Industry Leaders
Karbon Homes
Assistant Director of People & Organisational Development

Iain Herdman

Today, social housing is built on more than a standard landlord-tenant relationship. It’s about helping people improve their lives on multiple levels, not only in terms of providing a high quality and safe place to call homes but with other things such as providing financial advice, employability support, community services, accommodation for those with additional support needs and whatever else they may need. This can only be achieved if housing associations provide their colleagues with the right environment and a supportive culture. The way to do this is through creating strong relationships and firm lines of communication so people can share their needs, helping lead to better outcomes. 

Kitty Hadaway, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Iain Herdman, Assistant Director of People & Organisational Development at Karbon Homes, about how to facilitate this communication through honesty and openness.

Iain’s Journey

Kitty: What brought you to a career in people leadership?

I never consciously planned on working in Human Resources (HR). I did a business degree at university and always had a passion for supporting people to be the best they can be. After graduating, I got a place on a training program in the banking sector and just so happened through the recruitment process to be aligned with the HR department. Since then, I’ve never looked back. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, my development there gave me the platform to advance in my career. I got experience across a wide range of HR roles—general people administration, recruitment, learning, development, and employee relations—and that’s resulted in me ending up in my current role in the social housing sector. I feel I do my best work when there’s a social purpose attached to it. Karbon Homes’ focus is on improving the lives of customers and the communities where they work, which really appealed to me. 

Kitty: How does your experience across a diverse range of sectors influence your work within social housing?

The traditional view of social housing as simply being a landlord to a tenant is long gone now. Here at Karbon, we’re more than just providing a home. We also provide employability services, financial advice and support, and have a significant new homes development and sales program. In all of our decisions, we have to balance the needs of our customers, the business, and colleagues. I think the ability to draw on my different experiences, approaches, and knowledge from those different sectors has allowed me to bring different solutions to the table that people otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. Also, practically, my knowledge of these different sectors overlaps with a variety of the different services we provide here.

Kitty: The COVID pandemic kicked off shortly after you joined Karbon. How did you find leading a team you were relatively new to through such a dramatic world event?

It was certainly a baptism by fire. But I did enjoy getting involved and being central to that. It was quite daunting at first, being brand new and not knowing very many people, but it allowed me to demonstrate the impact my team and I could have in managing and supporting the business through such a challenging period. I always find the dynamic of HR teams quite unique. As well as supporting the business and colleagues through crisis situations, we also have to deal with the crisis ourselves as individuals. Recognising and creating the space for that was really important. Making sure they had a sense of stability and were involved in decision-making, showing appreciation for the work they were doing and the responsibilities they were taking on, and regular communication were key for me. 

Kitty: What is your approach to making sure people at Karbon continue to view one another as individuals? 

I like to create a space where we build strong relationships by being open, and feel comfortable sharing information about ourselves. I make time at team meetings not just to focus on the operational aspects but to build space around discussions. General things such as how’s everyone feeling today? What’s going on that you might want to talk about, whether in or outside of work? Can anybody help with anything? We also have regular ‘connect’ days where the team comes together and we make time for our own well-being and physical and mental wellbeing. That in itself allows people to be themselves and the best they can be. It’s also something I like to build into my regular one-to-ones with my immediate management team.

Kitty: How do you foster a sense of inclusion and belonging for the people at Karbon?

There are numerous ways we foster this. Building or adapting homes to make them accessible for all, making certain everyone understands the communications we send, working with local charities to ensure the voices of any underrepresented groups are heard, just to name a few. We’ve continued our commitment to flexibility in terms of where and when colleagues work, which initially came out of the pandemic. That’s been really important on a number of levels. We’ve rolled out an inclusive leadership module for all levels of the organisation, which looks to develop the confidence of all of our leaders in understanding and championing inclusion and belonging, and role-modelling the behaviours we want to see. We continued work to make policies and communications much more accessible and inclusive. We’ve set up a number of inclusion hubs that currently focus on gender, disability, and LGBTQ+, and that’s starting to expand as well. People can talk about issues they might be facing. It’s an opportunity to share our ongoing work. It’s all part of our collaborative approach, and there’s a real commitment from our senior leadership team to allow people time and space to attend those sessions.

Quickfire Question

Kitty: What is your top tip for anyone embarking on a career in people leadership?

It can be easy to have a mindset telling you that you need to be perfect all the time and that’s impossible. Find and learn from great role models, develop your style, be authentic, and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

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