How To Prepare For The Future of Housing

Community groups and individuals have delivered the most useful support networks in a physically distanced world. So now is the time for social landlords to revisit our purpose and reflect on the non value-adding activities that our organisations are involved i

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN INSIDE HOUSING 

Late last year I attended a talk from Melissa Sterry, a Design Scientist. She was challenging the received wisdom that we would all live a lot longer in the future. “How can we say this?” she said. “When everything around us is changing so rapidly?” She went on to explain the complex global disruption caused by events such as climate change and proposed that there were few guarantees about anything anymore.

A full two months before most of us had heard of COVID-19, Melissa gave the example of new diseases emerging with strains capable of igniting pandemics. The message was clear – the world we think we know can quickly disappear. 

Endless column inches have already been filled with speculation about what a ‘new normal’ looks like. In reality none of us know what a post-pandemic operating environment looks like. However there are some areas of challenge and opportunity that we must begin to consider.

The most immediate is the way we work. The virus has kickstarted the world’s largest workplace experiment – with remote working advancing as much in a few weeks as it has in the previous ten years. Right now there are lots of CEOs looking at our empty offices and wondering what their purpose was.

Is it too fanciful to imagine a future where housing association offices simply cease to exist, with people relocated to work in the communities they are employed to serve?  I expect that we will gravitate back to our offices over time, so should take this opportunity to question whether that’s the sensible thing to do. 

People are already valuing new arrangements with a poll for transport consultants SYSTRA finding that more of us expect to work from home saving money on commute time and cost, and striking a better work-life balance. 67% of people say they believe virtual meetings will replace some or all future business trips or meetings. The longer that people go without spending their time and money on fuel and transport the more resistant they will be to returning to it.

Arguably the more challenging questions emerge when looking at  community and customer service. 

YouGov have reported that only 9% of us want to return to life as normal with 40% of people saying they feel a stronger sense of community than before lockdown. 

People have begun supporting and caring for one another to an unprecedented extent, with community led groups popping up to address needs in ways that housing associations simply can’t. Rather than organisations, it is neighbours that have shown themselves to be the most useful support network in a physically distanced world. 

Now then is an ideal time to revisit our purpose and reflect on the non value adding activities that our organisations are involved in. It is hard to imagine right now, but even bigger challenges lie ahead. The economic fallout of this crisis will hit most of us, but we know from past experience that those on benefits or in the lowest paid employment will be hit hardest. We’ve woken up to the fact that those who work in supermarkets and the caring professions are the backbone of our society, so we need to reconsider how our organisations can better support them. This means thinking beyond ‘housing’ and requires a need for the whole system to work together, through health, housing, employment and social care. 

Also now is a time to reflect on the built home itself. The sector has toyed with the concept of live/work environments and multi use spaces over the past 10 years. Starting now we need to design new homes for a work from anywhere culture and adapt lettings policies for existing ones. The idea of having a spare room for working – previously a luxury – could now be a basic requirement. 

Lockdown has highlighted the importance of open space and how valuable it is to people for their sense of well-being. The unequal access to it has been revealed through the stories of tenants without access to any private outdoor space — be it a balcony, patio or garden. This isn’t an easy problem to solve – if you build bigger outside space it means less internal space and few developers are amenable to that. How we design homes that promote the health, resilience and wellbeing of communities is a question we must answer. 

There’s no way to completely prepare for the future of housing. Nor indeed can we solve every problem. The best we can hope to do is to stay up to date on current trends, encourage local solutions and community led innovation – and prepare our people for frequently changing environments. 

Above all though we should never assume we can survive the future with the same thinking that enabled us to survive the past. 


Photo by Breno Assis on Unsplash

2015: The year we put the social back into housing 

Social-Business-Textbook

You can have super star status online without any official status offline; you can be a powerful chief executive offline with very little impact online – Victoria Betton 

Just over two years ago I pronounced rather grandly that 2012 was the year we went social. The year the UK housing sector embraced new technologies embarking on a journey of redefinition for the era of digital transformation.

Looking back at that now it seems very naive. 

In reality only a fraction of the sector is genuinely experimenting with new forms of digital engagement. 

I haven’t the time or inclination to count how many housing CEOs maintain an active social media presence . But I’m taking a considered guesstimate it’s around 15%. 

By way of example just five of the high profile G15 Group of CEOs have a presence on Twitter and only three in a way that’s meaningful. 

But it’s not just leaders , The staple roles of the sector , housing officer , maintenance engineer , support worker are – by and large – missing in action and failing to embrace golden opportunities to connect with communities. 

Board members are pretty much invisible although there are some very notable exceptions. 

Organisations that livestream or share from board meetings?  CEOs doing Facebook chats or hangouts? You could count them on one hand – even if you’d had an unfortunate accident with a meat cleaver.

 Additionally most organisations still have the dial firmly set to Promote rather than Converse.

Do a check on any housing brand account. Check how many of their last 10 posts directly link back to their own website. There’s a prize if you can name ten that don’t reference themselves 90% of the time. 

Here’s a shot of realism: UK housing is about 10-15% operational on social media. At best. 

This speaks to me of a lack of curiosity. An insularity that has haunted the sector for the entire time I’ve been part of it. It’s not a good look. 

People often talk to me about the battles fought in their organisations to get digital adopted. It’s all too often a sad story of risk averse leaders , hierarchical control and command, power mad comms teams and rabid IT and governance departments.

Of course this isn’t true everywhere: some are setting an astonishing pace. 

Power Players 14 and Connected Housing showed there are a raft of organisations and people who are sharing ideas, connecting with others and reaching beyond sector boundaries. We could have filled the Power Players list four times over last year.

There’s also a growing movement of CEO front runners – although it’s notably stronger in northern England and Wales than elsewhere. 

This lack of leadership presence is especially puzzling given housing has an obsession about getting its message heard. (The laudable if slightly self-serving “build more homes”). 

And therein lies the problem: anyone that focuses solely on getting their message heard is guilty of the most heinous of social crimes: broadcasting. 

My big wish for 2015? That organisations and a whole sector could wake up to that fact that endlessly broadcasting your “message” just isn’t going to work. 

This is a world built on relationships and connections. It involves you listening to others, generously sharing and doing more than just following everyone else in your sector. 

I hope to be writing a different post in 12 months time.

  • I hope to write of the social leaders who are openly challenging mediocre services and championing innovation and risk.
  • I hope to see organisations using social to reconnect with communities and embracing the emerging online tenant voice. 
  • I want to see organisations experimenting with new networks and technology in inventive ways. Having a Twitter account is a minimum requirement now not a badge of honour.
  • I’d love to see more recognition of the talents of individuals and communities rather than the well intentioned but paternalistic focus on rescuing people from the latest reforms. 

Most of all I want social housing to be more social.

It’s a new year and a new start – where we can put bad habits to bed. Latecomers can join the party and we’ll welcome them with open arms.

