In the second part of our two-parter on Future Proofing Your Career, we explore ways in which innovation is reshaping leadership, how big data is impacting housing providers (including hiring processes) and how the sector is adjusting to the digital era. We also spotlight some of the latest methods housing providers are using to detect the most dynamic and adaptable talent in the industry, and how the private sector is helping social housing to drive technological innovation.

Digital Disruption, Ethos and Values

Digital technology is having a disruptive impact on industry leaders, not least on how they manage newer processes within their organisations, but also the individuals and teams within, as the workplace rapidly becomes more flexible, autonomous, digitalised and data led. An NYU Stern study recently revealed that 72% of CEOs cited the rapid pace of technological innovation as their greatest challenge (What’s Missing In Leadership Development?). As it becomes clear it is not simply a question of if, but when, organisations adapt to digitalisation, it is increasingly necessary to attract employees who can adapt, create and evolve within these newly emerging work environments, as well as be able spot solid future development and growth potential within the organisation (and industry), often before candidates have even completed the assessment stage. As well as this, it is becoming essential for future industry leaders to show they can align and embed societal values into industry practice, as the vastness of the impact of big data on wider society becomes realised (Big data and business analytics ecosystems: paving the way towards digital transformation and sustainable societies). Understandably, in a sector that caters so personally to the needs of many of the most vulnerable in our society, there is a reluctance to take up technology, even though it could potentially streamline processes, create better customer service and garner bigger saving to invest back into the organisations, often due to the uncertainty and possible risks of big data security, and the potential for data to be used in a discriminatory way. However as these sweeping changes take place across every industry, it is even more important for leading housing providers to employ professionals who are able to make the most creative use of these digital processes and data, as well increasingly be entrusted to work autonomously, whist also reflecting the ethos, values and commitment of the sector towards its end users. Those who do not keep up will almost certainly be left behind, and there is a requirement for a cross mix of skill sets including technical knowledge, commercial acumen, and softer skills at leadership and management level, as well as or including a data specialism, to deal with the onset of big data management and a responsibility to use the information in the correct way.

Skillsoft conducted a survey on the changing face of leadership, and have found the democratisation of modern leadership, vastly influenced by digitalisation, is moving from a ‘command and control’ culture, to a ‘connect and collaborate’ one (The 6 Truths of Modern Leadership Development). In a housing industry that is so vulnerable to the macro business, political and technological environments, there is the potential for this new style of leadership to not only regenerate and improve our organisational structures, but to actually accelerate and enhance the value of the sector, as so many of its facets are aligned to our own ethos and practices…in essence it’s a great fit.

Big Data and Responsible Collaboration

Inside Housing recently took part in the Big Data Experiment, where for the past year and a half, the housing charity HACT and an assembly of 16 housing providers have been collaborating on a project aiming to collect and cross-examine the data produced and held by its members. Through this experiment it became evident just how far behind the sector still currently is, especially compared to many segments of the private sector, on the complicated process of data harvest, security, deciphering value and reaping the benefits of data for best use. By cross-collaboration, it was found a great deal more value could be gleaned by a large group of bodies collecting and sharing data, essentially because the more volume of data, the more meaningful results, but also because those professionals with the most advanced knowledge could be of greater use to more housing providers, ergo more benefit could reach more end users (tenants) as a result. As in part one of this article, collaboration over competition is the theme that produces most overall benefit for all involved. If the social housing industry is able to collect, collaborate, share resources, data and technical knowledge in a more streamlined way, then it appears the entire sector could reap much bigger rewards and catch up more quickly, whilst a regulated framework for ethical use of data could ensure it is used for the highest purpose.

Dynamic Leadership and a Progressive Housing Culture

As advancing technology creates space for more flexible, autonomous roles that are less micro-managed and more self-led, the need is being recognised to evolve our traditional hiring practices to find the more exceptional and unique candidates who will take the sector forward to the next level. It is becoming crucial to think outside the box to attract the most creative and progressive candidates.

Flagship Group in East Anglia, is a leading housing organisation that is embracing adaptive hiring methods to reflect the changing face of modern leadership and the work environment. Their overall goal is (in their words) to solve the housing crisis in the East of England, and the task of such a big undertaking does not come without its challenges. Lisa Collen, Director of People & Workplaces at Flagship Group & Interim Managing Director atVictory Housing Trust, gave us some insights on how they are adapting hiring methods to keep up with so many changes and employment demands. “We have to think differently about providing homes for people in need, which is our purpose, and we use the same innovation when hiring. We know where we are going and because we have a solid goal, we make sure we have the right leadership thinking in place, making it easier to hire and develop the right people. Things are changing rapidly; first we had the Industrial Revolution, then came the Technical Revolution, and now we have the People Revolution. People are taking more control over their work life balance, deciding who they want to work for, where they want to work and how they want to work; there is an element of choice with all that which is not just with the employer anymore.” Lisa believes there are three main themes that help attract, retain and develop their upcoming talent:

·        ensuring the work environment is a great place to be

·        trusting employees to work autonomously, and

·        individually tailored career pathways to reflect individual roles within the organisation.

The housing provider encourages an environment of mutual trust to attract innovative, customer focused and creative employees by projecting these qualities from the start, even at the application stage. “When it comes to employing people, we don’t apply one size fits all to our practices. We are fair but we tailor the process to the individuals, whatever role you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a trade role in RFT, your application is open to creative autonomy, however you want to apply (email, phone call, referrals, CV). Your interview will be showing us your trade but also talking about what you do, how you do it and who you are. Because we have great people already in place, it’s much easier to identify other great people who will work well with us. The attributes which are common to all roles are:

·        attitude

·        creativity

·        problem solving

·        customer service, and

·        insight

We can train you in the rest.” However, Lisa says, they don’t always get it right, “but we are getting there. We have created a great place to work, where work and life integration has become the norm; work is what we do not where we do it. We trust our people to do the right things whether it’s when they come to the office or what they work on to continually improve what we do and how we do it. Our values are at the heart of everything we do, including our hiring decisions.”

