Brett Sadler

Archive for the tag “#ukhousing”

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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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.

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?

#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.

 

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

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!

 

One Big Housing Conference #chchousing15

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I hadn’t been to a Community Housing Cymru (CHC) event for at least a few years, so when I saw the agenda for the One Big Housing Conference, I thought it looked worthwhile attending.

First a bit of background. CHC are the representative body for housing associations and community mutuals in Wales, which are all not-for profit organisations. The venue for the event is the famous Metropole Hotel (trust me – if you have been there, you’d understand why its famous). It’s a sprawling hotel in Llandrindod Wells, often jokingly described in Wales as ‘equally inconvenient for the North and South’. For me personally it was a 2½ hour drive from North Wales to get there – fact. It’s also the only hotel I know where there is no mobile signal within the hotel…..anywhere.

And so to the conference itself. If you have never been to a CHC event before, they are very professionally run. Everything electronic (rather than the usual half a ream of papers given at the start of a conference), screens with the latest tweets up on the wall and clearly signposted rooms for each session.

The first conference session was from Andy Crowe titled ‘I’m a Housing Exec, GET ME OUT OF HERE!’, talking about his experience of working on the island of St Helena and the uphill struggles this entailed, although as I tweeted below, its not all work:

St Helena

The thought of ‘what would you do if you had a blank piece of paper’ to create a housing service was certainly a novel one, and Andy really gave a great insight into the challenges of working on an island ‘where a £1 Iceland pizza is for sale for £2.70’ by the time it reaches them and the new St Helena runway has taken 2 years just to bring it up to level ground.

As usual with a conference, the next day saw many people looking a bit worse for ware, but I can honestly say that the 2Macs session (which was up first) was the perfect tonic. The 2Macs were billed as specialists in behavioral change with a session focusing on impact and influencing, utilising drama. I know that most people in the room (myself included) were a little concerned that ‘audience participation’ would be a prerequisite for role play, but my tweet below summed the room up:

2macs

The session itself was really quite brilliant. They were very engaging, talking about a fake housing association, housing manager and a tenant experience, with the audience having to ask questions and comment on how the situation could have been improved. I really can’t recommend them enough and I certainly will be looking to see if we can bring them to my current organisation as soon as I can.

The next session after this was from Nick Atkin, CEO of Halton Housing Trust and the ‘Mr Motivator’ of #ukhousing, talking about all things digital and beyond. This was a high octane session going through the reasons why all organisations should think digital, as well as why organisations should do away with the traditional desk for every member of staff approach (yes, there were some gasps at this statement):

Nick

I could see an awful lot of heads nodding to what Nick was saying. Nick also kindly mentioned my blog in his Prezi (so I had to include him in my review of the conference – it would rude not to). In true style, Nick left the conference in a flash (it was just missing the puff of smoke exit) to get his train back up North. Here’s a link to his Prezi which is well worth a look.

I realise I have only reviewed a few of the sessions at the conference (and there were many more), but these were the three that I enjoyed the most. All in all, a really excellent conference and I for one, am looking forward to next years instalment.

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.

dilbert-google-20time

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!

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