Innovation in Housing – Empower your workforce and boost your retention for free

Earlier in the year I wrote a blog championing 10 Reasons to Work in Housing.

Lucky number 7 extolled the virtues of how great Housing Associations are at putting new ideas into practice. It’s a big reason why I really enjoy working with our clients, and why my colleagues and I are passionate about supporting them in delivering great services to their customers. 

Perhaps it’s the unique governance framework and regulatory environment, but I believe this responsiveness to challenge and change is what perpetually drives Housing businesses to deliver more for their customers, even in the midst of an uncertain financial remit.  

So, why aren’t we doing more of it?
Pick any Housing Association’s annual report at random. Resident feedback often forms the core driver of business transformation. Because if what you do doesn’t enhance your customers’ experience or your customers don’t understand why you are doing it, there is no benefit to your business. How often is the same logic applied to their staff?

Badenoch & Clark has recently taken this concept to heart. Recognising that some of the most powerful and transformational ideas can come from any part of the business, we have created our own Innovation Group. Active participants range from entry-level staff to Executive Directors, and ideas cover changes to minor internal processes to transforming how our whole company communicates with our customers.

Within a climate of reduced rental income and at a time when many of the larger Registered Providers are considering mergers (creating periods of uncertainty for their staffing base), fostering a culture of innovation could be a quick, cost effective way of ensuring that staff believe they are being listened to and feel truly engaged in positive change across your business.

Throughout the sector, great examples abound of organic, staff-driven initiatives that have led to tangible business benefits. Inverting the traditional top–down style of change management has empowered staff to be genuinely involved in the decision-making processes, at no cost to the bottom line.

Sam Duggan
, Executive Consultant for Property Services for our London Housing team, also commented on how innovation has boosted vital skills transfer within one client:

"Growing the internal contact centre capacity of many of our clients had brought a host of new requirements to their business. Employing those able to empathise sincerely with the customer, whilst being able to directly add value during the call and manage expectations on service delivery and risk, is also a key requirement for building surveyors employed to specific contractor works relating to responsive repairs.

Facing an unsustainable cost in employing permanent, qualified building surveyors, our client began identifying high potential contact centre staff with good diagnostic and communication skills as a talent pipeline for their surveyors. They chose to invest in learning and development, rather than hiring middle managers externally. This has had a direct effect on their retention rate, at a time when similar organisations are losing great people to competitors.”

Neither of these examples could have happened if the culture of each business didn’t encourage staff at all levels to feed ideas to their managers, and more importantly, feel that something would really happen once they had.

Our top tips for fostering an innovative culture in your business are:

1. Hire leaders that are passionate about championing ideas from their staff. Change can often have positive and negative connotations for your people if the time isn’t taken to communicate this well.

2. Ensure your senior management team are incentivised to encourage ideas from their teams. They are your biggest advocates, and have the biggest influence on whether the volume of ideas from a grassroots level grows consistently over time. Not every idea will be brilliant, but if the net result of this behaviour is that your staff feel listened to, it will have an invaluable impact on your workplace culture.

3. Avoid asking for feedback as part of a more general campaign. Launching a standalone initiative will create a completely different profile and content of responses that are equally valuable to your business. Communicating the success of each initiative is also crucial in building momentum. One consideration could be to highlight the variety of business areas who have contributed responses. 

4. Link the fostering of ideas to internal skills transfer. Many people join a Housing Association without understanding the full breadth of services and career paths available. Once in a particular team, new recruits often have few avenues to explore other options within the business unless they are part of an established graduate scheme. Innovation initiatives give staff a guilt-free opportunity to showcase their potential to the Executive team without fear of appearing disloyal to their department.

The final tip represents one of the most valuable traits of an innovative workplace culture – the chance for staff at all levels to unleash their creativity without judgement.

Some of our own best ideas at B&C are the product of staff recognising how existing processes, small or large, could be made better. For all sorts of reasons, the ability to voice this in any other setting could be seen as a double-edged sword.

An effectively communicated and executed, well-constructed innovation campaign can transform people’s attitudes towards change, shine a light on your future stars and increase retention.

And the best part? It’s free!

By Nathan Minnighan, Executive Consultant



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