Beyond the pursuit of profit, forward-thinking organisations are investing in something equally crucial – the intellectual capital of their workforce. This understanding is central to the work done by Matt Price, Assistant Director of People and Organisational Development at Havebury Housing, who has worked tirelessly to develop a culture where everyone can feel empowered to strive to reach their true potential.
Matt sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to discuss issues ranging from the challenges of building an innovative and inclusive culture to the importance of self-directed learning in the workplace.
I’m the Assistant Director of People and Organisational Development at Havebury Housing. Over the last 20 years, Havebury Housing has developed a portfolio of 7,000 properties. We’re a non-profit business with 263 employees who manage and maintain social housing for our tenants.
I started off my career in the Air Force. I joined at the age of nineteen and I began as a physical training instructor, which taught me how to motivate people in different ways. It was a great job and I loved it, but after fifteen years it was time to call it a day; I had a wife and two young boys, so my priorities had changed. After I left the Air Force, I got a job teaching leadership and development (L&D) at the training school for Suffolk Police. A few years later, I moved into the private sector, which opened my eyes to the commercial aspects of L&D. After working across a variety of roles, the opportunity came up at Havebury Housing. It’s the first time I’ve taken on the whole people management suite, including payroll, HR, recruitment, and L&D. Although it’s been a challenge, it’s been highly rewarding.
For me, the big change we’re trying to make is self-directed learning. We’re so used to being told what to do. That starts in school and carries on into adulthood and the world of work. But if you have permission to act on your own, then it helps to create a feeling of belonging. You need to understand the values of the organisation and make sure they align with your own priorities. Building that sense of self-direction is really key to creating a sense of purpose.
You need to have multiple channels. We now have four generations working in the same workplace, from Gen Z through to Baby Boomers. Each person needs something different: there is no one-size-fits-all approach. So you need to make sure you have a really diverse communications network and be consistent with your messaging to help people learn and develop in their own way.
You need to know how to sell - not a product, but a vision. It’s important to have the communication skills to deliver messages and outline your vision. Resilience is key: you’ll face a lot of challenges in people leadership, so you need to really believe in the direction of the business. Be flexible — listen to others, adapt to new changes, and move forward with purpose. Finally, you need patience; it takes a long time to get the message out there to everyone. If you can ask the right questions, then you will get the responses you need to make your vision a reality.
It’s about getting out there and speaking with everybody. You need to give them the opportunity to speak their minds and provide them with the right forums for communication. It’s important to always treat people like adults: building adult-to-adult relationships to create trust, transform our culture, and drive the workplace forward. We need to allow people to be themselves in the workplace. It helps employees be more resilient, reduces absences, and boosts productivity. If people are enjoying themselves, then the business will thrive, and the customers will benefit from that too.
Something we’ve been really pushing for is Purpose, Mastery, and Autonomy. First, you need to help employees understand their purpose. Why do they get up each day to come to work? What’s the purpose of the business? When people understand their purpose, then you can give them the tools they need to master it. Finally, people need to have the autonomy to let them get on and do what they do best.
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself a few things! The first is to have patience. Learn to understand others, let go of your ego, and don’t try to force things through. You need to encourage people to learn and help them to learn in different ways. Some people have had negative experiences in education, and they can carry that with them. So we should strive to get people into an inquisitive, growth mindset — it takes time, but it can be extremely rewarding.
Don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. When I was at school, I struggled with academics, but I excelled on the sports field. Sometimes, you find yourself in the wrong environment, and you need to recognise that early to make changes.
Finally, understand that if you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room. You should put yourself in spaces where you can continuously learn and develop. If you foster a mindset where you really push yourself, then the future will be bright.