In the second of our Masterclass sessions for our #EasternLeaders2020 Programme, we were delighted to be joined by James Francis, CEO and Hannah Harvey, Executive Director of Operations at Saffron Housing Trust. Our Facilitator for this session was Alan Lewin, Executive Director at Greenacre Recruitment Ltd.
James and Hannah shared their experiences of leading their organisation through a cultural shift, developing their business transformation processes and preparing for an IDA. We heard their views and personal experiences on the nuts and bolts of transformative change, how to effectively engage people, and successfully navigating through the pandemic. I have summarised the key takeaways from this session below.
The original landscape
When James arrived at Saffron, he was keen to make a connection with the local community. One of his most formative days was centred around a street with new Saffron homes which was named in honour of Private James Grigg, a local man who lost his life serving in Afghanistan. An adjoining piece of land was untidy and there was no policy or legal requirement to keep it tidy, but it was the right thing to do, and this became an example of the culture change being sought. Saffron was an organisation in renewal and staff had clarity of direction but were craving stability. They had regained regulatory compliance after 2 years at G3 and wanted to get back to G1 and it became clear it was all about trust and confidence.
When Hannah arrived, she was part of its change programme and was keen to ensure everyone became part of that journey, understanding that if they didn’t have all the people along with them, they couldn’t make progress. Saffron very much had the willingness but seemed stuck in old habits. It was important to gain confidence and trust from the community and Saffron’s staff towards the organisation. The key was honesty and transparency.
Trust, consistency and outcomes
Two things that were vital were painting a clear picture of the future and setting the tone, which helped to form consistency. Letting teams know everyone is trusted to do their best pays dividends and focusing on output instead of hours and making it about what is delivered, which is especially important now with so many changing circumstances, and demonstrates how important and connected staff wellbeing and outputs are to each other.
What has Saffron’s journey taught Hannah and James about their own leadership styles?
Hannah always considered herself an empowering leader and able to bring others on and up to lead in her place. She’d been heavily reliant on people skills, and during lockdown, sitting behind a computer at home felt disempowering for her and she became more controlling because she didn’t feel in control herself. Once she realised this and had coaching, she realised her communication as a leader had to evolve and be delivered differently. It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how high up you are you are never the finished article. There is always room for improvement.
James used the word ‘balance’ to describe his leadership style, which has tended to focus on the ‘vision of the future’, and he’s had to have the courage to recognise things are very different today than how they had been planned, balancing the future with the reality for today. Balancing when to step up and when to step back. Both will have implications and he has learned to judge. The importance of not having politics in an organisation was also key, putting personal views aside for the good of the whole team.
Wellbeing is very important for both James and Hannah. Making sure leaders role model good behaviour, such as taking breaks, going out for dog walks, or for a run, or with the children during the day for instance, so others follow and feel able to do the same. Developing a culture of openness and trust. We all have that element of guilt when we are not behind the screen and it’s important to have the confidence to tell people it’s OK to go and do other things that help your mental health and to do that. Getting involved in things together and showing parts of our own lives helps our employees to see we are human. Things like writing blogs, talking in detail about our personal lives and how we are coping ourselves shows that we are just as vulnerable as everyone else, and shows authenticity. And checking in is very important.
High performing teams and working towards a common purpose
The ‘Lencioni 5 dysfunctions of a team’ pyramid is a tool James uses. Trust comes first, along with core values, respect, fairness, and removing personal agenda. From here you can start to have ‘healthy conflict’ (Lencioni’s second behaviour) and an open dialogue. It’s important that others feel free to challenge leaders and each other. Board communication is also very important to James. The leadership team write weekly to the board to update them, and find they receive both healthy challenge and support which has built strong relationships and trust.
Being egoless is a vital part of good leadership to Hannah. She believes as soon as ego enters the room, common sense walks out. Hannah, James and Ian Innes, Executive Director of Finance and Development at Saffron, are all very different, which enables them to see things through a different lens. They are ‘gate keepers’ for their organisation and want others to be able to continue that journey and when people see consistency all the way through an organisation it shows authenticity and builds trust. Leaving your ego at the door is fundamentally the biggest element of organisational success.
Past present and future goals
Short term, both James and Hannah will be focusing on keeping everyone healthy and safe, physically, mentally and economically. Midterm, focus will be around quality of service and accountability to tenants, delivering core services to a good standard and keeping tenants safe and happy. Long term they will be making sure services reflect what tenants want, not just what Saffron think they want, moving completely away from the old model of parental relationships with tenants. The organisational aim is to regionally deliver global goals and to be able to say in 10 years’ time that everyone has a sustainable and safe home; D&I, attracting and retaining talent, nurturing an inclusive culture, working with other LAs, collaborative partnership working, will all give the best chance of delivering these goals.
Talking, listening and responding will be key. A ‘commercial head with a social heart’ will be needed. Saffron’s leaders feel it’s an exciting time in the sector, with lots of mergers and collaborations, reinforcing vigour and drive in the sector. For the first time individuals and teams can genuinely make a significant difference, because for the first time people really understand commercial and social collaborations. We are all in the same business. If we can all drop our boundaries and work inclusively together then we are in for a really successful future. East of England has a great bunch of leaders who are both egoless and collaborative.
Questions from the floor:
How does your collaborative leadership style transfer through Saffron’s culture?
It’s harder now through lockdown but it’s something Saffron really encourage their team to be involved in, having leadership and team meetings together, talking about things they do together through blogs and other things. The leadership team try to create a horizontal rather than vertical organisation and try to reduce hierarchy. It is a challenge in lockdown but it’s a good chance to learn how to do more and to do it better.
How do you keep people engaged and motivated when the world is a bit rubbish at the moment?
James – Derek Redmond, 400metre Olympic runner, pulled up with a bad hamstring injury during his race and his father stepped up and helped him finish. It’s all about perseverance. Getting up one more time when you’ve been knocked down. It’s tough going, saffron have had some big challenges, but success is about perseverance. We all are here for each other and are all dealing with our own challenges, both professionally and privately. Recognising this is important and putting that message out.
Hannah –It’s ok to be honest and say I feel rubbish, in fact, it’s incredibly important. Also try to facilitate contact to get that feeling of a team together, do things in small groups together to have that feeling of togetherness, which has helped people’s energy levels increase. Fatigue is so big right now, and its ok to check out for a bit. Take a day off, shut yourself away and do whatever you want. Give yourself and others autonomy to say ‘I feel a bit rubbish’ and let people know its ok.
With great thanks to James Francis, Hannah Harvey and Alan Lewin, and to Vicki Haverson (t-three) and Dan Short (Greenacre Recruitment) for our programme creation and content.
If you’d like to take part in our Eastern Leadership Programme, please get in touch, or visit Greenacre Recruitment for further details.