Let’s make 2015 our Zero Year. 

We can do amazing things when we’re better connected. 

It’s our job to give customers a story to tell, not tell it for them…

constructionworkers

“Guinness is lovely but it will always be the same, a (delicious) black and white drink – simple and unchanging. Subway do nice sandwiches.

Lego make little bricks.

The work of housing associations, councils, the NHS and other government departments is about our lives: it’s dramatic, it makes a difference to the way we live every day and the stories are changing and fascinating.

Being important doesn’t mean being tedious. Having serious intentions doesn’t stop you from being entertaining.”Helen Reynolds

I used to dread people asking me what I do for a living.

If you work for a Housing Association you’ll know the feeling. Most people will simply look blank and confused at your explanation.  They search around for a bit, visibly straining as they try to understand. There’s almost always an awkward silence before they suggest:

“Is it a a bit like council housing?”

“Well, yes. It’s a bit like council housing.”

The conversation quickly moves on to talk about anything – anything – other than housing associations.

I gave up describing myself as working in housing about three years ago. I started to say I worked for a charity.

Charity is a great word.

It says you must be a decent sort of person.  And it travels well.

Charity works as well in Asia or Africa as it does down your local pub. It says you are interested in people. That’s always a good thing.

A couple of years ago I did a brief social experiment about how the housing sector talked about people online. The results were telling:

 Less than 8% of the stories we told were directly about the people living in our homes and communities.

On November 12th it was #HousingDay – which aims to celebrate those very people and their achievements. The first event in 2013 reached thousands and trended on Twitter.

Ade Capon , the founder of the campaign says for 2014 he’d like to inspire and engage customers to create and send their own stories – capturing their aspirations and ambitions.

Ade is a very modest guy who has used the power of social media to create something that a whole sector was previously incapable of.

Cynics have accused #HousingDay , and similar campaigns that it has inspired,  of being mere window dressing. A bit of digital fluff that gets sector people talking to each other but fails to make wider social impact.

I disagree. Anything that tries to shift the narrative away from sloganeering and messaging towards conversation and story telling has to be applauded.

As I posted recently– there are nearly 4 million people living in social housing but we hear little from them. That’s why the narrative for social housing gets so little traction. It’s largely a campaign run by social housing professionals for social housing professionals.

However things are changing – the past 12 months has seen a range of customers starting blogs , campaigns and websites. Their voice is beginning to take centre stage.

The organised customer involvement movement which consists of formalised committees and bodies has failed to adapt to the digital age. I predicted three years ago that they would be replaced by a self organised movement of individuals who use social technology to seek wider change.

This is scary to many but we should find it tremendously exciting. Our organisations are not important in themselves and we should welcome the digital freedoms being explored by customers.

People will listen to any story if it is engaging enough.

My own blog started out talking to a housing audience. Today over 80% of subscribers are not from a housing background.  I’ve learned that if you talk about the difference you make rather than what you do – people will engage.

And if you listen to them too  – and build a conversation rather than a broadcast – people will share ideas with you.

Housing , much like health , care and support has a journey to go on.

  • We have to engage hearts and minds not through obsessively pushing a “message” – but by developing a lifelong relationship with people. Relationships built upon hectoring or shouting are not sustainable.
  • We need to identify shared passions and interests and continue having social conversations – on and offline.
  • We have to stop the seemingly endless rounds of awards ceremonies too. Apple , Google and Microsoft are some of the most valuable brands in the world but I never hear them going on about the awards they have won. Assuming they even enter awards in the first place. They let the people who have bought into their story do the talking.

It’s interesting that Helen Reynolds used Lego as a comparison.

Lego make interlocking plastic bricks.

  • What they are known for is their innovation and the creativity they inspire in people.
  • They have kept themselves endlessly relevant to different generations by keeping the story alive through video games , clothing, even theme parks.
  • They have founded a lifelong relationship with people through exceptional design and a focus on , guess what , the customer.

I work for an organisation that exists to do more that put bricks together. It tries to unlock potential in people.

Let’s put that centre stage.

What Uber, Comms Hero and HouseParty tell us about the future of the conference…

(A version of this post originally appeared on 24Dash – go visit them as they’re great!)

Marco Rubio Speech On Innovation At Uber's DC Offices

2pm 11th June: London grinds to a halt.

Cab drivers have downed tools for an hour.

Uber, a smartphone app that offers an easy and cheap taxi booking service, has rolled into the UK. Our taxi drivers, required to do training of between 4-7 years, are understandably outraged at this tech startup rocking up and suggesting services can be delivered in affordable ways that are more tailored to the customer.

The howls of anguish from the striking drivers were heard all across Europe. But far from highlighting the cause of taxi drivers it served only to promote Uber itself- which saw an 850% increase in subscriptions.

The hackney carriage – a tradition dating back to 1654 – faces potential disruption.

Plenty of howls of anguish in Manchester too this week as the annual housing conference rolled into town. This year though the conference had an Uber-like startup to contend with.

HouseParty – an unofficial fringe – had parked its (mini)bus just over the road.

Much like Comms Hero, it would be easy to dismiss HouseParty as a bit of inconsequential fluff. A bunch of malcontents fiddling around with social media and shiny tech whilst Rome burns.

But both formats deserve closer scrutiny. Both have super smart business brains behind them in Asif Choudry and Matt Leach. Both have got the sheer balls to deliver something different in a market starved of original thought. And both show an implicit understanding of their customers.

Comms Hero was developed after speaking to Comms people and asking them what they would design if they could create their ideal event.

HouseParty has evolved through social media connections and captured the imagination of people who would never have thought of attending a housing conference. Additionally it’s been co-designed by Esther Foreman a social entrepreneur who also happens to be – guess what? – a real life housing association tenant.

And they are new and achingly cool. Whereas the annual CIH conference has roots in a tradition starting back in 1931. On that basis it’s unfair to compare and contrast the three. But anyone who has attended them, or followed their social media feeds, will do so.

Let me be clear. This isn’t an attack on the CIH, an organisation I have huge respect for and who employ some inspirational people. Neither is it a ringing endorsement of Comms Hero or HouseParty – concepts that are taking their first awkward baby steps into the world.

But the fact is the annual conference , and public sector conferences like it , have to change.

You can’t blame the CIH. The public gets what the public wants. And, if we’re honest, the UK housing public wants an annual sideshow to the real business of getting together and having a chinwag and a few beers.

The conference this year certainly had a unified message: We need more social housing and we need more money. We need more of the same. Impassioned stuff and I, optimistically, hope it’s heard.

But at £525 for a one day non-member ticket you’d expect passion at the very least.

How attractive would this be to people in the top 5 of the digital Power Players list. People like Anne McCrossan, John Popham or Helen Reynolds? Sole traders who could help the sector be much better than it currently is.

How attractive would this be to a tenant?

Comms Hero has undercut its rivals by a good £100. HouseParty offered an innovative ‘pay what you can afford’ option.

