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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Wherever I May Roam

As work/life balance becomes an increasingly important consideration for employees the role of the traditional office setting is changing. Remote working and flexible working have reduced the need to have an organisation’s workers based in an office. The challenge for organisations is to adapt their culture, as much as their IT infrastructure, to get the best of both worlds.

Most people could work from Timbuktu provided they had a reliable internet connection and a phone with a good international dialling plan

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with One Step

One of the most significant stumbling blocks regarding remote/flexible working for organisations is not the physical infrastructure, although that can always be improved, but the culture of the business. Far too many see working from home, or at least away from the office, as something to be avoided at all costs. It is reflective of a failure to have a grown up relationship with your staff and the ability to be adaptable in the workplace. Most people could work from Timbuktu provided they had a reliable internet connection and a phone with a good international dialling plan. In all likelihood they’d be doing their job just as well as if they were sat in an office in Milton Keynes.

Personally I’ve always been a fan of treating staff as grown ups until they prove otherwise. Yes there will always be those that take the piss, but a happy workforce is a productive one. And if as an employer you can help ease part of the day to day stress inducing clusterfuck that is life by allowing staff to work from home or pick up their kids from school, why the hell not give it a try? If you’re unsure as to the benefits, here’s a link to a blog I quickly Googled to pad out this paragraph. It’s actually quite useful. Elsewhere here’s a good piece on why offering flexible working also helps.

Getting away from walk-in traffic is occasionally invaluable

A Word of Caution

Working remotely is not all plain sailing. Working from home or in a different office to your usual one will always require a small amount of adjustment. Even if it’s just for basic things like knowing where the non decaf coffee is kept (honestly who drinks coffee without the caffeine content). It is also important not to underestimate the value of relationships built up by face to face contact. Different personality types will cope better than others.

What helped me during the few weeks this year when I had no office to call home (it was undergoing a refurb) was the fact that I’d been working from home 1 day every 1-2 weeks for the last year. Whilst forcing myself to get away from walk-in traffic is occasionally invaluable for ‘admin days’ or mini projects, it also meant there was less of a shock for me on day one as I had already sorted my routine. It meant that my line manager and I also knew what to expect. For every diligent worker there will be one who ends up eating ice-cream in their PJ’s watching Jeremy Kyle rather than working. Easing people into such changes, as well as setting up clear boundaries/expectations, is therefore a must.

That’s a Wrap

As with many aspects of modern work there have been many improvements made to make our jobs easier. As employers it is also important to try and create a working environment that facilitates productive workers. For some this means office based working. For others it means 2 days a week at home so they can pick up the kids on time. Sticking rigidly to one way of working is simply nonsensical, backward and will ultimately have a negative impact on your organisation. Evolve a little, the results may surprise you.

Photo Credit – Michal Scuglik – Abandoned Office (2011)

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

Eyes Wide Shut

“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” (Dalai Lama, Ages Ago)

The words above are one of the most insightful quotes I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It is also a quote I have to work very hard at acting on. Putting my personality flaws aside it is a quote that also needs to be taken on board by the housing sector when looking at their Customer Feedback programmes. Because quite often listening isn’t the end game. It’s figure chasing.

If You Book Them, They Will Come

At one and the same time being a landlord is actually very simple and incredibly difficult. You collect rent, you carry out repairs, put in place planned works to upgrade old/defective kitchens/boilers etc and you ensure tenancy conditions are kept. The only thing(s) in the way are people, processes and the organising of the two. As a result, whilst on the surface being a landlord is simple, doing the above on time, in budget and in a manner that provides excellent customer service is actually damned difficult. Worse still, get it wrong and your customers will let you know in no uncertain terms.

One of the mistakes people make with customer satisfaction is the fixation on improving the score. This might seem odd, particularly as KPIs, Performance Reviews and even parts of Contractor Performance Payments can be reliant on these measures. But often such a focus results in measures being tweaked, targets being dropped, time periods of performance reviewed. None of which solve the underlying issues impacting on performance i.e poor quality service/dysfunctional service delivery/expectation management failure. Resolve the problems impacting on service delivery and the satisfaction score will look after itself. Not the other way round.

