Many organisations are aiming to create a more inclusive, safer, and higher performing workplace for their staff. However, knowing where to start — and making tangible change — often proves difficult, particularly with colleagues working from various places.
Co-host of The Interview Max Webber sat down with Duncan Short, Director of Resources at Vivid Homes to discuss his journey so far, approach to leadership, and initiatives to improve workplace culture.
I’m Ducan Short, Group Director of Resources at Vivid Homes, a not-for-profit social housing company. Vivid looks after 35,000 properties in and around Hampshire, and our primary purpose is to provide homes for those who might be on council housing lists or struggling to find accommodation.
My background is in HR — starting too many years ago to admit! Predominantly in commercial organisations, particularly with ICL (now Fujitsu). Along the way, I picked up additional responsibilities for different areas - communications has been under my remit for the last 20 years or so in various roles.
Having not worked in not-for-profit before joining Vivid in 2017, it was quite the change in dynamic in some ways, though in other ways, no different at all. Now, my role is a Corporate Services role — responsible for People, Communications, Health and Safety, Procurement, Strategy, and IT.
It’s so important that the people you employ feel a real connection to what you do in the organisation. Being a not-for-profit, we can’t pay top salaries, and so people have real commitment to what you’re doing, meaning the values you espouse as an organisation are critical. Given this, we’ve done a lot of work around our values — what are they, ensuring they’re lived, and rewarding alignment to them in our recently created recognition programme.
It can be very easy to look at the elephant and wonder where to begin, but — as Lenny Henry once said at a conference I attended — ‘you don’t have to fix the world, you’ve just gotta start somewhere’. Things like the Race at Work Charter are examples of this — followed by taking tangible steps in the right direction. Another example — our latest gender pay report will show a gender pay gap of 0%, down from 12%, and things like our Diversity and Inclusion Group give our employees a forum in which to have their voices heard.
It is difficult, particularly with staff who aren’t in the office — trades staff or those working from home as part of our hybrid setup. Using our mental health initiative, Time for Change, as an example, we rolled out a mobile app — called Eighty Seven Percent — to all staff’s phones, including all trades staff. Combining this with regular meetings with colleagues helped raise awareness and encourage usage. We also do a monthly, company-wide Teams broadcast from our CEO, which gets a lot of engagement from our trades staff.
If I had that answer, I’d have retired a long time ago! A big one for me is: clarity of purpose. People get bombarded with lots of stuff, but people need to know what the core purpose is. This has to be balanced with empathy and freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. You also need to accept that you don’t know it all, as a leader. It’s very easy to think ‘I got to this level, I must be really smart…’ Having a growth mindset — a desire to continue to learn — is really important.
The two are inextricably linked — we’re dealing with some 70,000 customers, many of whom are struggling in the current economic climate, meaning our staff need to be resilient, which requires a culture of support and understanding. This feeds through into stats like our rates of absence and sickness — which are much lower than some organisations in the sector. By making clear what they need to achieve and giving them leeway and support where needed, you achieve the best outcomes.
Genuine belief in the importance of it — you have to be true to yourself for others to believe in it, too.