Much like ‘affordable’ rents, our conferences need to consider their purpose, pricing and accessibility.

Thom Bartley has made the brilliant point that it’s now cheaper to fly to Amsterdam to see a 3D printed house than to pay to go to a housing conference and hear someone talk about it. We all know that housing has to revisit its purpose but that also involves a restatement of its values.

This is less an issue for the CIH than it is for the sector itself.

In reality neither Comms Hero nor House Party are competitors to traditional conferences – they offer something different. But just like Uber,  Spotify and Netflix they are bringing the question of customer value into the spotlight.

The annual conference, just like black cabs, will be around for a good while yet. But if nothing else the new kids on the block have made us consider “would we do it this way if we started again?”

And that’s always a pretty good question to ask.

The #PowerPlayers14 Awards at #HseParty14

POST UPDATED 25TH JUNE
Winners of people choice awards at House Party:

Social Media Campaign:  Winner: Adrian Capon for #HousingDay. Runners up: Council Home Chat , Real Life Reform

Best Blogger: Winner: Colin Wiles. Runners up: Thom Bartley, Jules Birch

Rising Star: Winner: Michala Rudman. Runners up: Cheryl Tracy, Thom Bartley

Social Superstar England: Winner: Nick Atkin. Runners up: Asif Choudry, Lara Oyedele

Social Superstar Wales: Winner: Brett Sadler. Runners up: Keith Edwards, Michala Rudman

Digital Innovation of the Year: Winner: Jayne Hilditch for MyTVH. Runners up: Muir Group for  digital sign up , Halton Housing for digital deal.

Super Connector of the Year: Winner: Anne McCrossan. Runners up: Nick Atkin, James Caspell

Comms Innovator of Year: Asif Choudry

Digital Innovator of Year: Matt Leach

POST UPDATED 25TH JUNE

After the excitement generated by #PowerPlayers14 we’ve decided to reflect on peoples contribution to digital housing one final time this year at House Party in Manchester on 24th June.

This is a time of huge change in the public sector and the importance of social and digital technology has never been so important.

Despite the success of #powerplayers14 – the housing sector still has a mountain to climb in embracing new ways of working and thinking. Once you open the door to social media you have begun to change the nature of your organisation. There’s no going back.

We are now turning the spotlight away from the list itself and towards the difference that has been made.  These are awards for the people and organisations who are doing something new and making a difference.

The categories for this year are:

Social Media Campaign:  Which campaign has most effectively used digital to promote social housing for social good?

Best Blogger: Which are the posts you just HAVE to read?

Rising Star: Which newcomer (or nearly newcomer…) has made a powerful mark in #ukhousing for their use of digital?

National Social Superstar: We’ll have winners for Wales, England , Scotland and Northern Ireland. Who are they and why?

Digital Innovation of the Year: Which person or organisation has used digital to really make a difference for their customers? What have they done differently?

Super Connector of the Year: Who’s the person who has most effectively used digital to break down barriers between sectors?

Anybody can make a nomination. All you have to do is to state who you are nominating, the category & the reason. You can post your nomination with a comment in the blog or use Twitter with the hashtag #powerplayers14.

This is completely crowdsourced – nominations can be made up to 5.00pm on the 24th June.

Winners will be revealed during the House Party dinner on Tuesday evening from 7.45pm by Paul Taylor and Boris Worrall. Shirley Ayres will also be presenting some special awards.

This being a socially savvy event all awards will be virtual and tweeted out to winners live!

You can follow events via the hashtag #hseparty14.

We look forward to hearing the nominations!

Paul, Shirley and Boris

 

The Top 50 Digital #PowerPlayers14 in #ukhousing

 

dc-comics-superheros-wallpaper

You want to get to the list don’t you? 

Hold on. It’s coming.  

Before you look at the Top 50 influencers please read this guest post from Shirley Ayres who kindly agreed to collaborate with me on #powerplayers14.

For me…it sums up perfectly what it’s all about….

When the first Power Players 50 list was published I was surprised and complimented to be included.The list was intended as light hearted fun but the interest generated in who was included and why sparked a very lively debate.

I was delighted to be invited by Paul to collaborate on the #powerplayers14 list and we agreed that we needed to widen the criteria. We accept that Klout is an imperfect algorithm so added in scores from PeerIndex. We also invited public nominations. You can read the criteria we used here.

We wanted to create a different kind of list celebrating the diversity of people with an interest in housing who are using social media to connect, inspire and challenge.

We were particularly keen to encourage nominations for people working in and around the sector and we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity. 140 different people were nominated.

Digital technology has democratised access to information and created very different ways of enabling people to connect and share resources, thoughts and opinion. We live in a digitally connected world and in the crowded social space online influence is becoming increasingly important.

Influencers select, share and create content around topics which attract diverse audiences and offer real opportunities to drive action and effect change.

At a time when the housing sector is having to redefine their core mission and purpose, online engagement can amplify voices and offer alternative views to those presented by the mainstream media. Influencers are passionate about their interests and have invested time to grow and develop trust with those following on their social networks.

We all have access to a wide range of social media tools. It’s what individuals do with the tools that is important. Shared experiences on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and  blogs are valuable in earning trust over time.

Possibly the term power players is a bit of a misnomer in this context and a more appropriate term is super connectors. The housing sector is at an early stage of recognising the potential of social media to make new connections which are not limited by sector boundaries. It’s a potential for new collaborations , with the active involvement of customers in the development of new services.

Becoming a social business often requires a cultural mindshift which goes beyond thinking that social media is just a communications channel. People increasingly expect that organisations will not just reach out but also listen to them. The nominations for power players represented a cross section of people who are building connected communities and and modelling how social technologies can creatively help housing associations build new networks.

I believe that we need more opportunities to inspire staff and people who use services from across housing, care, health, charities and social enterprises to collaborate in exploring how to embed digital innovations as an integral part of the support available within every community.

Power players are by nature engagers and connectors who understand that social media is about connecting with people.

If we are battling for hearts and minds we need ambassadors who understand the issues at every level of the housing sector and are able to contribute to debates.

This list represents the new world of housing associations

 

So that’s the list! Congratulations to everyone who was nominated.

A diverse range of people and interests.

There are substantially more CEOs present than last year – a sign of social being taken more seriously?

Notably 7 of the Top 10 are women.

We’d love to get as many of your thoughts, congratulations or disagreements as possible in the comments below.

Do you agree with the list? Any omissions? Who should get special mention at the House Party awards for significant contributions?

Over to you….

Update: If you would like to follow a Twitter List featuring all the final 50 click here. Thanks to Jarrod Williams for this.

Top 50 Power Players In #UKHousing 2014 – Your Vote Counts….

Power. Influence. Social Housing Heroes
Power. Influence. Social Housing Heroes

A year ago I published The Top 50 Power Players In Housing [Klout Edition] – featuring people working in and around the sector.

