Industry Leaders
Clarion Housing Group
Director of People and Organisational Development

Ben Rainforth-Gott

Although the field of Human Resources (HR) literally has the word ‘human’ in the title, all too often, that element is ironically removed from the equation. It can become about fulfilling requirements rather than caring about what really drives and motivates your workers. In order to run a truly successful company with a contented team who are enthusiastic about their jobs, however, it’s crucial to understand that people are valuable and can be a priceless resource to an organisation when they’re supported and developed properly.

Kitty Hadaway, Co-host of The Interview, spoke to Ben Rainforth-Gott, Director of People and Organisational Development at Clarion Housing Group and Latimer Homes, about the importance of understanding people’s value to an organisation.

Ben’s Journey

Kitty: What’s your favourite thing about working at Clarion?

My career’s been quite varied. I’ve worked for some big public limited companies (PLCs), private sector firms, and local governments. What really drew me into Clarion is its social purpose and mission, and the opportunity to augment the organisation’s culture and reinvigorate its people agenda, which has a massive giveback to our residents and customers alike. For a long time, social housing has been undervalued, underfunded, and almost pushed around the table by various governments to the detriment of people in need. My role in delivering the people strategy as it pertains to professionalisation, trust, and cultural reach has a direct correlation back to our residents, supporting them in their day-to-day lives, so I feel I’m really making an influential difference. What’s important to me is having a true people-centric lens. Being able to be that moral compass advocating for people in an organisation is primarily what HR should be about: how we support, develop, retain, and move people through.

You can be very beige, black-and-white, policy-policing when it comes to HR, which doesn’t deliver any strategic value. But if you’re commercially astute and understand people are an asset to an organisation and therefore lean in to support and develop them, you can do some amazing things. 

Kitty: You’ve contributed to The Happiness Index, a new book by Matt Phelan, the CEO of the company with the same name. Can you tell us a bit about your segment?

Yeah, I’ve done a couple of podcasts with Matt and I suppose what really resonates there is they absolutely get the linkage between organisations and people, and the importance of people feeling a sense of belonging. My segment in the book talks about my career and the barriers to success I’ve been presented with and how those experiences led me to want to remove barriers to entry for other people. It’s why I try to provide support and coaching to help move people forward. At the same time, I want to make sure they know how to seek out opportunities and navigate through an organisation on their own to reach their goals. My final point is about being courageous in conversations with executives and the need to have a strategic voice at the table. My goal is to take that and join it up to the commercial goals of an organisation, and recognise that you can either do tokenistic things that deliver no value or you can deliver real things that will create real change. And that’s about bringing people on the journey and measuring that through interaction, deconstructing hierarchies, and having a bit of a heart instead of always leading with your head.

Kitty: You’ve been described as an agitator in HR. What does that mean to you?

It goes back to recognising that we can have a whole bucket list of strategic deliverables, but actually, it’s about rolling your business back to having solid foundations built around regular conversations, transparency, and trust. You have to ensure the mechanisms are in place to enable an organisation to grow. So I challenge with purpose. I’m not here primarily to deliver people manager services to colleagues. I’m here to upscale, gift capability, transfer responsibilities to local managers, and encourage them to lead their teams authentically. But equally, I don’t suffer fools. Some have nicknamed me Miranda Priestly. I’ll say it as it is. I always look to uplift but where there is a flat refusal or lack of capability, I challenge that at the source. 

Kitty: You also lead on learning and EDI. Can you discuss why DEI is so important and what initiatives you’ve been taking at Clarion?

For me, EDI is hugely important and it’s not about a plan on a website and tokenistic box-ticking in regard to ethnicity targets. What I focus on is reverse engineering. We have various metrics we need to report but for me, it’s about educating and creating transparency around lived experience, so we understand people come from different backgrounds and we need to appreciate that, and remove and challenge our biases as well as barriers to entry. For example, removing degree or A-level requirements for roles that don’t actually need it and then supporting people on their career pathways through apprenticeship programs and professional development. It’s also now a measure at Clarion that EDI must be evidenced throughout all our procurement activities. We use every opportunity we have to change the mindset of individuals, making sure all hiring managers have gone through unconscious bias and EDI training, and we’ve really seen a massive change.

Quick-fire Question

Kitty: What’s your top piece of advice for anyone embarking upon a career in people leadership?

Never forget the people in what you do. Always do an environmental scan, whether it’s supporting your people through disciplinary activity, recruitment, or training. Never lose sight of people and the audience you’re presenting to, because without taking stock to understand a situation, you’ll probably be providing the wrong guidance. Additionally, you have to be agile, commercial, and resilient, but you have to have fun with it as well. Some HR people are a bit too stuffy and serious. My motto is ‘strategic delivery and fun with purpose’. We can support each other but also have a laugh as well. 

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