Do Millennials Dream of Electric Sheep?

Organisations need to be smarter in how they approach general training, personal development and high level talent management if they are to get the best out of their staff.

Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want

When asked to prioritise what they want millennials tend to want jobs where they can make a difference, have personal development, as well as to be able to work flexibly and attain job fulfilment. Sometimes these are substituted for just being able to have a job. The first three points are consistently given as more important than simply getting a bigger paycheck.  Though on a personal level if you wanna chuck more cash at me, I ain’t gunna bitch about it. Joking aside, this is a change in priorities when compared to previous generations. It is something businesses are yet to fully get to grips with. That is partly down to how they approach personal development, something that needs to be worked on.

Don’t get me wrong, you shouldn’t believe all the hype. Millennials won’t solve all your organisation’s problems. But neither are they the complete shower that some would like to have you believe. My kith and kin have simply grown up at a time where one’s life goals and career paths have become increasingly fluid. An occurrence born out of necessity as much as design. Because after one of the biggest financial disasters occurs you take whatever work you can get.  This has had knock-on consequences in our outlook on jobs and life more generally.

Tailoring to fit

People may largely want the same thing (to get paid, to develop, to progress) but how that is achieved can vary significantly. For all of the talk of flexible working, and the desire for a job that fulfils malark, even we pesky kids still want steady jobs, regular benefits and paychecks from our employers. Presumably because sweet thoughts, dreams and unicorns don’t pay the exorbitant rent we have to cough up. But more broadly life approaches are different. That nuance is important when designing, delivering &  embedding in training and development programmes.

But all the above is moot if the culture behind the organisation stymies what your employees are learning. Because there is no point sending your staff on expensive training programmes if the culture, politics and environment back in the workplace nullifies any potential benefits/changes in approach at its source. For a case and point check out this article on leadership training and how it fails. It is, illuminating, but also beautifully highlights the point. In short, only when you get your house in order, will your flock, and business, grow.

This Is The End, My Only Friend, The  End

Fundamentally, understanding how your employees tick will enable you to go a long way in getting the best out of them. I’ve used millennials as an example in this blog because I am one, and they’re increasingly making up a significant chunk of our workforce. But the point applies across all your employees. Because, as this excellent blog from Tom Murtha points out, you don’t stop your development upon reaching the loftier levels of an organisation.

Obviously, the type and level of support of 40 year old director needs is very different to an apprentice new on the job. But they are part of the same whole. And in the end it’s just about people, their aspirations, and how that can be tapped into moving the organisation forward.

Photo Credit – Dickson Phua (2017) – The Spiral Into Desolation

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

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Float On

As a child my ladyfriend was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied matter of factly that she was going to be a lipstick. A response that wins hands down in terms of blue sky thinking. Alas my aspirations were a bit more mundane. If I remember correctly the two main ones were to become a Firefighter or a mechanic. Turns out I’m afraid of heights and crap with tools, so it’s probably a good thing I got into housing.

Who’d have thought that after all, Something as simple as rock ‘n’ roll would save us all

I’ve never particularly had a plan. Other than I knew I wanted to work in social housing, and even that came quite late, it’s all been a bit fuzzy. As a teenager and in my early 20s I did my fair share of crap jobs. Ones that suck the life out of you. Subsequently my only real guide has been to find jobs that are of interest to me, that challenge me, and hopefully ones that can leave behind some kind of meaningful change. Other than that I’m pretty open to the options out there.

Perhaps that lack of a plan probably wasn’t a bad thing, Chairman Mao-esk 5 yr plans have historically left a lot of people dead, but more importantly priorities change and as Colin Powell noted ‘No plan survives the battlefield’, so why have one? More’s the point, despite what those earnest posts on LinkedIn will have you believe, very few people have set out plans for their career development, let alone a point by point explanation of their daily routine. Weirdos.

If you don’t have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?

However, not having a plan is not the same as not having an end goal. So if you had asked me 5 years ago where I wanted to end up I’d have probably said as a Chief Executive of a Housing Association. The pay is pretty good (or bad, depending on your point of view) and in being white, middle class and male I figured I was near enough half way there. However, if you asked me now, I’m not sure if I’d still agree with my younger self.

I’ve witnessed one parent suffer a nervous breakdown and battle depression, and saw the other drop dead as their semi-retirement approached. Such events tend to give one pause for thought. Particularly when it comes to how one’s work/life balance is set up. As you get further up the greasy pole that balancing act becomes harder to manage. These days I’m unsure if I’m willing to pay the price to maintain it.

I’ve got mates with kids who hate their jobs, but feel the need to stay in the role because they need the money. For them coming home to their family makes it worthwhile. Whilst I can see that point of view, I don’t think I could stand being in a job that I hated. But who am I to judge? 

