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Dawn Sowerby

The Coach

The Coach

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Work smarter, not harder – how the housing sector will need to change


Having stayed proudly resilient during the financial crisis, the housing sector is now experiencing the most radical shake up it has seen for decades – no surprise really given the national housing crisis. 

There are financial challenges, headlined by a government enforced rent cut, regulatory challenges with the introduction last year of a new compliance framework and business model challenges brought on by the drive to deliver more market rent properties to subsidise much needed expansion in the social housing marketplace. 

So, after the initial sense of doom (particularly following the rent cut announcement), the penny has dropped that that this is a driver for change – organisations need to learn and improve and the more forward thinking are grasping the opportunity with both hands.    

However, as talk naturally continues around the need to rationalise, make efficiency gains and automate as much as possible, and the expected steady trail of proposed mergers continues, it is worth remembering that it won’t ultimately be initiatives or ‘things’ that make the difference here – so leaders in the sector might spare a thought for the only way that any of it will actually lead to improved organisational performance – through their people.

Changes afoot

Of course automation will play a part.  Of course processes will need to be reviewed and of course all providers will be looking for ways of doing more with less, but what leadership teams can’t lose sight of is that working harder is not necessarily working smarter and it is only the latter that will make for a sustainable improvement in delivery. 

However, achieving it needs the willing involvement of everyone and to achieve that willingness (and here it is – nothing new) people have to fundamentally understand what needs to change and what is required of them. The right conditions need to be created to enable teams to operate effectively and for people to deliver of their best, which the vast majority of us naturally want to do. 

There is now a clear business imperative within the sector to engage employees and, just in case any management teams out there are still wondering, simply telling people to be engaged won’t work. 

Investigating engagement

Achieving high levels of engagement can be particularly challenging within a sector that is already undergoing significant change. Frontline job roles and skills requirements are changing, meaning for some the future feels uncertain, and the sector overall is in the throes of making a strong shift towards mobile working. 

This in itself has far-reaching implications not only from a connectivity and mobilisation perspective, but also from a motivation and engagement perspective. When teams have historically been tethered to a particular office or geographic location, a poorly thought-through shift to virtual team working can have a devastating effect on morale and productivity.

A poorly thought-through shift to virtual team working can have a devastating effect on morale and productivity.

There is though an overwhelming evidence base that demonstrates the positive connections between employee engagement and business success – a government task force has been exploring it for the past five years as it is thought to have the potential to add so much value to the UK economy overall. 

So if it is good for the nation, it must be worth the effort, right? Well many private sector firms are now queueing up to show the positive impact that a focus on engagement has had, and the benefits realised are wide ranging, but include improved customer service, reduction in complaints and staff absence and the nirvana of increased efficiency and profitability.

Sounds good doesn’t it and why wouldn’t any organisation want a piece of it? But if it still feels out of reach for some, it’s because there is a catch – you are going to need to trust people. Increasing engagement won’t be achieved through writing an engagement policy or by reinforcing command and control management practices that were designed for the industrial era but are still alive and kicking today. It takes courageous leadership, a fundamental belief that people want to do their best and a HR team that both understands human and organisational behaviour and has the capability to influence it. 

Changing mindsets

The time is perfect for HR within this sector to really step up to the strategic plate, to articulate clearly those approaches that will directly leverage increased engagement and nudge the organisation along its strategic plan. It really is time to honestly reflect on the HR activity that adds real value in this way currently and to have the courage to make the change if you fall short.

To help people to perform better the workplace needs to be redefined as a learning environment – we are all predisposed to learn and we now know that the best learning is more likely to happen on the job and through coaching & mentoring support rather than in a classroom. 

The workplace needs to be redefined as a learning environment

However, it is only so if the learning process isn’t hampered by the mindset blockers of policy mountains, outdated hierarchical structures and a distrusting management style. Some of this can be unintentionally perpetuated by policy-based rather than person-centred HR practices.

Personal growth comes through learning, increased potential comes from personal growth and organisational growth comes from harnessing the combined potential of the workforce – it’s a virtuous circle isn’t it?

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Dawn Sowerby

The Coach

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