Workplace Leaders
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing
Director of People and Culture

Nicola Taylor

In a time where diversity and inclusion are paramount to organisational success, the question of how to ensure universal buy-in remains a challenge. Navigating the path toward a truly inclusive culture requires a collective effort from every rung of the organisational ladder. Nicola Taylor, Director of People and Culture at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, understands this more than most. 

Nicola sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of the Interview, to discuss her career journey, the top traits and habits of successful people leaders, and the challenge of establishing a culture of learning and growth. 

Nicola's Journey

Luke: Can we start with a quick introduction to yourself and your organisation? 

I’m the Director of People and Culture at Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. We’re a social housing provider based in Rochdale in North-West England. 

Luke: Tell me about your journey. How did you arrive in your current role?

I started off studying for a degree in Human Resource Management. As part of that, I did a year in industry working with the fire service. That taught me that things you learn in the classroom don’t always translate to the real world. Once I graduated, I went to work for Tote Bookmakers, which was a whirlwind of experience in HR. From there, I went to work for Capita Group for nine and a half years, and that was really a career-forming experience. It taught me the true value of business partnering. I had to prove my worth and fight to get a seat at the executive table. It’s important to demonstrate how HR can add value to the business and have an impact on the bottom line. Eventually, I felt like I needed a new challenge, so I moved over to MITIE, which helped me develop a new perspective. Then I branched out into private real estate, working for Praxis for three years. But over lockdown, I was reflecting on my career, and I decided I wanted to do something that made a difference in the community. So when I was approached by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, it really appealed to me: I’ve always been fascinated by employee ownership, so a housing organisation co-owned by employees and tenants was impossible to turn down. 

Luke: What initiatives have you taken to embed a culture of inclusion and belonging across your organisation?

We’re actually in the process of redesigning our diversity, inclusion, and belonging policy. As a housing organisation, building a sense of belonging is crucial: we want our tenants to feel at home. Everywhere I have worked has viewed diversity and inclusion from an employee point of view, making sure to promote a diverse workforce and remove barriers to progress. But now we’re trying to take that further, thinking about diversity from a customer perspective. How do our policies make our tenants feel? How do our decisions impact their lives? That shift is really pivotal to ensuring we have a truly inclusive culture here. So we’ve focused on four key pillars: creating a diverse workplace, being open to change, fostering a culture of belonging, and utilising lived experience. We run several initiatives, including The Human Library, where two people sit down to have a conversation about each others’ lives. If you don’t speak to people and understand the human experience, then you’ll never get it right.

Luke: When it comes to topics like diversity and inclusion, how do you ensure consistent buy-in from people at all levels of the organisation? 

If I had the answer to that, I’d be very rich! But I think the answer has to begin with openness. For example, we’ve recently moved towards a blind recruitment policy: although it was a challenge at first, it sends a message to applicants that we are committed. More than anything, it’s about being able to ask questions and challenge assumptions on a daily basis. If you build that expectation from the start, then you can start to make a difference. 

Luke: What traits and habits are necessary for a successful career in people leadership?

I think humility is key. There is a very fine line between being a leader and being liked by people. Some people try too hard to be everybody’s friend, and that comes across as insincere. But then there are others who go in trying to boss people around. It’s a delicate balancing act. I think you need to be open to suggestions and understand that your way isn’t the only way. Openness and authenticity are crucial.

Luke: What’s the key to creating a culture of learning and growth across an organisation?

Quite simply, it’s about creating a performance culture. Performance management needs to happen every single day, even if it’s just a conversation. If you sit down with a lot of managers, and ask them who they are having the most trouble with, you often find out that they aren’t having conversations with those people. It’s all about communication. You need to introduce performance management on day one to prevent people from getting stuck in those cycles. It’s fundamental to building relationships and creating functioning teams. 

Luke: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received in your career? 

The best bit of advice I’ve ever been told was to introduce yourself to the person next door. When you work in outsourcing, you spend a lot of time going into new places, but you often find yourself in a room tapping on a laptop. I’m not a natural extrovert, so I need to force myself to say hello to new people. Those conversations really help you find out the reality of working for a business — what it actually feels like to work there.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Luke James
Luke works hand-in-hand with leaders and changemakers in our professional services markets. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.