The idea came to me as I was sipping rum at a beach bar in Jamaica, checking my Klout score and wondering why I hadn’t made the main list in 24 Housing Magazine.

More seriously – it was done as an exercise in comparing online and offline influence.

Only 14 of the original Power Players remained in the online list. The democratising effect of social media was apparent. CEOs disappeared almost completely and were replaced by people with less seniority – in the traditional hierarchical sense. There was a higher number of women, more ethnic diversity and at least 3 of the top 10 influencers were under the age of 30.

There is a serious point to this. We now have a generation of people working in Housing who have no idea who David Orr and Grania Long are. But they would recognise John Popham and Dominic Campbell. It’s increasingly important that UK Housing leaders embrace digital as a relationship builder rather than a broadcast channel.

I never expected the post to be so popular , it’s the number two ranked piece on this blog and still gets views every day.

I also never planned to do a follow up list , but due to public demand I’m pleased to announce that there will be a 2014 edition published in June!

To freshen it up I’m making three changes based on feedback:

  • Although it will still use the controversial Klout score, there will be some new measures included. So , for example , I’ll be looking if a person has a frequently updated blog or website. The full criteria will be published alongside the list.
  • Politicians are being dumped. You told me you’d prefer a list without elected members – one that concentrated on real people working in and around the sector.
  • For the first time you’ll be able to nominate people you feel have made a significant contribution through their online influence. Who has really shaped things this year? Who ran the best blog? The best social media campaign? Remember this list is reserved for individual people only – you can’t nominate Housing Associations or companies. You can nominate people however you want. You can mention them on Twitter using the hashtag #powerplayers14 , you can DM me or send an email. Ideally though you will add a thread to the bottom of this post. Nominations or suggestions must be made by midnight on Sunday May 11th. 

I’m delighted to say that Shirley Ayres – co-founder of the Connected Care Network is joining me to collaborate on the list. Shirley was the Number 1 ranked influencer on last years list after politicians. So , just like me, Shirley won’t be appearing on this years list!

The list will be announced in June and published on this blog simultaneously with the print publication in 24 Housing Magazine. Thanks to Jon Land who is a great sport for suggesting this. Watch out for news also on how some of this years list could find themselves invited to a special event at House Party on 24th June. Thanks to Matt Leach , who would get my vote for innovation in housing , for this.

So – over to you. Who are the Power Players 2014? Remember – they don’t have to work in housing. Just influence it.

As I’ve said – in an online super-connected world – sectors only exist in our imagination anyway….

UPDATE TO POST

SO HERE WE GO…………………

THE 2014 SHORTLIST (although it’s quite long)

Abigail Scott Paul

@AbigailSPaul
Adrian Capon @AdeCapon
Aileen Evans @Bushbell
Ailin Martinez @ailinmartinez
Alex Blandford @blangry
Alex Marsh @shodanalexm
Alex Noonoo @Goonooa
Alison Dean @alisonhanily
Alison Inman @Alison_Inman
Alistair Somerville @Acuity_Design
Alys Cole-King @AlysColeKIng
Amy Lythgoe @AmyL_BAH
Andy Johnson @andyjatbromford
Andy Orrey @AndyOrrey
Andy Williams @andywilliamsLHT
Angela Lockwood @Angela_NSHG
Anne McCrossan @Annemcx
Asif Choudry @asifchoudry
Barry Marlow @barrymarlow
Ben Black @BenBlack
Ben Marshall @BenM_IM
Boris Worral @borisorbitgroup
Brett Sadler @brettsadler77
Carl Brown @carlbrownIH
Carl Haggarty @carlhaggarty
Caroline King @CKingatHelena
Charlotte Harrison @charlotteh_nhc
Chenoa Parr @chenoaparr
Cheryl Tracy @ctracy861
Chris Bolton @whatsthepont
Chris Goulden @Chris_Goulden
Clare Parslow @ClareParslow
Clare Tickell @claretickell
Colin Wiles @colinwiles
Dan Slee @danslee
Darren Caveney @darrencaveney
David Orr @natfeddavid
Edwina O’Hart @EdwinaOHart
Elisa Faulkner @ems_wales
Gary Orr @gary yarlington
Gavin Smart @gavinsmartCIH
Grania Long @granialongCIH
Grant LeBoff @grantleboff
Hannah Fearn @Hannahfearn
Harry MetCalf @harrym
Helen Barnard @Helen_Barnard
Helen Reynolds @helreynolds
Helena Moore @helenajmoore
Housing Grunt @housing_grunt
Immy Kaur @ImmyKaur
Inti Popat @Intipopat
Jacque Allen @jacqueallen2
Jacqui Grimes @JacquiNHC
Jake Eliot @HousingJake
James Grant @BristolJames
James Pargeter @Jamespargeter
Jamie Baker @jamieofficer
Jamie Davies-Morgan @jamiedmorgan
Jamie Ratcliff @JamatGLA
Janet Hale @pilkingtonhale
Janet Hunter @housingrightsNI
Janet Storar @JREJanet
Jarrod Williams @jarrodwilliams
Jayne Hilditch @jaynehilditch
Jen Barfoot @JASbar
Jennie Donald @Jenny_Donald
Jennie Ferrigno @justjennie45
Jeremy Porteous @HousingLIN
Joe Halewood @SpeyeJoe
John Hocking @john_hocking
John Popham @johnpopham
John Wade @JohnW_Bromford
Jon Land @JonLand24
Jon Leighton @Pokerfiend
Jules Birch @jules_birch
Julia Unwin @juliaunwin
Julie Nicholas @JulieNCIH
Kate Davies @KateDaviesNHHT
Kate Murray @kate_murray
Kate Reynolds @kate_reyn
Kathleen Kelly @JRFKathleen
Keith Edwards @keithedwardscih
Ken Perry @kenperry47
Kevin Williams @kevinw_wulvern
Lara Oyedele @laraoyedele
Lily Dart @lily_dart
Lindsay Graham @LindsayGrahamUK
Lisa Hughes @LisaHug90813883
Lisa Pickard @lyha_LisaP
Lucy Ferman @lucyferman
Martin Wheatley @wheatley_martin
Matt Leach @matt_leach
Matthew Gardiner @TeamTHT
Matthew Smart @iMattSmart
Michala Rudman @michalarudman
Michelle Reid @MichReid2014
Mick Kent @mickkent2
Nearly Legal @nearlylegal
Nick Atkin @NickAtkin_HHT
Nick Duxbury @nickduxbury
Nick Horne @knightsinwhites
Paddy Gray @Paddygray1
Patrick Butler @PatrickJButler
Paul Diggory @pauldiggoryNWH
Paul Smith @asterpaul
Peter Bond @petebond7
Peter Brown @PeterFBrown
Peter Hall @PHHSI
Polly Neate @pollyn1
Rachel Honey-Jones @RHoneyJones
Rachel Morton @RachelJMorton
Rae Watson @RaeWatson_
Richard Crossley @richardinleeds
Richard Sage @bakedidea
Rob G @Simplicity
Rob Jefferson @RobJefferson
Rob Warm @robwarm1
Ross Williams @ross_williams79
Sahil Khan @khan_sahil
Sasha Deepwell @sashadeepwell
Shaun Tymon @shauntymon
Shibley Rahman @legalaware
Steve Cook @StephenCookV2C
Steve Hilditch @SteveHilditch
Steve Meakin @smeakin60
Steve Nestor @stevenestor1
Stuart McDonald @smacdonaldSM
Sue Roberts @sueR10
Tamsin Stirling @tamsinstirling
Tessy Britton @TessyBritton
Thom Bartley @thombartley
Tim Frier @timfrier
Tim Morton @timmorton2
Tim Pinder @pindertim
Toby Lloyd @tobylloyd
Tom Murtha @TomeMurtha
Tony Stacey @TonyStacey
Tracey Wilson @traceyregenda
Vic Rayner @VicRayner
Vicky Bannister @vmbannister
Vicky Green @Vicky_Green1
Victor da Cunha @victor_dacahuna
William Shortall @MerseyNorthBM

