Following the pandemic, it has become more apparent that employees excel when they feel that their work has meaning or importance to it. Even if a role is administrative, if it ties into a company’s greater culture and goals, then it can be fulfilling.
Spencer Welby, Director of People at NCHA, sat down with Luke James, Co-host of The Interview, to discuss his career so far, the importance of culture, and creating a sense of belonging through an organisation.
I am Spencer Welby, Director of People at Nottingham Community Housing Association, although we like to go by NCHA because it keeps us more regionally expansive. As a housing, care and support provider, we employ about 1150 colleagues across several teams. We also have a design element for properties with an architectural and development team. I have been here for five years, and it has been my most pleasurable job. It is a lovely organisation to work for.
I would like to say there was a planned route, but I got a physics degree which doesn’t normally lead to HR. In my twenties, I worked various jobs and then took a questionnaire on what to do, which shouted HR. So I returned to study for a personnel diploma, which set me on this course. If you make the best of the chances that come your way, then it’s as good as fate.
This sector is an interesting one because we do care and support as well as housing. The biggest hurdle for a traditional housing provider was agile working. But two-thirds of our workforce are care and support workers, so most of our workforce were frontline, essential workers. We knew immediately that our work had to be centred on supporting our colleagues. Alleviating the need to go on public transport, PPE, and hygiene — we dealt with everything you read in the news. I was asked to lead the Covid response, and I think our team did it fairly well. The other thing that was an obvious issue early on was the miscommunication from the central government. Our comms team spent a lot of time translating every government briefing to make it comprehensible and simplified.
It was horrible, but the outputs have been great. We have agile working, we didn’t furlough anybody, which allowed everyone to keep their momentum, and we also have a focus on wellbeing embedded now.
Our problem is that we are all over the place — literally. We have a campus-style head office, with many buildings along one street. But even in the head office you will have isolated rooms. There isn’t an open plan, modern office environment. Our property services colleagues are in a warehouse near the motorway, we have people all over the midlands too. So our challenge is to get across our messaging and values to all employees when we don’t have a consistent, single workplace.
But culture is our driver. We are fortunate to have a set of values embedded in our induction and process that many people can get behind. We also have meaningful outputs — we’re helping people. So if we combine these things with being consistent in our support and giving everyone opportunities without discrimination, then that has great results.
My view is that you don’t need to demonstrate its commerciality. There is enough research out there demonstrating its value, but regardless, if you can’t deliver or offer inclusive employment, especially when you work in a sector such as ours, then you are failing straight away. It is a base right to work in an inclusive environment. We are past the need to demonstrate that it’s worth it from a commercial angle — we know it’s the right thing to do. You can use the same argument on sustainability practices; you don’t question whether something is profitable when you know it is right. I understand the question more if you’re beholden to shareholders, but we’re not. We’re beholden to society. We essentially operate a triple bottom line approach.
Don’t overlook the value of culture. If you work in a capacity where you’re capable of changing behaviours, then use that power. Don’t tolerate poor performance because it’s how you’ve always done things. Focus on change and culture.