Last year, Inside Housing published the results of the first-ever widespread survey of innovative working cultures in the housing sector.
Working with Dolphin Index, a company that has developed a method to quantify and visualise organisations’ cultures, the survey showed the sector to be much more innovative and forward-thinking than the UK average.
The results of our second survey are now in – and they reveal that the majority of the housing associations, arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs) and local authority housing departments whose staff filled in the survey are still well ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation and creativity. Overall, in fact, despite the pressures brought about by the rent cut, the sector has improved, with scores generally up on last year.
The index reveals each organisation’s deviation from the UK norm, which has been established by Dolphin Index as an average across multiple sectors.
However, the ranking of the organisations in and of itself is “not too important” according to Pekka Rintala, development director – operations at Dolphin Index.
“The main question is where the organisation wants to be,” he explains.
Being better than average on innovation is probably a good place to start, however. But despite the overall trend, a minority of providers, not listed on the table below, whose staff completed Dolphin’s survey have not done as well.
“The range [of scores] was truly amazing, ranging from places that are heaven on Earth to work in to some real dystopias,” says Mark Brown, chief executive of Dolphin Index – and it’s the latter group he hopes will benefit most from this year’s results.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” he says. “We can give our tenants and employees a much better life. That’s one thing the Dolphin Index makes people realise – for the first time people can have much more enjoyable lives at work in ways that drive more successful organisations.”
Topping the charts
For the second year in a row, the top-scoring organisation is Richmond Housing Partnership (RHP). The 8,500-home landlord says that last year’s success actually encouraged it to embed innovation even further in the way it works.
“The index was a starter not an end; it really helped us to accelerate our thinking,” says Amina Graham, RHP’s executive director of corporate services. Since our first survey, RHP has launched what it claims is the sector’s first digital-only housing service. On 6 October, RHP – in partnership with Inside Housing and Dolphin Index – is hosting an innovation event that will feature appearances from other innovative companies including Uber and Microsoft.
We profiled RHP in last year’s survey write-up, so this time we spoke to some of the other highest scorers to ask them what they do differently. But, overall, why does this sector appear to be so innovative? Gavin Smart, deputy chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, an organisation which itself scores highly on the index, suggests it might come down to necessity.
“The housing sector has been under a lot of pressure over the last few years and as a consequence we’re seeing organisations having to do things differently and find ways to do more with less,” he says. “With the talent we have in the sector, I’d expect to see this ingenuity and resourcefulness continue, particularly as life looks set to remain challenging for the foreseeable future.”
The list of challenges thrown at the sector recently has become a familiar litany: welfare reform, Right to Buy and the 1% rent cut. But as consultant James Tickell points out, housing associations and ALMOs have had it relatively easy.
“It is local authorities which have had to deal with much larger cuts,” he elaborates. “They have had to reinvent services completely and have shown a remarkable level of resilience and innovation that people don’t appreciate.”
If it’s true that external pressures can force people to become more innovative, it’s also true that businesses with an innovative culture in place are better placed to weather any storms.
“Some organisations batten down the hatches and try to carry on as before, while others look at new ways of doing things,” says Mr Tickell. “But given the changes in society, changes in technology and tenants’ expectations, I think good organisations are doing that anyway.”
For those not quite there yet, Mr Brown hopes this survey can help to point the way, especially with the stakes perhaps a little higher in housing.
“This sector matters,” he enthuses. “Let’s get everybody to the sort of level Richmond is at. Let’s make the world a better place.”