The role of the Senior Housing Executive has evolved. An exhaustive list of responsibilities, including fire safety, damp and mould, complaints, downgrades and financial viability are all increasing, and under ever-greater scrutiny as the sector levels up its mandate. Those with the lived experience and skills needed to navigate these changes are exiting the sector in greater numbers, leaving a widening skills gap and the inevitable fight over existing talent.
Greenacre Executive Associate Director Barry Forsythe has had many career conversations with Executives, and has a unique vantage point on the movement of top level housing professionals. He recently outlined his views on the importance of succession planning and Board efficacy for Housing Executive Magazine. Here he summarises the outlook for this vital chain of the sector, and what’s needed to overcome some of the most pressing challenges.
Greater pressure, harsher scrutiny
Over the past couple of years I have been observing an increasing hesitancy in Senior Executives putting themselves forward for top level roles. Although the role of CEO still represents the ultimate career goal for some ambitious people, there is also an increasing appetite to ‘settle’ at Executive Director or Director level, with the heightened and increasing public scrutiny that goes with these top tier positions being a major factor.
With this reluctance to take up the chalice comes an imbalance between the roles available and those willing to apply for them. This inevitably heightens the risk of organisations with CEOs at the helm who are not fully equipped to deal with the complex challenges housing organisations face, or equally as disruptive, a continual turnover of people at the top table, which further impacts long-term strategy and direction.
So what’s the solution?
This edition sees Peter Salisbury, Director of Housing Consulting at Manifest, talk about going back to basics in terms of service delivery. Similarly, with a successful long term recruitment strategy, you have to have a solid footing, and a robust succession plan. CEOs and boards have to communicate and share their thinking about their plans, whilst using this important transitional period to upskill and invest in the progression and inclusion of their Executive Team. This is crucial for your Senior Level Executives to be ready for the inevitable pressures and decision-making abilities required to navigate, adapt, pivot and drive the organisation forward.
It’s not easy to learn on the job and make big decisions in full view of others, warts and all – and with public and peer scrutiny at an all-time high, this is one of the biggest concerns I hear from Executives considering their first top tier role – This can be counteracted by upskilling and building lived experiences in at an earlier point, which also reduces the pressures faced by future CEOs.
Better planning, bigger rewards
As well as succession planning, Boards and the wider Executive recruitment teams need to be better informed. Having both run and observed a plethora of Executive recruitment campaigns over the past 20+ years it becomes noticeable that many of those involved in the decision-making process focus too much on what people have done, rather than what they are capable of doing. This approach impedes innovation and growth, and limits the ability to forecast future skills and abilities the sector needs going forward.
Boards should not be afraid to ask for support on how to run an effective campaign, and the clarity received will undeniably result in better long-term decisions, better outcomes and a more effective longer term strategy.
There is also the need to overcome the fear of hiring outside the sector. Although this can be risky, it also holds huge potential to tap into a more diverse talent pool which can offer dividends in terms of fresh thinking and new ideas. When we have a robust process in place to ensure social purpose, core values and ethics preside equally alongside skillset and experience, the outcomes can benefit not only the organisation, but the wider sector in terms of innovation and efficacy. In such a complex regulatory environment, Recruiters must balance managing expectations on all sides on what is achievable with the future potential of what is needed for the sector long term.
Building for the future is what the Housing sector is here to do. But a strong future outlook starts with laying the right foundations.
Barry Forsythe, Associate Director, Greenacer Executive