In the complicated business world, it can be easy to lose sight of what really makes an organisation thrive, both financially and for those working there. When the focus is placed on engaging employees and creating a great place to work, the rest will often fall into place.
My role includes looking after all of the people teams, the digital and performance planning teams, and communication and corporate affairs. We are a broad organisation, a housing association with incorporated care services, and we are a commercial developer, too. We came together in 2021 as a result of GreenSquare and Accord housing associations merging.
I have a broad background and have worked in a lot of roles and sectors before. The first part of my career was in operations, so I did a lot of retail management and regional management, and I came across HR. I spent some time working for B&Q and really enjoyed it. Then my manager asked me to consider a career in HR, which I didn't want to do at the time as I thought it was very policy and process-based, but this was very linear. However, my manager challenged me to do it anyway and change what I didn’t like about HR and do something different. That was a really interesting concept, so I decided to go for it. I loved it immediately and knew I had found my calling.
It’s always a challenging journey when you merge two cultures, so that was where we began: working out what a unified culture for this new company would look like. One of my learnings from that was not to make an assumption that what you started with was bad, but to look at what worked in the previous cultures and ask colleagues from both legacy organisations what worked and what didn’t. We went on an eighteen-month journey to invigorate the culture by taking the good from both and creating a culture all colleagues could resonate with.
I am a big believer that the people with the answers are the people who work in the company, and if you listen more than you talk, then you will find out what you need to know. We have had the benefit of going through a merger against the backdrop of a challenging economic environment and working in social housing, which is notoriously challenged with balancing financials and delivery. The main challenge has been the restructuring of our workplace strategy; hybrid working has caused some really different ways of thinking across organisations. But we have colleagues in many different places, they aren't all in an office, so hybrid working for us isn't about working from home because that isn't an option for many of our colleagues. So we had to sit down and ask them what hybrid work would look like for our company, and we are still trying to get that right. It’s important to engage everyone in projects like that, not just a small group.
We also have an EDI forum and ambassadors who have been instrumental in driving change in our organisation. They give us great insight into where we can be more diverse and challenge us quite heavily.
We’ve been challenging our board, too, and encouraging them to think about diversity in different ways, such as bringing neurodiversity into it, and not just focusing on the traditional elements of EDI like gender and sexuality. We want inclusivity to mean something broader and think about how we make people feel like they belong to an organisation.
For me, it’s about breaking it down into bite-sized chunks. We‘ve been getting smaller groups of people together to discuss specific topics rather than being too broad. We take projects and look at who might want to be involved in it and who might be interested in it. When you can get people involved in what they are passionate about, then engagement becomes easier. Then, it’s about having that group bring back feedback from other colleagues so that the group is representing the company’s opinion.
I’m a huge advocate for getting the leadership in an organisation right first; I think leaders who encourage learning from making mistakes are absolutely key. Lots of people fear speaking up in case they get something wrong, but it’s important that everyone can speak freely without fear of judgement, and I think that freedom comes from the managers displaying that behaviour first. We need to think about the soft skills that come with being a leader, and it is a shift we need to be able to make.
Try not to underestimate the value of an engaged workforce. We overcomplicate business in many organisations, and we make a lot of noise about targets, but the most successful organisations have colleagues who are committed and motivated if you can light that fire.