Developing A Career Strategy

This month we are looking at how planning and developing a step-by-step career strategy has helped some of our most efficacious housing leaders and top professionals to achieve their housing management and leadership roles, allowing them to make a really positive impact on the sector, as well as helping to drive positive change and motivate others within their organisations and networks.

It is becoming increasingly more important to hold multi-dimensional management skills, astute policy knowledge and shrewd business acumen that reflect the changing climate of the housing market, without losing sight of the most important values and goals the sector is striving to achieve. As such, the benefits of developing a robust career strategy cannot be underestimated to help create anchorage and purposeful direction. By diversifying and honing key elemental skills whilst collecting essential management and leadership experience, successful outcomes and swifter transits towards more responsible and easier acclimatised senior positions are more likely to manifest, and in a more streamlined way, without having to compromise on integrity or values.

It’s Never Too Late

Our own Barry Forsythe, who heads up Greenacre’s Birmingham Office recently wrote a blog on this subject, and we are shining a spotlight on how this often overlooked essential formulaic process has helped to pave the way to success for some of our most accomplished senior professionals in the housing sector. Barry interacts on a daily basis with a plethora of exceptionally talented housing executives who, on paper, appear to have all the ingredients needed, but many of whom often stumble at the first hurdle when it comes to securing the high-level roles within their chosen organisations. His career strategy advice has helped some of the top UK housing executives to secure key senior level roles which had hitherto, despite exceptional efforts, stayed out of reach. But what are the first steps of the process?

“If you don’t already have a plan, it’s never too late! Start by taking a look at where you are at in your career, have a think about if you want to go further, and if you do, how many stages do you think are between you now and then and start to consider how you COULD get there. Do you need to look outside of your current organisation or can you start to look at secondment opportunities in your current organisation? I personally think that Housing organisations should develop a Talent Pool where secondments in other organisations could be brokered and then PDPs could actually be just that- Personal Development Plans, not just Staff Promotion Criteria! The industry is connected enough and competition between organisations is low enough that it could just work.”

Be responsible For Your Own Success

Whether you are just starting out at the beginning of your housing career and are looking for directional advice or are higher up the ranks but are stuck in a narrow band and wish to diversify your talent and experience, we have some first-rate tips and advice to take with you on your evolving professional journey.

To gain personal perspectives into how developing a strategy has helped secure tangible success, we questioned two of the sector’s most talented fast risers, Faisal Butt, FCIH and Lead Commissioner in Housing at Barnet Council and Inspirational Leader of the Year at 2018 Housing Hero Awards, and Eden Bailey, Quality Team Manager at WM Housing and CIH Rising Stars Top 5 Finalist, on what steps they took to plan their journeys, execute key manoeuvres to secure the roles that would enhance their prospects, and what obstacles they faced along the way.

Eden started out in an entry level admin-based role and is now operating at management level for WM Housing Group, one of the largest and most successful housing groups in the Midlands providing around 30,000 homes with a turnover of £140 million per year. We asked her:

What was your first housing role and how did you set about gaining the management experience you needed to progress further up your career ladder?

“I’m one of those people who ‘just fell into housing’. I didn’t really plan a housing career until I saw an advert for a part-time Housing Assistant in Cannock Chase Council in 2005 and was successful in securing the role, but it ticked a lot of boxes for me as it felt a real privilege to be helping people in need.

Initially, I found progressing further up the career ladder was not an easy task. I was promoted to an Estate Management Officer role in 2008 but my career then hit a brick wall. It was then that I decided to take a sideways career move to another organisation to move up the career ladder. It’s alright to move sideways if you feel stagnant in your current role but don’t quite have the relevant skills to take on a management role.

How has mentoring helped you, and what has it inspired you to achieve?

“A colleague mentioned the CIH mentoring scheme and I was allocated a mentor who worked with me to develop my career development plan. I was guided on how to fill my skills gap to enable me to get my first management role and plucked up the courage to volunteer to line manage a team of concierge in one of the patches I was managing, which gave me the much-needed management experience to progress. I also completed my degree in professional housing studies and became a Chartered Member of CIH.”

What were the main challenges you found, and how did you overcome them?

“One of the main challenges I found with regards to transitioning from an entry level role to a management role was how to develop my skills & experience to support that transition. You also need to develop an operational to strategic mindset and to have the confidence to delegate and manage performance. My advice would be:

• Get out of your comfort zone and take ownership of your development and training.

• Get your name out there through social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and fully engage with your network circle. I raised my profile by taking part in ‘CIH Rising Stars’ competition which enabled me to meet amazing people and share ideas.

• Get a mentor – CIH has a great mentoring scheme for members.

• Take every opportunity to enhance your skills, qualifications, knowledge, & experience, through training, events and webinars.

• Don’t forget to lift others up along the way – support and volunteer to mentor others!”

If you were starting out all over again at the beginning, what would you do differently?

“Initially I had a lot of setbacks and job rejections, which can feel demotivating – I would tell myself don’t give up! What I have also learned is that our employer is not solely responsible for our career development and progression and we should take ownership by taking every opportunity to enhance our skills and knowledge and future proof our own career.”