Well done everyone – the Final Fifty will follow in a few weeks…

Thanks for voting

Shirley and Paul

The Battle Against Digital Disruption

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A friend of mine – a Housing Association resident – has just received her shiny new smartphone.

  • It’s got a High Definition display more advanced than a TV that just four years would have cost over £1000.

  • It can be controlled without actually touching it. It tracks her eye and wrist movement and stops playing video if she looks away.

  • It automatically scrolls down a document when she has reached the bottom of the page, intuitively following her gaze.

  • It keeps her in touch with news, local information and her community via an ever present blend of her social networks.

She is a digital citizen.

And she is resident of an analogue housing association.

The association has a website – but she says it doesn’t look good on a mobile phone, which is her primary way of dealing with the world.

  • She can interact with the landlord online but it’s essentially an email form. She says it’s quicker just to phone someone.

  • Her landlord sends her post and an occasional newsletter. She finds this both funny and wasteful.

  • The other day she received a paper survey despite giving them her email address three times. The survey asked her if she had a mobile phone, even though she had been using one to deal with her Housing Officer ever since moving in.

Welcome to a new breed of resident. Residents who live digital lifestyles that are completely out of sync with the operating system of the landlord.

This is what Brian Solis has described as “Digital Darwinism” – a time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of organisations to adapt. Solis points out that in ten years a failure to adapt to change wiped 40% of the Fortune 500 companies off the map. They vanished.

But that couldn’t happen to a housing association could it? Bricks and mortar are different, surely?

Social Housing is at a pivotal point. It’s fighting on two fronts. The struggle to adapt to a life without subsidy on one hand, the battle against the threat of welfare reform on the other.

But there is a third fight that cannot be ignored: The digital revolution that is transforming the expectations and behaviours of customers.

At the moment many organisations think this is the lesser of the three threats. Some don’t even see it as a threat at all. Many hide behind statistics that show that many social housing users don’t have internet access. But high percentages do have access and have good digital skills. And that figure is growing every day as the cost of mobile devices plummet.

In the meantime:

  • Our customers become ever more digitally adept – overtaking many of our colleagues. (I believe there are as many digital illiterate housing staff as there are tenants)

  • Our Housing IT Systems become old and monolithic. (In this sector it’s not about who has got the best Housing system – it’s who has got the “least worst”)

  • Our Customer Relationship Management systems struggle to adapt to the social media age. (CRM was built in a time when people thought customers could still be managed. Check out your Facebook page – you’ll see that they can’t. They say what they want)

It would be insanity for a Housing Association not to have a plan for how it will survive in a world without subsidy. It would be suicidal for us to not to have a Welfare Reform strategy. But I speak to many people whose organisations have not even considered what digital transformation looks like. Not considered a world where customers will always have better technology and communication abilities than they do.

You need a plan. And it has to be one of your key strategic priorities with the right ownership and the right level of resourcing.

I advised my friend to get in contact with her Housing Association and offer to help them as she would be a great resident contributor.

She went on the website but couldn’t find a social media feed – her preferred way to engage with organisations. So I helped her decipher the housing jargon and suggested she look for a “Get Involved” section.

She eventually found it.  Tucked away at the back end of the web.

It said “Under Construction. Coming Soon”.

 

(This post originally appeared on housingassociations.org. Image and quote via James McQuivey)

Adapt or Die: 3 Challenges To Going Digital

Yesterday was a significant day. The sector in which I work put on a huge show of newly found digital awareness. My Twitter timeline nearly melted.

As Shirley Ayres correctly observed:

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 19.28.33

This , just one year after the 2012 Northern Housing Consortium Social Media event – which was the first mainstream housing conference to promote digital.

So , with such success behind us, why am I still talking about business needing to change?

Because we can never stand still. Brian Solis describes our present as a “time when technology and society are evolving faster than the ability of many organisations to adapt.”

Despite the huge strides we have made over the past year – our pace of change is still not fast enough.

Let us use Google as an example.

Earlier in the year I was travelling abroad – which involved needing to arrange transport via ferry between a couple of islands. As I was sitting on the beach I got my new camera out. And it’s a Smart camera.

It has Google Now on it, an intelligent personal assistant for the Android operating system.

And the home screen , which I’ve never used before, is all about me. It tells me the time back in the UK. The best places to visit locally. The exchange rate. It tells me the next fixture of the football team I support. And , most significantly, it tells me the timetable of the ferry I need to catch. Even though I never searched for it.

Never used before. But it’s predicting my behaviour and offering me a solution to my problem.

Housing Associations, the Police, Social Care providers and the NHS – to name just a few – hold incredible amounts of data about people. Imagine if they used it like Google Now to solve peoples problems?

These are 3 immediate challenges I think we have to face up to in order that our organisations become “digitally social” :

1: Leadership and Skills

We still have some managers in positions of influence who don’t acknowledge digital as important. I still hear daily examples of organisations who block access to social media or don’t believe in making sure their employees have the necessary tools to do the job.

With the current pace of technological change this is about the single most destructive position you can take as a leader. Not promoting a digital work-style for your employees is to severely curtail their personal development and to put your organisation at risk of extinction.

I love the quote that Vala Afshar used to explain why his companies latest position is to be offered exclusively by social media “(We are) a social company looking to hire candidates that are customer focused and passionately engaged. (We are) looking for builders – relationship builders.”

If your company isn’t looking for those. Why not?

2: Innovation and Collaboration

The role for many public service organisations is to actively mainstream the innovation that is already out there. There are loads of innovators and entrepreneurs who just need a route to market. Some of them may already be employed by you.

This requires mind shift on behalf of organisations who think inside out. The best stuff could be going on outside your organisation not inside it – we need to get out and grab it. This has significant implications for the way Information Technology is supported and developed. IT has done a very good job for years of keeping people from accessing data – it now needs to let people in.