Knowing Me, Knowing You (Aha)

The problem with putting the voice of the customer front and centre, is that it goes against the ingrained nature of many housing associations. Attitudes regarding the relationship between the customer (tenant etc) and the organisation get stuck in a paternalistic prism. At best they’re put up with, at worst they are marginalised. We expect to be able to provide the answer and give it to our customers. Whether they like it or not, or whether it solves the problem or not.

But as Paul Taylor quite rightly notes – individuals and organisations can be pretty crap at identifying and solving the real issues affecting us and our customers. Such a scenario is a complete waste of everyone’s time. But if we treat customers as the grown up, informed individuals (and their families) that they are and marry that up with ‘hard measures’/metrics of performance.  Our chances of identifying, and then solving, the right problems (thus improving customer satisfaction) will be greatly improved.

Closing the Loop

One of the things that genuinely pisses me off is that often organisations allude to customer engagement. But fail to understand the nature of the beast. Most are content with sticky buns and coffee on a wet Wednesday afternoon. That’s fine, it’s a part of the puzzle. But if someone has bothered to provide you with feedback on a service, that is engagement. The very least you can do is take on-board the problems they’ve identified, check if it forms a part of a wider set of issues and do something about it. Otherwise what is the point of having a Customer Feedback programme if you’re not going to use the information it provides?

Wrapping it up – Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Customers don’t whinge for the sake of it (for the most part). They are on the receiving of the services you provide. Anger, distress and upset are symptoms of service failure. Identify the root causes and nullify them. But you can only do that if you’re willing to take on-board what is being said and tie it to your service improvement activities. What we think are the issues might not actually be the case. Be humble, open your ears and learn something new. Otherwise you will just carry on making the same mistakes.

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

Photo Credit – Lisa @ Sierra Tierra (2012) Customer Comments Chalkboard

 

Grown Up Talk

Historically you’d barely have time to finish the “ue” in posing the question Does the sector provide Value For Money? when most housing associations would throw their toys out of the pram so violently you’d be amazed if those in the near vicinity got out unscathed. It is a reaction that has needed to change, and very gradually it is.

Play Time is Over

As businesses, housing associations rely on public funding for a very large proportion of the money that makes up their profits. Either directly from Central Government in Capital Grant, or indirectly via Housing Benefit/Universal Credit. Therefore it is not unreasonable for the public interest to be protected by a higher level of expectation regarding scrutiny over VFM than otherwise might be the case. It is an agenda we would do well to properly engage with. As in the long run damage to both the reputation of the sector in the eyes of the public, and of Government is at stake.

Whilst the Eye of Sauron attention of Government/the media has shifted from blaming housing associations for the housing crisis by not building enough, it is likely that the focus will once again return on what more we need to/why it’s all our fault. There are noises coming on VFM and the sector, ones we would be wise to heed as they offer risk, but also opportunity. Because it will be by engaging the agenda of Value For Money that the sector can own the teams of the debate and promote its own interests at the same time. The development of the VFM scorecard via a variety of organisations with the support of the DCLG is a welcome start in the process. Albeit with a feeling that the sector is looking to jump before being pushed*.

There are over 1,200 organisations doing essentially the same thing, inevitably some will be more efficient and provide better VFM than others

We are no longer the amateur-hour/slightly bent housing organisations that were set up in the 60s and 70s. Nor are we Local Authority housing departments. We cannot simply ignore outside scrutiny and hope it will go away and/or block it via meaningless bureaucracy. There are over 1,200 organisations doing essentially the same thing, inevitably some will be more efficient and provide better VFM than others. We need to recognise this and make improvements where necessary. The best way to do that is to have an methodology of measurement, which we currently lack. Something that ties into the legacy of crap benchmarking in the sector. But that’s a blog for another day.

Learning from History

Landlords must provide value for money – and they need to be able to evidence it.

As ever I’m not the first to write on this subject- check out Emma Maier’s piece in Inside Housing, as well as Mark Henderson’s, for further info/insight. In particular I agree with Emma when she notes that “Landlords must provide value for money – and they need to be able to evidence it”. The VFM Scorecard is potentially a way to achieve both this and to work more closely with Government. It increases the transparency of organisations within the sector. It gets on board with an element of the current Government’s agenda that is not a major impact on our finances. Fundamentally it helps to build trust.

