In a rapidly changing professional landscape, the role of organizational development and fostering an inclusive workplace culture has never been more crucial.
GoodCourse sat down with Rob Mealor, Head of Organisational Development (OD) at Magenta Living, to discuss his journey, his unique approach to fostering a sense of belonging, and his valuable advice for emerging leaders in the realm of people management.
I’m head of OD, so I'm looking after everything from training and professional development to our apprentice programmes, wellbeing, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). It’s a very varied role, which is one of the things that attracted me to the position. I’ve always been in the Learning and Development space and I was in training originally. Later on, I began thinking about strategic views of learning and development on a larger scale.
I was very lucky in my previous role with IBM because I got to work across the globe and experience a lot of different ways of working. I also worked for different companies, so got to experience the corporate culture, too. I worked for Xerox, which was very well-established and structured, and then I moved on to Skype, which was very new at the time but very dynamic and energetic. Because I worked in so many different places, I had to learn how to develop and train across different cultures in the world, and I took that into the housing sector.
The thing I found very strange coming into the housing sector is that there is no competition between housing associations, compared with the jobs I did before this — it’s very unique. I also love that, by nature, in a charitable organisation, you attract a different kind of employee. We recruit people who are already community-focused, which is different too. I brought these elements together in my current role.
Everyone needs to believe in the goal of achieving that award. And the award is great, it’s a real pat on the back. But people need to be dedicated to that journey of getting there. Once we got to the stage of having project sponsorship right across the organisation, that’s what helped to drive it forward. You also need to have senior management driving it in order to obtain the award in the first place — so it’s a self-fulfilling journey. It’s all about sponsorship, and that makes sense since culture comes from the top, too.
One of our Executives for Development was a huge role model for health and wellbeing, for example, because he’d had a personal journey with his own health. He spoke very openly and was such a great role model for both physical and mental health, and it inspired a lot of people. Stories like that are essential too.
We wanted to tackle this from a few directions. One thing we wanted to prioritise was having one voice coming from the organisation that reflected our values. We set up a group called Rainbow Nation, which would have advocates for our EDI policies and steer us in the right direction. It wasn’t for us to say, “This is what EDI is” — we wanted to hear it from those working for us.
Within that, we’ve done events for things like slavery awareness, since we’ve got Liverpool on our doorstep which has that historical connection, and we’ve done Liverpool Pride too. We’ve also taken a focus on neurodiversity and making sure that we have some visibility there, too. We’re very fortunate in the north-west to have Autism Together, one of the largest support networks for neurodiversity, and they have supported us with training.
We really do try to make our office a nicer place to be for everyone, as if it were a home — everyone deserves to feel comfortable at all times. We have a quiet room in the office which can be used for prayer, but also if anyone is becoming overwhelmed or overstimulated.
The most important thing I’ve found is constantly asking what people need. No one needs to be told what is best for them; they already know. We also have a network of people within the organisation who are passionate about these kinds of topics.
We have 250 people who are very field-based and 350 who are very office-based, and very rarely do they meet in the same place. So we've also had to try and find a way around that, and that is where online meetings come in because everyone can join. We also do some large-scale events in which we try to relate to what makes them interested and engaged.
It’s hard to put a cost-saving value on things like engaging people at work. Still, we operate in an area where there is a very limited workforce, especially for our tradespeople who are in demand across the country. The fact that we make this an inviting place to work and support people means we retain employees and attract new talent too. This applies to apprentices too; we don’t pay the apprentice level wage, we pay the living wage to apprentices from their first year, and I think that sets us apart, too.
The most important thing is to know yourself. Know where your strengths are and know what areas you need to develop.
Corporate days don’t work for everyone in terms of training. So, in 2019, we did a health and wellbeing social event called Magenta Festival, and we are doing it again this year. We do it at the local sports centre with a swimming pool and sports available, including football and yoga. People can drop in and do whatever they want to. People get really excited about it and want to get involved.