For housing this means delivering services around the person. Tyze is a great example of an innovative person centred community network that links neighbours, friends and professionals.

We haven’t cracked digital just because we have a Facebook page.

3: A new Customer Relationship

The biggest challenge I think we face is to reimagine the relationship with the public in the context of digital and social technology. It isn’t about just moving our services from offline to online. It’s about using the digital platform to think how the relationship could be enhanced. Thinking customers are going to flock online to pay their rent and view repairs is starting from the completely wrong position.

That’s why at Bromford – we are focussing on a completely new deal for customers, supported by digital innovations from a specialist team, partner developers and innovators.

We need to add value. Solve problems for customers – not ourselves.

Look at Google. They are trying to solve everything.

We could too.

[The content of this post was originally presented at the Chartered Institute Of Housing South East Conference 7th March 2013]

Why Living In Paradise Is Bad For Business

When you live in paradise - it's easy to get lazy.
When you live in paradise – it’s easy to get lazy.

Here is a story about what can happen when you don’t anticipate change. When you get used to things being easy for everyone. It’s a story you will have heard before but, like all the best tales , is as relevant today as when it was first told:

There was once a lucky little bird who lived on an island. It was one of the most beautiful places on earth. Not only was it beautiful – it was safe. Nobody wanted to eat the bird. Nobody tried to muscle in on the birds turf.

The fruit that the bird collected from the trees was abundant and delicious. After a while the bird stopped collecting the fruit , as left to ripen it fell off the tree on its own. Far more convenient! Why would you go chasing food if you can have it delivered direct to your table?

The bird became bigger. Eventually it couldn’t even be bothered to fly. Why would you? The island is gorgeous, the food goes down a treat, and there is zero competition for nest space. You’d have to be an idiot to screw this life up!

But one day a ship appeared on the horizon. On the ship were men and women from a country far far away. And they brought dogs with them. And cats.

Not a problem , thought the bird, I’ll just fly away – there are plenty of decent islands around here with fruit just as good.

But its wings , left idle for so long , didn’t work anymore. Damn it.

As the bird went along to introduce itself to the dogs and cats – it wished that it had never become reliant on that delicious fruit falling from the trees. Never mind, it thought – guess I’ll have to learn to fly again.

The island was Mauritius. The bird , of course , the Dodo.

Last week an article made me think of this story. It contained a quote that said an entire sector , Social Housing , could become extinct because of alterations that are being made to how it gets paid.

Many of you reading this don’t work in housing so will not understand the changes. So – let me explain in simple terms how this works :

  • Quite a few people who live in social housing get benefits for their rent. To make it easy for everyone the benefits are paid – electronically – to the landlord. It’s convenient , frictionless, and the actual customer doesn’t have to worry about any of it. (OK , that sounds like business model paradise to you guys who don’t work in housing. But stick with me….)
  • The Government is trying to get the benefit paid direct to the customer. The idea seems to be that people should take responsibility for budgeting and stuff. But some customers aren’t really skilled enough to sort things out for themselves. A load of them don’t even have banks. Plus – customers don’t want the hassle of having to pay rent. So , it would be easier all round to stick with the old system. (OK , stop laughing – I know business doesn’t work like that in YOUR world.)

Why did the article make me think of the Dodo?

Because things were always going to change. History teaches us that. Why are we surprised?

We know that any modern business has to habitually innovate and re-invent itself. If it doesn’t and it gets too comfortable – it will become extinct. And it will deserve to.

Whichever sector you work in you are at risk of:

  • Stronger competitors
  • Disruptive technology
  • Demographic changes in your market
  • Changes in the economy
  • Changes that alter the way customers access your business
  • Or changes in politics and regulations

Your business is under threat. All the time. Get used to it.

There are lots of ships on the horizon. And they all contain disruptions to the way we do things.

We better get those wings working.

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Does Social Housing Need To Find A Richard Branson?

A defining career moment - Support act (No.19!) to Sir Richard Branson...
A defining career moment – Support act (No.19 on the bill!) to Sir Richard Branson…

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 11.20.44 It’s May 2008 , and Helena Moore and I have just left the stage at the European Customer Management World Conference. We had just presented to an audience that included John Lewis , Microsoft and some young startup outfit called Facebook. People who we would now recognise as experts in marketing their product and selling their vision.

For most attending it was their first experience of Social Housing.  Our slot was about creating a service culture in a sector not known for sexiness or imagination. We used images of Shameless and Jeremy Kyle. We knew what our audience were thinking and we wanted to debunk the myths and talk about things we were proud of – the extraordinary achievements of our customers and colleagues. These are some of the comments we received:

  • “Loved it! We expected this to be the most boring slot of the day!”
  • “I really thought it would all be about people on benefits and anti-social behaviour – instead it was inspirational”
  • “I thought of council housing and the public sector as old fashioned –  not very commercial “
  • “We were dreading your slot. But I get what you are trying to do – it’s all about helping people be better – right?”

And , for your amusement , two priceless (100% genuine) comments about Helena and I :

  • “It’s good that you two didn’t wear suits – you stood out by being a bit scruffy…”
  • “We love that you guys at Bromford don’t seem to plan anything and are a bit , you know , rough”

Two years to the day after this presentation the Coalition was formed, Gordon Brown packed his bags, and the Labour Party left Government. I don’t believe the incidents were related –  my point is this – we need to forget the talk about a Government demonising social housing. We had an image problem under the last Government and we have an image problem under this one.

We have never been popular. Never been sexy. And in a world where we are all marketeers – it’s time we stopped blaming other people and started dealing with it.

whats_your_story The stories behind Bedroom Tax and Welfare Reform have tipped in the last few weeks. They have gone mainstream. Primetime TV and Tabloid coverage. Clearly we are doing something right.

About 9 months ago I did an experiment about the stories we produce within the sector. It revealed that only 8% of online content was about the people living in our homes and our communities. The rest was about us. And – as I’m sure you know – it’s not about us. 

My latest check has revealed a huge improvement. 25% of social housing output now concerns the lives of residents.  We have embraced social tools to share compelling video with a strong social narrative. We’ve done well at highlighting an issue that matters and pushing it into the public consciousness. But there is still room for improvement.

In the last two weeks a huge 40% of stories generated were about how landlords themselves are going to struggle as a result of reforms. Actual customers were briefly mentioned in passing.

The remaining 35% of output was largely introspective examinations about ( the lack of ) housing finance and development opportunity. If looked at from outside the sector could this be viewed as navel-gazing? A sector that is incapable of innovation and is now feeling sorry for itself?

Back in 2008 Sir Richard Branson headlined the conference. Quiet, unassuming and a little bit nervous – he opened his slot with four minutes of video showing every success and every failure he had been involved in. And then he talked about how he had fought off Government interference and bureaucracy , breaking into new markets by proving the unique value of what his brand could offer customers. The way he told the story of Virgin adding value to the world was electrifying.