I guess that’s the point though, isn’t it? We all make different life choices for different reasons*. A point we’re sometimes too quick to forget, and should try harder to remember. One person’s success is another’s mediocrity. In the end it’s all relative, we’re all just floating along trying to work out what it all means. If you ever find the answer (I hear it’s 42) do let me know.

*For a case and point see this handy guide on how not to be a complete dick when someone tells you they don’t have/aren’t planning on having any kids. 

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Ian Hasley (2012) Tower Block_Jardine Crescent_Coventry_Feb12

A Hotel of Views

Talent management is essential to both the future of the sector and the organisations that make it. Consequently it makes sense to work together to provide what many cannot do on their own.

Let’s Push Things Forward

As Adam Clark noted we still have an issue with people ‘falling’ into the sector like it’s a good thing. Certainly it’s the standard joke at any housing event I’ve been to. But clichés aside we’re still behind on nurturing talent and promoting the sector as a career of choice. Part of the issue is due to the disparate nature of the beast. Whilst there are some behemoths about, the majority fall into the Small to Medium Enterprise category. Whilst not intrinsically a bad thing, it means it’s doubly hard to set up AND maintain talent programmes. They require time, effort and drive. Lose one or two key staff members and the programme falls by the wayside.

The NHF has the Young Leaders events, the CIH has the Rising Stars, both are great for highlighting the potential we have in the sector. Having met winners and finalists of both they are humble, ambitious and utterly talented people. But it strikes me that few have been able to slot into follow-on talent development programmes. The kudos gained from entering national competitions has helped get them noticed but what happens afterwards? Elsewhere the GEM Programme is an exceptional means by which to get graduates into the sector.  But again, what happens after the initial placements end? How do we, as a sector, manage the undoubtedly talented guys and gals that we have?

Ducks fly together

It’s normally at this point in a blog about personal development that Richard Branson is quoted. This blog is no different. For me, the two most notable ones from him/Virgin more generally are:

Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.

If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. It’s that simple.

They’re great quotes, and great principles to work towards but where are Housing’s Richard Bransons? I fully agree with Nick Atkin that we need to change our shop window. But to do that we need to have an honest look at ourselves, at who we want to be as organisations and as a sector. I’ve no doubt that many organisations want to develop and invest in their staff above and beyond what they already do. But whilst that willingness may be there in terms of developing talent, the ability to do so might not be.

For me what is needed is a sector wide development programme. One that allows the participants to work within different organisations as well as between different departments as is usually the case. As I’ve said before, we’re pretty darn good at sharing knowledge and best practice. Why not share the nurturing of the talent that will drive us forward?

The advantage of working together is the shared benefits. Organisations without the ability to provide talent programmes of their own would be able to offer their staff an opportunity to develop that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Bigger organisations could benefit from an outside view of their systems and processes that could be otherwise drowned out.  There’s also potential to help even out the mix and match talent managment programmes the sector currently has. Everybody wins.

This approach might not work for all, but the worst that will happen is that we just return to what we’re doing now. Hardly the end of the world in terms of risk, so why not try?

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Eirik Refsdal (2007) Scaffold

Sit Down, Be Humble

The conference is dead. Long live collaborative work events.

Time is money, so don’t f*ck with mine

One of the lessons I learned early on in my career is that most networking doesn’t actually take place in events designed to facilitate networking. This is odd, because as a sector we are pretty good at sharing learning and best practice. Particularly lower down the food chain. But these events tend to follow a wearily predictable pattern. The coffee is horrific, the biscuits worse and that’s before your attempts at making small talk with someone who probably thinks WhatsApp is an internet. Yes interpersonal networking is a necessary skill, but give a chap a chance with a decent Hobnob or two, we’re not animals, you beasts.

The speeches are hours of your life you won’t get back. Where engaging content is typically treated as an afterthought by the speakers. The breakout sessions are rushed and haphazard. Frenetic energy & forced enthusiasm are not a good mix. I dunno what annoys me more at these faux seminar encounters – the person who talks over everyone else, or getting stuck having to write up the bloody notes. I’m sure useful stuff happens at these things. But I’ve found one makes better, more interesting, connections via less formal gatherings than at a conference. Because frankly if I wanted to listen to a bunch of middle aged men living on past glories and discussing subjects that provide no real insight/are of no particular use, I’d turn on the TV and watch Soccer Saturday†.

