Housing associations are experiencing dramatic change. Faced with new legislation in the Housing and Planning Bill which allows tenants to buy their homes at a discount of up to £73,000, as well as a 1% annual reduction in social rents in England for the next four years, they could be forgiven for concentrating their focus on budgets rather than employees. Our work with eight of the G15 shows that this isn’t the case, but combined with our experience in other industries, we know that in times of crisis and change, it’s your people that will get you through. According to Engage for Success, organisations with top quartile engagement scores have a revenue growth 2.5 times higher than those in the bottom quartile, and 18% higher productivity. Employee engagement is important to housing associations, now more than ever.
Tell a Story of the Future that People Engage In
David Orr, the National Housing Federation’s chief executive spoke recently at the NHF communications and marketing conference to highlight that housing associations must engage with the public, politicians and tenants, to tell their story. He spoke of the need for heads of communications to work more closely with chief executives to ensure that this story is told properly: “It’s not something that jogs along behind. It sits in place. It’s as important as knowing you have the money.” Setting out an optimistic vision of the future is vital, Orr says, to ensure that housing associations have a voice on how that will be shaped: “At the heart of that leadership task is being able to tell a story of that future that is credible, that people engage in. If you don’t have your own view of what that future looks like, then all that you will ever do is manage the present.”
Employee surveys enable leaders to paint that picture of what the future will look like, plan ahead and continually improve, and this is largely down to the employees themselves. That being said, part of this may involve reassessing who you are as an organisation, and working on your internal story.
In 2010 Origin Housing had an employee engagement score of 64%. In 2014 this had increased to 82%, and the participation rate had risen by 34%. This was achieved through an assessment of its vision and values, and a focus on developing leadership culture and pride.
They Involved Employees in the Story of Who Origin Are
By their very nature, housing associations have a strong backstory and focus, and it is unusual for organisations to change their values, but Origin found that the majority of its employees could only describe two. This wasn’t going to help them achieve their vision, so they involved employees in the story of who Origin are, creating new values of what Origin stands for. These were launched internally with support from a campaign with specific branding to encourage engagement and communication, sharing examples of how the new values were being upheld.
This also gave an opportunity for Origin to look at how they operated. They had a brilliant work environment, which meant that they were all really nice to each other – great on so many levels, but this also stopped some of the challenging conversations that might bring change and increase efficiency. Through developing workshops, these conversations were helped along, without detracting from Origin being a friendly place to work. People are now introduced to the values in the recruitment process, and the CEO champions the scheme through one-to-ones.
Take People with You to Where You Aim to Be
Now this might sound like a lot of work, especially if budgets are being assessed, but it does lend itself to David Orr’s message – be part of the story. If your internal story does not match where you aim to be, then you will find it incredibly hard to get there. Through going back to basics and assessing where you are right now and where you hope to be in the future, it is easier to take people with you, save on recruitment costs, ensure that the people you have are spurred on to be as productive as possible by the messaging, and have an effective workforce which is spreading your message outside the workplace.
ORC International can also support this through a survey designed specifically for housing associations, which emphasises cost-effectiveness and benchmarking. We find that with relatively limited budgets, benchmarking, knowledge sharing and getting to know other organisations’ stories is really important.