Another housing organisation making waves in traditional recruitment practices is Greenfields Community Housing in Braintree, Essex. Andrina WarsopInterim Executive Director of Corporate Service at Greenfields, believes exploring alternative digital application and selection methodology not only allows the hiring team to capture future thinking talent, it can also empower the applicant to choose the best way they can demonstrate their potential and capability when applying. At the same time, it opens the candidate pool to further afield, capturing potential talent from a wider net, and showcases the organisation’s commitment to the agile workforce. “We do not want to be restricted by geographical location, preferring to develop our workforce agility wherever possible.”

Whereas traditionally an organisation would wait until a position needs filling to find the next potential candidates, Greenfields use a reactive and responsive approach, which not only reflects the sector’s current need for an essential skills base, but also a creative mindset, and understanding and nurturing that mindset from the beginning is key. “We are putting equal weight to hiring for behaviour and potential as much as technical skill, and this is enabling and evolving our leadership. We don’t need to have a vacancy to create opportunities. The opportunity can equally drive the need, and we are exploring new ways to empower and release the potential of top talent. We are embracing a blended approach to attraction, with a focus on unlocking creative mindsets inside and outside of the organisation.”

Embracing technological transformation and thinking outside the usual hiring parameters seem to have helped drive innovation at Greenfields, and we asked Andrina what hiring experiences she has brought with her from out of sector which may have helped shape her role within social housing. “From a team perspective we are looking at digital innovation in the application process, to enable the candidate to be as creative as possible, and adding weight to the consideration of what out of sector experience can bring to organisational growth. By selecting individuals that challenge, excite and fill the gaps of existing talent in the organisation, we are promoting a continuously developing mindset that can add organisational value.” But it’s not just about technological acumen. “We are exploring skill sets to support digitalisation, however, not all individuals need to be technical wizards, a healthy attitude towards digitalisation and a will to move towards digitalisation is important, a lot of the use of digitalisation can be trained internally. Data analytics are not driving a KPI culture, but rather allow us to stay ahead of the curve with regards to areas of focus. It is useful intelligence, rather than a ‘KPI driving everything’ approach, which I have seen overdone elsewhere. It also allows the data to be automated, rather than manual, which avoids human error and should help with our efficiency, enabling us to use resources elsewhere.”

And how do Greenfields ensure candidates are a good fit to their team and organisation? “We link recruitment practice to strategic objectives and our values. We involve staff at a number of levels, as well as involving residents, in selection processes at leadership level. It is important to note that not everyone is comfortable with digitalisation, including some of our residents, therefore a blended approach will always be considered, as will adaptation to individual and departmental needs. We want to support our people through our digital journey.

Both Flagship and Greenfields believe creative thinking and the ability to learn and evolve with the organisations are just as essential, if not more so, than technical acumen, as training in-house can help address the skills gaps in those areas. So how can the sector make best use of those addressing the growing need for expert in-house training and up-skilling technical knowledge?

Innovation In The Private Sector

John Schofield, former group director of research and development at Family Mosaic (now Peabody), and part of the Big Data Experiment, believes we could learn more from the private sector organisations who are already appointing highly technically skilled data professionals such as Chief Technical Officers and Chief Information Officers onto executive teams and boards, as within a few years data will become so vital to the industry, all housing providers will be required to have these or similar positions in place.

Globally, there are many examples of how data and digital technology are being used effectively through the private sector to collaborate and work more closely than ever before on issues that benefit society. Last September over 100 business leaders and innovators gathered at the 73rd United Nations General Assembly for the Technological Disruption in the World of Inclusive Business event to confer on digital tools that are disrupting the traditional ways of doing business and driving the ambitions of the development and private sectors forward together. Inventions such as an uber-style mobile app which links motorcycle drivers and customers in Rwanda to global healthcare company Medtronic, and uses an android-based screening and diagnosis kit to carry out ear health screenings in India, are changing the global healthcare landscape, with a goal to screen 100 million people across the planet by 2025.

Closer to home, cross-collaboration and streamlined digital integration are already affecting the UK public sector. The NHS has recently named Hadley Beeman as the Chief Technical Officer of the newly initiated NHSX digital model, which will be responsible for “setting national standards and policies, working with other NHS organisations to support digital transformation, developing common technologies and services, and overhauling procurement practices. It will also lead on cyber security, digital skills, and evaluating innovative new technologies.” (Health secretary Matt Hancock launches NHSX organisation to lead tech strategy). Understandably, there are still trust issues among the public around data safety and this must play an essential part of technological collaboration in order to give the best possible service to our housing tenants and service users.

At every level, technology is driving innovation, throughout our work environments and recruitment processes, as well as at operational level, and to manage this big shift we will need to be better prepared, more reactive and adaptive and be determined to work together to get the most value from it. If the housing industry is able to create wider, more collaborative platforms for innovative leaders to share their growing knowledge, expertise and talent with each other there is every chance we can build an exceptional sector that reacts, adapts to and fulfills the needs of our tenants, whilst providing excellent career opportunities for those wishing to work in a sector that benefits society.

Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and collaborates with the team and wider network on Leadership, Human Resources, Change Management issues and the challenges and transitions currently facing the UK housing sector.