Dust in the Wind

For those of us born after Duran Duran were a thing, networking online before physically meeting someone is pretty normal. Whilst unconferences (I know, I hate the term too, but they have their uses) tend to offer a more palatable affair than their more orthodox cousins. There’s something essentially democratic about a day where topics are proposed and then assigned on a basis of passionate arguing for their right to exist. By allowing delegates to steer the focus of the learning one tends to get a better level of information exchange. Which is ultimately one of the main goals of a conference, to disseminate knowledge en masse. As well as you know, meet interesting people and make small talk about how shit the weather is.

Even the online presence of conferences annoy me. Instead of having an arbitrary hashtag most folks get wrong, despite being reminded every 5mins to tweet using it #OMGBestConferenceEver17. The more organic social media presence that comes with peer created, less formal conferences generate a better and more memorable buzz. Because they allow people to buy into the day by getting them to shape it. Such an approach also gives people the opportunity to share ideas, and dare I say it, network prior to the day. This makes it a darn sight easier to hit the ground running and thus offers a greater potential for a heavy focus on collaborative working/discussions instead of cringe worthy icebreakers. It is a better way to network, it is a better way to work collaboratively full stop.

There may well continue to be a place for standard conferences. God knows we need our peacock season, where people go to see and be seen. It’s also a useful means by which to get one’s senior management team out of everyone’s hair for a day or two. But fundamentally I am yet to be convinced we are getting a good bang for our buck in relation to what’s currently available. For the layperson they offer very little. Well beyond ego massaging that is. But if that’s all there is, why bother?

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

†We’re in the UK, you sods, it’s bloody Football. Not Soccer.

Photo Credit Dimitris Kalogeropoylos – Conference (2008)

Warm Smiles Don’t Make You Welcome Here

Housing Associations are increasingly trapped by their own ambitions and whilst Mr Hilditch is right to highlight mission creep, the sector’s problems go deeper than simply chasing dollar signs. It still does not understand how to deliver good customer service based on the needs of its end users. Continued failure to address this issue will further erode credibility in the sector and ultimately the very values it claims to uphold.

Customer Service

For those blissfully detached from the internet over the last couple of weeks the power of failing in the very basics of customer service was beautifully highlighted by United Airlines. A fee paying passenger was physically, and very forcefully removed, (getting injured in the process) on a flight that was overbooked. Whilst initially unrepentant and largely unapologetic. Sharp drops in the company’s share prices, alongside a massive social media backlash forced the CEO Oscar Munoz to apologise. It is an extreme case, but highlights that get customer service wrong in the private sector and you will, literally, pay the price. And that’s before the inevitable lawsuit.

For me this is where a large number of the problems with the sector lie. The main focus of a business, social or otherwise, should be to ensure that the customer gets a good service. That comes from a culture that accepts and embraces customer service as a necessity. Something that social housing orgs, without the type of competition seen in the private sector, have struggled to come to terms with.

The Power of the Market, but Beware of the Dark Side

Some of the most popular apps have been developed out of a perceived need. I can order an Uber, book a table, hunt for houses to rent all on my smart phone (another need based development). Yet when it comes to social housing how progressive have we been in our service offer? As Tim Pinder has noted, only a modest number of social housing organisations offer customers the rather simple ability to book a repairs appointment online. I think he was being polite regarding his nod to the fact that in reality most of these were actually ‘fancy emails’ with a scheduler still required to actually sort the appointment. Not only does this save time and effort for customers, as Tim notes it can also deliver savings for the organisation. The two factors are not mutually exclusive.

Elsewhere opening hours continue be highly restrictive and inflexible. Opening 9am-5pm is next to useless for most people who work. So too is being open Mon – Fri. Letting agents in the private rented and home ownership sectors are open on a Saturday. This is because they recognise the need to be available at times that suit potential customers. So why aren’t social landlords who own and manage tens of thousands of units doing the same? Even banks have changed their opening times to be more customer friendly (admittedly dragging their heels the whole way). Again, why aren’t we looking at this seriously? Flexible hours of working should not just be for the benefit of staff. 

I’m not for a moment suggesting a marketisation (is that a word? It is now) of social housing, anyone who’s witnessed the basket-case of New Labour quasi-markets in the NHS will know the perils of trying to create a state-led market out of thin air†. Certainly not all organisations act in the best interests of their customers, or even the long term viability of the business. However, the lack of a need for invention combined with the nature of many of the organisations that provide social housing has inevitably left the UKHousing sector wanting in a number of ways.

Talk is Cheap

We’ve often talked about embracing the better elements of the private sector. But in reality these have largely been confined to pursuing activities that make more money (not a bad thing in and of itself). But not on the relentless, necessary drive for developing and improving products/services* or the need for good, responsive customer care. Or the requirement to design services around the needs of the customer, not around the business, or worse still – what the business thinks the needs of the end user are.

