, come up with an idea and how they would action it.
  3. The improvement over just two days was staggering: It was amazing to see how the apprentices grew in confidence over the two days, from being really worried about speaking, to speaking confidently as a group to over 100 delegates.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the idea my team and the other two teams came up with, as they will be covering in an up-and-coming issue of 24 Housing Magazine, but suffice to say that all three campaigns were very compelling, having been well thought through and executed.

The feedback from the apprentices is that they thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and I am certain that they have all gained skills and experience that will be really useful for them in their ongoing Housing careers.

I only wish I could have bottled up their enthusiasm and ideas for myself!

I’m a Housing optimist – what about you?

glass-half-fullIs there a place for optimism in Housing today?

I have been mulling this topic over for some months now. My initial thought was that there certainly is room for optimism and being the optimistic person that I am, I still think there is.

A Winston Churchill quote seems particularly pertinent for this:

“The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

It is tough to be optimistic in Housing today. Universal Credit, lack of supply, ever increasing demand, rent reductions in England (I could go on) – there are lots of issues facing the world of Housing. But taking Churchill’s quote, we’re faced with many difficulties today in Housing, but isn’t each difficulty also an opportunity?

I think we need to stay as optimistic as possible, despite all of the difficulties the sector is facing. That’s certainly what I’m trying to do day-to-day, especially in providing leadership to my teams at work. It’s not the easy road to take, but working in Housing, do we really ever get to take the easy road? I’m yet to hear anyone working in Housing who chose Housing as being an ‘easy’ profession!

OptimismThe dictionary definition above of optimism fits well with this. For me its all about hope and confidence about the future of Housing. Despite the challenges, I’d argue that as a sector we will rise to the task and aim to excel.

The image at the top of the page is one that I use quite often in my powerpoint and prezi’s. It also forms a key part of my Twitter bio background. Quite apart from being exactly how I approach work on a daily basis, I really do think that the ‘glass is always full’ approach is an important one worth remembering and worth savouring. Mind you, I have on several occasions been called the ‘eternal optimist’ (which I obviously take as being a compliment) and one of my most popular catchphrases at work apparently is ‘it’ll be fine’!

But what do you think about this? Is Housing the place to be as an optimist? I’d be really interested to hear your views………………..

The 35 hour week – myth or panacea?

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First things first. The title of this post could have said 38 or 40 hours – whatever someone’s contracted hours are. The point of the post though, is whether the idea of working your ‘core’ or contracted hours only is something to be aspire achieving or not.

We’ve all heard of people working crazy hours. I recently saw a post on LinkedIn joking that ‘oh, so you work a 39 hour week? I also remember my first part time job’. This was (hopefully) meant as a joke, but the thought process behind it isn’t. Some organisations and managers expect a lot from their staff and this often translated to working a lot more hours than contracted to do.

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Take the current organisation I work for. As a not-for-profit Housing Association, we have pretty good working arrangements. Full time staff are contracted to work 35 hours a week and over a four week period we can take a further 7 hours flexi time (equivalent to one extra day) off a month. We can also carry over an extra 7 hours per month to the following timesheet. This is a pretty generous arrangement. But, it could be argued that encouraging staff to work to build up sufficient time to build up their flexitime means we are encouraging staff to work over their contracted hours.

Then there is the long standing issue of how many extra hours is acceptable. I have always thought that the more senior the post you are in, the more you are expected to work longer hours (as you get paid to do this). I have also thought that for any staff who are really career focussed, then they want to show that they work really hard, which often translates to working longer hours. But I do find myself questioning this train of thought sometimes. The more we rationalise the number of hours extra we can work (i.e under 5 hours a week is acceptable, over 5 hours isn’t), the more we are not making it as flexible an arrangement as we are aiming for it to be.

So what’s the answer? I do think there is a conversation to be had in every organisation about what constitutes an acceptable number of hours worked. The organisational culture to some extent dictates this.

Many months ago I made the conscious decision not to send out any Emails in the evenings and weekends, if at all possible. The rationale is that if I send an Email to one of my team ‘out of hours’ I am effectively encouraging and enforcing this behaviour in them. I know this isn’t always possible, but I really do try to keep to this rule. The other reason this rule helps is to ensure that staff keep to their work life balance as far as possible. Working all hours might well work for some people (some people even thrive on it) but I’ve been managing staff long enough to know that this doesn’t work for everyone and it is very easy to get burned out due to work and never feel like you are stepping away from it.

So what about your organisation? Have you cracked this issue? Please share your thoughts below!

A new dawn for #ukhousing ?