You left the room thinking that without them the planet would be a very grey place indeed.

I wonder how Virgin, John Lewis , Facebook and Microsoft would cope with being unpopular , undervalued and underfunded?

I wonder how they would tell their story?

Maybe we should ask them.

NB: ( Statistics used come from 2 weeks monitoring of Google alerts using the search terms – Housing Association , Social Housing , Welfare Reform , Bedroom Tax)

10 Myths From The Year We Went Social

2012 was the year in which the Housing Association sector went social. It’s very positive that so many of us have recognised the clear customer service and business benefits that social and digital engagement can bring.

This was year we went social. And these are 10 things we have learned not to be true:

1: Social Media Is Simple

It’s easy to set up an account, but it’s not easy to make it work. Having worked in customer engagement for over 10 years I feel it is harder to effectively engage online than it is offline. In real life you can look into a customers eyes and read their reaction. In the social stream – you can’t. And our customers are becoming increasingly fragmented and harder to find. To engage with customers we used to knock doors.  In the virtual world they could be anywhere, anytime. It’s hard work.

2: Our Customers Are Not Online

I knew this to be false when a Customer Board Member emailed me to say they didn’t have internet access. People are online,  but they often choose not to tell their landlord. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are online. A customer recently told me they didn’t need broadband as they only ever used Facebook. Although I don’t deny that exclusion exists – the emerging issue is digital literacy and confidence rather than lack of access.

3: Social Media is Free

It is at first. And then you realise you need content. And content takes time to find, and longer to create. Too many organisations are making the mistake of thinking social media equals no printing and no advertising  – so it will be cheaper. But you are going to have to invest in new skills and new technology. It’s an investment in a completely different customer relationship.

4: Policy Can Protect Your Brand.

Whether you have a one page social media policy or hundreds of pages , your success or failure will be defined by just two things: leadership and common sense. In my experience the shorter the policy and the more visible the leadership , the greater the common sense.

5: We Are Ready For Generation Z.

Generally we are not. My challenge? Offer up your web and online services up to any 15 year old used to managing an account with Xbox Live or Playstation Network. Then ask them what they think. Most of our organisations are in the dark ages when it comes to intuitive online user experiences. It should be a concern that many of the people we involve in implementing new services have never heard of , let alone used , Xbox Live or Playstation Network.

6: Digital Will Lead To Better Customer Service.

You can make your service worse if you are just present without having presence. When people used to leave the phone ringing the only person who knew about it was the customer on the other end of the line. I just looked at an account by a large organisation. Last tweet 12th October. Last Facebook post 15th November. Website last updated in July. It’s there for the whole world to see.

7: Digital Is Slowing Down.

Marc Prensky has said slowdown in the digital age is a “myth,” as innovation will only press forward “faster… And faster and faster.” I love his quote: “We are not going through a transition to another phase of stability. People will always be behind now and that will be a stress they have to cope with.” Our companies , our people , our websites – always behind. Get used to it.

8: People Will Follow You And Like Your Page

Only if you are Justin Bieber or One Direction. Otherwise you are going to have to make it worth peoples time. You must post interesting content that is relevant to your audience and engage them in conversations around it. If you are looking at the slides you will see I referenced Bagpuss. It’s a reminder to Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers that we have a different medium but the rules are essentially the same. Every episode of Bagpuss was about the telling of a story and the engagement and contribution of the community to the telling of it. Nobody remembers how the ship got in that bottle. But everyone remembers how the story was told.

9: We Are Moving Our Customers To The Website

You can’t. We don’t have any way of commanding our customers attention anymore. Customers ARE your new website. One of the most significant shifts this year is the amount of time people are spending within social networks. I know people who have arranged their holidays, had their homes re-decorated , bought a car – purely through Facebook. I no longer read Inside Housing (our trade publication) – as its’ content is curated for me by people like Lara Oyedele , Philip Lyons and Jules Birch. I trust them and they are my network. Why would anyone come to the website of a Housing Association when they can get what they want from their network?  The only question is  – do you know who is curating and sharing your content?

10: Social Media Is Great For Broadcasting News

People engage with people not press releases. If there is one thing we all have to embrace next year it is putting the social into social media. The most popular post I have written this year was about the way housing has a tendency to talk about itself rather than create a compelling narrative around the difference it makes to peoples lives. I think we have improved. But we could do so much more in 2013.

These are my myths. I’d love to hear yours.

(The content of this post was originally presented at the Chartered Institute of Housing Social Media and Digital Engagement Conference)

Digital Myths

How confident are you using the internet? On a scale of 1 to 10. And how confident would you say the average user of social housing is?

Last week , I posted about the myth of social housing residents and digital inclusion.

How 99% of our new customers said they had the ability to access the internet either at home or in the community.

And 35% had used a mobile to access online services.

The thrust of my argument was that the real challenge wasn’t access , but digital literacy and confidence. But some new research being done by my colleague Vicky Green challenges the extent to which social tenants feel that their online skills are a barrier.

Of the last 300 customers to join Bromford – over 60% rated their digital confidence at 8 out of 10 or above.

35% said they were a perfect 10. 

That’s an astonishing untapped resource. Like finding out that our communities are built on an oil reservoir.

Let’s get the back of a fag packet out….

Statisticians turn away now…

  • Suppose there are 250,000 new social tenants each year.
  • And suppose the stat’s are grounded in reality – that would make 150,000 highly internet confident tenants moving in every 12 months.
  • And nearly 90,000 of them would rate themselves as a perfect 10.
  • And every year , the numbers would increase.

Now imagine we could make a deal with those people. A customer deal – that you agree to when you access our homes.

We give you access to the huge resources available across UK Housing. You share your skills with the wider community. Together we destroy the myth of social housing customers as digital illiterates.

In return for your help we do everything we can to encourage access to the range of jobs and opportunities that are dependent on IT skills.  And , with a UK Internet economy worth over £200billion by 2016 – that will be quite a lot.

Is that a fantasy? Any more so than saying the “vast majority of social residents have no access to the internet?”

We need to stop re-enforcing the myths and start talking up the opportunities.

Don’t believe the numbers? I’d be the first to admit they won’t be statistically comparable with all landlords. And they do only include those of working age.

But even if the numbers are exaggerated by 50% – we could still miss out on the opportunity to engage a quarter of a million Perfect 10’s accessing social housing over the next 5 years.

And that would be negligence bordering on the criminal.

Is expecting a contribution to community such a bad thing?

Yesterday ,on the  Guardian Housing Network , I asked whether it’s right that a Housing Association should expect a resident to make some sort of contribution to the community they move into.

That we expect , as the default position , that everyone makes 5% extra effort to help their new community be the best it can be.

Is setting out this expectation inherently unreasonable?

Stating explicitly that there is a “something for something” around here. That the community expects a code to be followed.

Is that unfair? Or just common sense?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” he describes a study of a small town, which for some unknown reason started bucking the health trends occuring in the rest of the country.