Faisal has worked within the sector for over 12 years and has been key in helping to shape and change housing strategy and development across London and the South East. His inspiring approach has been instrumental in changing the way local authorities meet the needs of tenants and local communities, whilst improving performance and morale within his teams, and he founded the food bank charity ‘Housing fast’ to bring attention to the issue of food poverty in the UK. We asked Faisal:

How did you go about developing a career strategy?

“At first, I didn’t. I spent some time getting to understand how the sector worked, what my role entailed and how to go about learning more. It was this thirst for knowledge which led me to start thinking about a career strategy, building relationships and expanding my profile more widely within the sector. I took on some additional learning and got myself an ILM Level 4 award in Management and volunteered on an interim basis to manage a couple of teams. My mentor helped me realise that having a career strategy was a way to focus more proactively to help achieve my career goals and if the opportunities did not exist with my existing organisation to look outside in order to progress. This is exactly what I did, I took a secondment for a head of service role in another organisation and frankly never looked back. Having goals is great, working hard, having the right building blocks in place and volunteering or shadowing to gain experience enable you to be better placed to achieving your career goals.”

What have you learned along the way?

“Always trust your instincts, personal integrity is key and at times you will get it wrong, but you have to keep going in order to keep growing. People, structures and organisations are very complex and adapting your approach will help you get the best out of people. Also, always be clear about why you are doing something.”

What were some of the obstacles you faced and how did you overcome these?

“I believe the biggest obstacle to my career was me! I was full of self-doubt when I started my senior management role as a head of service. I soon realised the work is mostly the same as anywhere else. I just needed to understand the organisational dynamics, the culture of the place and I soon settled into the role. You also meet a lot of different people along your journey. Some with warm personalities and others who are firmer. My motto is always treat people the way you want to be treated. Do call out poor behaviour. Sometimes where I have felt that there is nothing further I can do to add value or take people with me that it is time to move on. Don’t be afraid to move. Moving organisations only widens your experience and exposure. I have worked for 5 London Councils now and loved every single one of those roles. The variety of working in East, West, Central and North London has helped me appreciate the diversity and richness of each of these boroughs and has helped to grow my understanding of London and its people and places. Variety is the spice of life!”

How important is creating exposure and visibility for yourself?

“Exposure is important as it has helped widen my sphere of influence and credibility within the sector. I often get told by people I meet that they have seen me on Twitter! Social Media has helped and as I often say to mentees if you know how to use the tools effectively it will help raise your profile exponentially. For years I had a twitter account and didn’t do much with it apart from the odd retweet. It’s only when I co-founded a national charity UKHousingFast to raise the profile of #foodbanks that I really understood the power of social media, reaching out to people in the sector and creating a social media campaign that didn’t cost anything and successfully reached over 250,000 social media accounts, improved awareness of food poverty whilst raising thousands of pounds and tonnes of food donations for local foodbanks. If you are passionate about something then building relationships, driving forward change and raising your profile are key to its success.”

How have you monitored your progress?

“It is important to reflect and look back at your journey. It is also important to look at your career goals and revise them regularly. Your career strategy is a live document and as you develop you learn about your strengths, areas of interest and development needs. Every year I set out goals that I want to achieve in the year, some I do, others I don’t but it is important to understand why and reflect on this. This year I was awarded Inspirational Leader of the Year, an accolade I wasn’t expecting. I looked at what I had achieved over the past 12 months from becoming a Fellow at the Chartered Institute of Housing for my outstanding contribution to the sector to working with the CIHFutures Team raising over £17,000 for Women’s Aid. Reflection is key to understanding yourself better, it will also enable you to better utilise those skills in achieving future success. From starting my first job at Rochdale Council to becoming a Director at Barking and Dagenham Council, it took me a decade and that in itself for me personally has been good progress.”

Any other advice you could give to up and coming housing professionals looking to become future leaders?

“Never say no! I’ve haven’t worked anywhere yet where my job description matches my role. Always be willing to take on special or challenging projects and don’t be afraid to ask for help or support if you need it. Get yourself a mentor and a coach. They will be invaluable in helping you to realise your potential. Give back, I currently mentor 2 people and when I got my first executive role, I got myself a coach. If you need to get somewhere, you need to understand how to get there and a career strategy will help provide that route map that you need. Don’t be afraid if life gets in the way. It happens. But remember to just keep going. Never forget to be kind along the way.”

Barry agrees with the above advice, and adds that we also need to remember to be consistent: “we all get busy with the day to day and plans fall by the wayside. We can often set a plan and then when we next review it we realise 5 years has gone by and nothing has changed. Make time to review and adapt your plan at least every 6 months to make sure you are always moving forward and reacting to the external environment along the way.”

If you would like further tailored career advice, or would like to find out more about mentoring, qualifications or how to get involved in volunteering within your local network, feel free to contact us here at Greenacre, or get in touch with CIH for details of their mentoring schemes. When it comes to planning and implementing a purposeful career strategy the ball is most definitely in your court…it’s up to you to ensure you have the right game plan.

Alma Sheren is Head of Marketing and Communications for Greenacre Recruitment, and researches/writes articles with the team on Leadership, Human Resources, Change Management and the challenges and transitions currently facing the UK housing sector.