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It can’t have escaped the attention of any #ukhousing professional that last week’s budget announcements dealt a serious blow to the sector.

Not that it was totally unexpected.

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Despite the frankly impressive reach of the #homesforbritain rally in March this year, the election pledges that followed seemed to take no real notice of Housing, despite promised to do otherwise. But I do have to agree with some others that the point of the #homesforbritain rally is to give longer term hope – did anyone really think we could influence party policy in the space of a month? Longer term though, we’ve proven that as a sector we can unite together and this gives me hope for the future.

Then there came the election result itself. No-one really expected a clear majority government to win and with the Conservatives getting that result, it instantly meant that one of their pre-election promises, to extend the Right to Buy, would now be a reality. Again, did anyone really expect this to be the only thing the conservatives would bring in to hit the Housing sector?

This all culminated in last weeks’ budget announcement which effectively means that Housing Associations in England were suddenly informed that their business plans needed urgent redrafting due to a 1% decrease in rent charged, year-on-year for the next four years. As Nick Atkin rightly says in his Inside Housing blog ‘we talk really well amongst ourselves, but outside our world what we do and the huge positive impact we have on the lives of our customers just isn’t listened to or understood’. But as a sector, we have rallied around lots of series issues before, we will do so again and I would argue we have started to find our collective voice. It’s now more important than ever that we continue using that collective voice.

As a sector we have talked lots in the past about our use of acronyms and even us Housing professionals struggle to define what ‘affordable housing’ really means to joe public. I would argue that we really do need to sort our own house out before we can tackle the wider world.

So, I for one will be looking to join in wherever possible with debates on the future of #ukhousing and I will continue to support the #homesforbritain campaign (and others like it). What about you?

The Virtues of the Housing Sector Blog

BlogI’ve been blogging now for nearly three years on a variety of Housing related subjects and with quite a good degree of success, gaining over 4000 views of my blog posts in 2014 alone.

I am a firm believer in the benefits of blogging for Housing folks – for one thing it helps to make sure that as a sector we are open to learning and sharing. Here are just a few more good reasons that spring to mind:

  1. Housing is often called a forgotten sector in the wider UK world – why not publish some of the great work we do in Housing via a blog – you’ll be amazed at what a positive response you can get;
  2. Housing has an amazing amount of sector variety – blogging is a great way to showcase this and the wide variety of job opportunities is still one of the main reasons I chose a career in Housing;
  3. There are still a relatively small number of Housing folks blogging – there is a good chance a decent blog will be picked up, retweeted and listed under 60 second news;
  4. It is still a relatively easy way to get your thoughts on the subject out to a wide ranging audience – yes there are the recognised sector industry media points, but never underestimate how widely a blog post will be distributed and read.

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I also wrote a blog titled ‘the Bloggers Guide to Blogging’ last year, which you can read here, but on reflection I would also add two more top tips:

  1. Blogging is a skill to learn and nurture – although obviously the content is important, writing a blog is a skill that needs to be learnt and nurtured – if you think you’re first blog post will be a world beater, you might well be disappointed;
  2. Blog about something interesting – something that is either a current issue facing #ukhousing or on a subject that lots of housing people will find interesting an insightful.

I am always expressing the virtues of blogging to Housing people and I can truly say that I am now able to write a half decent blog in a short amount of time. This is a skill that I have learnt by reading other peoples blogs and experimenting with the content and titles. I’ve still got a long way to improve, but I am pleased with what I have learnt so far and the response I’ve had.

If I had to give one main learning point to anyone writing a blog for the first time, it is just to have a go at it. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have mentioned to me that they have read a blog post of mine and not only read it, but understood what I was trying to say! I may not have gained a 100 ‘likes’ on each blog post, but never underestimate that visitors to your blog will remember what you have said.

So, hopefully this blog post will have helped to sell the virtues of blogging to all you amazing people working in Housing. I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject, whether you are a regular blogger, a part time blogger or a ‘maybe I will one day blog’ blogger. Leave your thoughts below!!

The Homes for Britain Rally – a Game Changer?

HomesforBritainlogoSo it has been a few weeks now since the Homes for Britain rally in London, but here’s my (long reflected) take on the day.

I was lucky enough to attend the Homes for Britain rally in London on the 17th March 2015 along with approx. 2,300 others and also attended a Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster before the rally itself. The day certainly had an Alice in Wonderland feel to it at times, being mainly surreal, often touching and with some really heartfelt moments.

First off, along with many colleagues from across Wales, we made the long journey over to London by train or by coach to attend the Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster, jointly organised by Community Housing Cymru and the Chartered Institute of Housing Cymru. I had never even been to Westminster before, so I was pretty excited (probably more than most of the schoolkids who were visiting Westminster were anyway).