Basically people had stopped dying. They just kept going until they died of old age. No-one could find any explanation.

Then one day two doctors doing a study finally figured it out. They found that the things that contributed to this phenomena were:

  • Families looked after each other
  • Different generations mixed
  • There were lots of social organisations – people were very engaged and volunteered time to help others
  • And people looked after the poorer members of society with encouragement and support

And this had resulted in people living longer and stopping dying.

That sounds like a pretty cool deal to me.

I’d live there. Imagine the Mission Statement.

“We create communities so good that our customers refuse to die”

It’s obvious that any community that cares about its other members is going to be happier and healthier. That’s not rocket science.

It’s why we worked with our customers to make it part of the Bromford Deal. We expect people to contribute to the community.

So why is it that every time that I’ve mentioned this over the past few weeks that some people have taken a sharp intake of breath? Saying it sounds like Big Brother. A Social Housing Stasi.

What’s the problem in overtly saying you expect a contribution to the community? Surely most people would agree?

It’s early days but we are finding that most tenants do agree. They don’t want to be passive recipients of a service. They actually get a kick out of the fact someone is interested in them.

People we are speaking to are not trying to avoid contribution – they actually like it that someone asks them what skills they have.

Examples of what people are doing? Setting up a community Facebook page, helping out at a mother and toddler group, learning how to get online. Every little helps.

As one of our customers said to me last week:

“ I wish I’d have had the Bromford Deal. I’d have welcomed someone asking me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life”

I don’t think we will ever be able to claim that we helped people stopped dying.

But I reckon we will be able to tell some pretty good stories about what people did with the rest of their lives.

Listen to customers. But don’t feel you have to do what they say…..

“Do your customers agree with what you are proposing?” was one of the questions our Board asked me this week.

My response went something like this:

“I don’t know. We’ve listened to what they have told us. We’ve observed how they find things difficult to use. And then we’ve tried to create something they will like better”

I had just admitted that we’d come up with a proposition based upon what we thought customers would like rather than what they said they actually wanted.

Only a few years ago – saying that you ignored what customers said they wanted could have seen you tried as a Witch. A Heretic.

“He said what? Customers don’t always have the answers? Clearly we have before us a man of unsound mind.”

Fact is – listening to customers can lead to you delivering more of the same. Rather than creating something different.

The darkest days of the Audit Commission, and the dreaded Key Lines of Enquiry, nearly killed any innovation in the sector in which I work.

Hours were spent justifying how customers had played a part in every level of decision making.

Days on end were spent filling in a 50 page Gap Analysis, and poring over a 150 page booklet on supposed Best Practice.

Centuries from now our descendants will study the indecipherable jargon in these papers, imagining them to hold untold secrets of life in the early 21st Century.

In reality it will tell them nothing – except we were all a bit stupid really.

I remember one of my colleagues literally locking themselves away in an office for 8 hours – desperately writing a 40 page continuous improvement action plan. That’s the UK Housing equivalent of waterboarding .

Equally ridiculous was a conversation I once had with a housing “expert” :

Expert: Why have you chosen not to compare your performance to other housing providers?

Me: Well – very few of our tenants have experienced services from another housing association. So its better we compare our performance with other companies they might use – like Sky or Tesco.

Expert: And your customers told you they wanted this done?

Me: Well, not directly.

Expert: Then you don’t really act on what customers have said at all. And there is no clear link back to your strategic plan. I can’t see that this activity is planned or that a proper risk assessment has taken place.

Me: Oh, just [expletives deleted]…… (NB: this bit appeared as a thought rather than in the conversation itself)

Customers don’t always know what they want. They sometimes need to be shown a better alternative to what they currently have.

Technology and Social media gives us previously unimaginable opportunities to collaborate with customers in the gestation of these alternatives.

So let’s use the new tools we now have.

Let us be bold and use it to make changes for the people we let down by wasting time and money.

Let us move on from the people who told us we had to serve up more of the same. That we had to document, action plan and risk assess every idea we had.

But let us not forget.

It was a dark period in our history.

We must never let it happen again. Our customers deserve much better.

What do you do again?

Tumbleweed
“What did you say you do for a living?”

I work for a Housing Association. We build homes and we house people.

And I dread people asking me what I do for a living.

If you work in the same profession, or any other that doesn’t instantly ignite animated conversation , you will know The Tumbleweed Moment.

That moment , those uncomfortable seconds of silence , when you can see in people’s eyes that they are desperately trying to comprehend what you actually DO.

They begin searching around in the filing cabinets of their minds, knowing they have heard the phrase somewhere.

If they find it  – its likely to be right at the back of the brain , along with other discarded items – like “Credit Control Supervisor” and “Biomolecular Engineering Assistant “.

If you are lucky – they will locate it , associate it with the context in which they last heard it used and , in the case of Housing Associations, come up with “Ah yes – Council Housing!”

If you are unlucky  – it will be “Ah yes – Jeremy Kyle!”

In most cases they will simply look blank and confused.  You will attempt a couple of lines to explain further, and then you move on – swiftly – to talk about anything other than housing associations.

I’m incredibly proud to work in Housing. Passionate even. But the world won’t listen. Why is that?

Well, let’s skip past blaming the media for stereotyping.

And let’s leave the Politicians out of this as well.

Let’s take a look at ourselves – the people who make up UK Housing,  and the stories we tell about what we do.

As part of some incredibly scientific research, I set Google Alerts up over the past two weeks to search the web for stories written by us, about us.

By the way – If you don’t know what a Google Alert is – it’s a search parameter that trawls the web for relevent content and generates an email with the best results. Kind of like a 21st Century version of fishing. You usually get a load of crap in your net , but be patient and there are some real keepers.

Here’s what we generated – based on 120 search results. Statistics fresh from the back of a fag packet:

  • 25% of items were about about income and funding
  • 22% were about welfare reform
  • 18% were about new builds and site development
  • 15% were “Look how good we are stories”  – Typical example: “We’ve ensured 100% of our homes meet gas safety requirements”  – That’s like British Airways issuing a press release saying all their planes have landed safely and their pilots failed to kill anybody.
  • 12% were about Anti-Social behaviour or complaints
  • Just under 8% were about the people living in our homes and communities.
So lets look at why the world won’t listen.
Less than 8% of the stories we tell were directly about the very people that we were set up to help in the first place. 

This seems completely at odds with the Social Media output of the various Twitter Feeds in UK Housing – which do a pretty good job of celebrating the difference made to customers lives.

But we need to do more than just circulate the good news to each other.

We need to get our stories into the mainstream news feeds.

We need to promote what we do and the difference we make. In the new world. Not the world of print media.

And each and everyone of us needs to look at our output to see whether it celebrates OUR successes , the things important to US.

Or whether it celebrates the achievements of those we are here to help.

The things the real world might be interested in.

It’s not about us.

I work for a Social Business.  I try to help people change their lives.

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