I will let others rally around the Big is Bad, Developer is bad arguments. There are truths and falsehoods there. As this documentary by Adam Curtis has noted the problems highlighted by John Harris and by Steven Hilditch on build quality and customer service are nothing new in the development of properties for the social housing sector. As with housing policy more generally these issues have a depressingly predictable tendency to come round full circle.

As ever, it depends on the organisation, the culture and the desire to improve as a business, and yes – the profit motive if you wish to improve the services you provide. Key to this is putting the customer at the forefront of what you do, otherwise it’s just lip service. A stance that ultimately will erode your service offer, trust in you as an organisation and the very values you should be standing up for. The choice is simple one, but it’s yours to make.

As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Picture Credit – Wojtek Gurak – Bouça Social Housing

†That and , you know, pretty much every single ‘communist’ country, ever.

*There are obviously some caveats here, I’ve lost count of the number of tech firms I’ve come across directly and indirectly that are flogging a bit of kit that last saw major investment when Tony Blair was still PM. But you get the gist.

 

Arguing With Thermometers

Fact, fiction or managing the narrative? Housing has long had an image problem, one that has been embedded by failure to counter powerful narratives to pervade public discourse and, to a large extent, public policy initiatives. Is it time for the sector to get down and dirty?

The Beat that My Heart Skipped

A recent train of thought I’ve come across is the (statistically backed) claim that we need to stop pretending that everyone is a couple of paychecks away from homelessness. This is largely because there are real and significant differences in the chances of someone becoming homeless. These heavily (but not exclusively) depend on one’s age, ethnicity and socio-economic background. My only problem with above argument is that despite being technically correct, such approaches miss the point.

The dominant narrative around homelessness has been that individual pathology i.e. our own choices and behaviours are by far and away the main driver for one’s housing situation. This message has been picked up and rammed home to such an extent that it largely goes unchallenged. This has problematic consequences for housing policy because it impedes the ability of people to back ‘progressive’ policy changes i.e. it makes our job a lot harder than it should be. Something Campbell Robb nailed in this post whilst still at Shelter.

Hypocrite

Simply stating technical arguments isn’t going to reverse this wet dream of the centre right. Because it assumes that evidence based arguments have got us to where we are. Quite bluntly they haven’t. Emotive, ideologically driven bullshit has. We’re not really living in a post facts age. People have just refined ways of finding what they perceive to be evidence based support for the way they view the world. However, what has been interesting about the gradual change in the tide of public opinion in housing (both here and over in the US) is that it’s become less of an ethereal problem that effects others. Everyone has family, colleagues, and friends who have been affected or know someone affected by housing affordability problems. It brings home a policy issue that previously been on one’s periphery. This offers a way in for those looking to influence public opinion.

Homelessness is more of a tricky beast. Those working in the sector have long been alarmed at the rising rates of homelessness. But this doesn’t engage with the public. Don’t believe me, casually observe people’s behaviour when they see street homeless. Better still, observe your own. There is a real detachment here, from empathy and acknowledgement of the problem at hand.

Whilst people don’t care about technical arguments, they do care about what affects them, their friends, their families. They also like to believe negative life events happen to other people, preferably due to their own poor choices rather than an ingrained unjust system in which they play a part. It’s more of a convenience to blame other individuals rather than structural problems associated with our drug like dependency on the housing market. Whilst many of us have friends struggling with their housing situation. Few know a homeless person.

It Ain’t What You Do It’s the Way that You Do it

I’ve long argued for the UKHousing sector to own the narrative, to control the image relating to it. It has routinely failed to do so. But more recently progress has been made as better lobbying and a different Government, with its head at least partially out of the clouds, providing a tweak in housing policy. The Homelessness Reduction Bill has also shown signs of change. Albeit one that will be utterly insignificant if we do not build more social housing. Honestly kids, that part of the housing crisis is the easy bit.

As ever it’s the PR and Marketing side of things that has let both the housing and homelessness sectors down on occasion. Too much facts, not enough empathy. Particularly at a time where one can easily twist publicly available information to meet their own desired view of the world. Our message needs to be clearer, simpler and more accessible. That doesn’t mean diluting the truth, but it does mean refining the message.

A massive thanks to Beth Watts for both initial discussions and some very useful reading material. Also to Burcu Borysik for tweets from #CrisisConf which helped to frame this blog. As ever, you can find more of my stuff here and follow me on Twitter here.

Photo Credit – Birgit Kulbe (2012) Homeless

Music References

Arguing With Thermometers – Enter Shikari (2012)

The Beat That My Heart Skipped – Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip (2007)

Hypocrite – Midasuno (2002)

It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do it) – Bananarama (1982)