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The Welsh MP’s reception at Westminster

In all 20 Welsh MP’s attend the reception, which was a pretty good turnout. I got to speak to my local MP about Housing issues and certainly felt it helped to raise the ‘Housing’ profile. After some impossibly small (but high in volume) lunchtime snacks at the MP’s reception, we then wandered over the short distance to the Methodist Central Hall where the main Homes for Britain rally took place. Outside the venue, lots of other Housing professionals were holding placards, with a general feeling of goodwill being emanated from everyone there. There weren’t many ‘suits’ in sight, apart from some of us as we had just been to Westminster!

The obligatory Homes for Britain pose in front of the venue

After meeting and talking to other Housing professionals from around the country on the green outside the Hall, it was time to go in to the venue. At the door to the venue everyone was told to leave their placards at the door – not exactly what I expected. It certainly had the effect of dampening some of the enthusiasm people were entering with. I had a ticket for Seat 40, row P, grey and on asking an attendant where the seat was, I was told that there had been a mistake and there ‘are no seat 40’s’ but I could find one over to the left of the stage in the blue seats. I really hoped this was not a sign of things to come and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.

I’m not going to talk in detail about all of the speakers at the event as these have been covered in much detail than I could do by other blogs, but suffice to say that opening up with a live band, then Nigel Farage of UKIP, samba drums in the middle and then closing with Grant Shapps who received ‘polite but definite heckling’ from many of the attendees (despite requests from the excellent compare for the day Jonathan Dimbleby not to) really did feel like I was in some kind of parallel universe.

Overall though the event was a credit to the National Housing Federation and everyone else who put the event together. I never would have thought that so many Housing people could get together in one venue, with what amounted to an excellent range of speakers, a really slickly produced event and an excellent platform to give a stronger united voice to the Housing sector. As an aside, I know that there were some reps from Wales at the Homes for Britain Rally, but what about Scotland and Northern Ireland reps?

Of course, on the long train journey home, I couldn’t help but reflect on whether the day’s events would actually carry on past the day. It was an undoubted success, but success longer term would be the panacea.

The political parties spoke a lot about Housing during the rally, but failed to carry this through after the rally day. I can’t help but be left with a feeling that Housing remains a side issue in the election, but the uniting of the Housing sector for the Homes for Britain rally really does show what is possible. The trick now is to turn this into a longer term, consistently high profile campaign that truly grabs the politician’s attention and puts Housing firmly on the national agenda.

People much better than me have commented that this may or may not happen in the near future, but being ever the optimist, I can really see some light at the end of the tunnel if we can keep this momentum going.

I am really glad I was able to attend the Homes for Britain rally – definitely for me a ‘were you there’ kind of moment in years to come and I for one will be looking forward to plans for any future Homes for Britain rally in the near future.

Digital Self Service in Housing – the Survey

digital_vortexWhy bother to invest in online customer accounts, if you don’t promote it?

As a sector it would be fantastic if we could identify the volumes of active online customers of housing services, and to see whether this is taking off?

Following the publication of Connected Housing 2014 many housing providers are looking closely at serving customers better online. The development and take-up of online services should be high up on every housing organisations agenda. Notwithstanding this the need to keep up with more people online, greater expectations of services and strives to improve satisfaction.

Scouring the sector for examples always throws up the likes of front runners Halton Housing and Thames Valley Housing, but who else are doing great stuff online? Who has customer testimonials of doing business with them digitally?

The purpose of creating a survey is to identify and research case studies of where housing has been successful in achieving good take up. As a good place to start we are looking at online customer accounts, as these seem to be adopted by a fair few housing organisations.

It will provide stories of take-up of online services which other housing organisations could follow. From this we can hopefully inspire, gauge momentum and understand why they have been successful, and importantly demonstrate where benefits are being realised.

Therefore, this research will seek to:

  • Understand UK Housing online self-service context;
  • Baseline housing organisations levels of performance;
  • See and clarify levels of expectation of what is or not possible;
  • Learn how organisations promote take-up;
  • See if other factors encourage take-up;
  • Identify the future potential for online customer accounts.

So what can we find out about what has been achieved? Who wants to tell us their story?

We will look to distil the findings and case studies to share with the online housing network. It will also act as a 2015 bookmark, as to what progress has been made and what more there is still to do.

Please spend a few minutes, share and collaborate with your colleagues. You can fill in the survey here.

Thanks for taking part.

@Brettsadler77, @AdeCapon, @hotpixUK

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