Workplace Leaders
Your Housing Group
Executive Director of Corporate Services

Clare Oakley

One of the most important things to get right in order to have a successful business that runs smoothly, with happy, healthy employees, is fostering a sense of shared vision and values. If everyone feels supported and like they are contributing to something worthwhile, the better their sense of wellbeing, and the higher level of service you can deliver to your customers.

Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Clare Oakley, Executive Director of Corporate Services at Your Housing Group, about how clear, transparent communication helps leaders and employees improve the business together in an ongoing, iterative process.

Claire's Journey

Luke: What was the journey that brought you to your current role?

I didn’t start off in governance or housing. My early career was in the restaurant and entertainment industries. I started there in an operational capacity and then moved on to Human Resources (HR) and from there into governance and membership at the Co-op Group in Manchester. I joined Your Housing Group in 2017 as the director of governance and risk, and practically from day one, my role just kept expanding and taking on new elements, including insurance and procurement. Then last year, after Jacque Allen took over as the chief executive, I got the opportunity to join the executive team and at that point I took on all the people elements as well, which had been part of my early career, so it felt full circle.

Luke: How do you best embed a sense of inclusion and belonging across an organisation?

A shared vision, values, and purpose is crucial. We actually just launched our new values, which are 1) Honest and reliable. Do what you say you’ll do. 2) Respectful and fair. Treat people the way they want to be treated, and then at the very heart of it. 3) Caring. Because that’s what we’re all about. – These valued have really resonated with our employees, which is really important from an organisational perspective. People need to understand what we believe in, and all of these values sit quite nicely with inclusion. Communication is also key. To feel like you belong to something, you have to feel like you’re included in the conversation. It’s about understanding where people are coming from and what their experiences and backgrounds are, and removing any barriers to their achieving success.

Luke: How do you make sure everyone in your organisation gets on board with Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) topics?

I think generally people are interested in other people and the social housing sector in particular is about people, so our colleagues tend to want to help each other. If you can create an atmosphere where you feel safe, people will talk and share their experiences. Personally, I bring my team together regularly and ask them if there’s anything about them that makes them different, and we have a chat and celebrate it, and it’s been received really positively. Recently, we had someone talk about Ramadan, another about having emigrated here…just sharing those different experiences. But you have to create space in people’s lives to do that.

Luke: What sort of traits, habits, and behaviours do the best people leaders exhibit?

Integrity, communications, caring, and a sense of humour. You want people to follow you as a leader and people aren’t going to if they don’t believe in you. Our job as leaders is to support people so they can do the very best job every day for our customers, so it’s helping and supporting them and asking them about the challenges they’re facing, what are their ambitions, where do they want to go, who do they want to be, and how do they need me to help them get there. I need to care about them to do that. And as far as humour, work’s tough and you want people to see you’re human and can have some fun as well!

Luke: How do you articulate the link between staff wellbeing and your organisation’s higher-level strategic goals?

We need our colleagues to bring their very best selves to work and deliver excellent customer service every day. It’s hard to do that if you’re not feeling good about yourself. There are some direct links between wellbeing, mental health, sickness rates, burnout rates, and employee turnover, which impact on us as an organisation and impact on our performance. So we’ve introduced a program of wellbeing as part of our Health and Safety. And we look at wellbeing across a number of aspects—financial, social, mental health—and we’ve put programs of activity in place to support people through it.

Luke: How do you best embed a culture that supports people’s learning and growth?

On an organisational level, it’s about continuous improvement, creating a safe space where people can tell us areas where we can improve, as well as encouraging people to be innovative and think differently. On an individual level, we’ve been doing work on our people strategy, which started with a capability mapping exercise across the organisation. In the housing sector, there are lots of new pressures that we know are coming in the future: professionalisation agenda, building safety, energy efficiency programs. We’ll need slightly different skills going forward so we’ve been mapping those out, and then we’re going to put together a program which will support individuals through that development process. We want to grow, support, and develop our employees as well as our managers to help people identify where they want to go, what their strengths are, and what they need to develop.

Luke: What is the best piece of advice that you have received over your career?

One of my first directors said to me you don’t have to have all the answers all at once. If you don’t know something, admit it and tell them, “I don’t know that but I’m going to go away and come back to you”. And I encourage everyone to do that.

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Luke James
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