If we, as a sector, want to be treated like grown ups in a relationship with Government, we need to act like grown ups. That means engaging and facilitating policy changes that can fit with our own agendas and policy preferences. The aim being to create a critical friend relationship, where the mutual benefits of working together, regardless of politics, can be seen. Only from that standpoint can we enact meaningful change. Pissing from the outside, whilst no doubt exhilarating, does not always enable one to move forward their agenda and influence policy.

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

Photo CreditMyXI – Tongue & Groovy (2009)

*It’s nice to see that we’re consistent in our approach to enacting change. Not so much ‘nudge’ theory in play, but ‘shove’ theory.

 

 

Culture Shock

More often than not when reading articles on how to engage with, maintain and build a successful business culture with staff it’s written by people who have been so removed from A) Organisational working (as they’re now freelance speakers/consultants) and B) Who haven’t worked on the front-line for the best part of a decade (or two) because when they went solo they were probably at directorate level (at least). That in mind, here’s a heads up from a guy with sod all experience on how to make the most of your organisation.

Just Like the Movies

The other night I was flicking through channels and momentarily stopped to watch Armageddon. A move with a far better sound track than story-line/acting. Near the beginning (the prelude to meeting Bruce Willis and his motley crew), worried scientists, military folks and that guy who was married to Angelina Jolie (not him, the other one), were discussing how to stop an asteroid that was going to smash the Earth into little pieces. After raising the option of sending nuclear missiles to deal with the aforementioned threat, one of the scientists ruined the idea. Highlighting that if one placed a firecracker in their hand you’d burn it.  However, if you held it tight in your hand, “your wife’s gonna be opening your ketchup bottles the rest of your life”. In order to prevent world destruction some folks were going to need to get up close and personal with a really large hunk of space rock.

Whilst hopefully not as explosive a process, when looking to embed cultural change it’s probably worth taking on board the Armageddon analogy. The culture of an organisation is an evolving beast. No big bang or fundamental reset will embed a shared focus and drive amongst staff. It is through hard won trust that an organisation can shift from one way of working to another. Just because you’ve watched a TEDx talk and went weak at the knees doesn’t mean the rest of your staff will follow. Yes, the overall steer needs to come from a strong leadership team with a long term strategic vision. But that needs to tie into the ‘ground floor’ reality of the staff who will be sharing and, ultimately, implementing that vision.

Treat your Staff as People, Invest in them and Reap the Rewards

Staff are more productive when they are well paid/proportionately paid for what they do. It also helps if they are undertaking jobs they find both rewarding and fulfilling. The Richard Branson quote of focusing on your staff and the rest will follow is typically used here. However there is another, more unlikely, source which highlights the value of investing in your staff.

In 2015 Walmart, one of the stingiest business out there, announced it would pay its workers more and revamped its in-house training. But just as crucially it provided more opportunities for career advancement. The end result? Whilst initial investment might have hit the bottom line of the company the overall signs are positive. The change in approach has seen more dedicated, productive staff joining the ranks (something known as the Efficiency Wage). Staff are happier, so are shoppers, stores are cleaner and in many instances are improving in performance. In short, don’t be a dick to your staff and your organisation will probably perform better as a result. Mike Ashley, are you listening, chap?

Look Outside the Traditional Approaches to Working

Be adaptable, learn through failure and don’t be afraid to test new ideas. Getting change in the Housing sector is like trying to turn around an oil tanker, in a typhoon, when the rudder is broken. We are quick to take on new projects but slow to adapt, change and get rid of processes. Even if they are flawed and not efficient. It feels that after so much advancement in technology, reducing so much of the day to day chores in our life we feel the necessity to fill it up with needless bureaucracy. It needs to stop, sharpish. Best put together a working group to ensure it happens, eh?

On the subject of learning through failure if you don’t already check out Paul Taylor’s piece on it. Or for a crash course in how not to do it, simply look at the England National Football Team.

Whilst the likes of Google and Facebook have long been noted for their different approaches to working. Let’s face it, computer geeks can be pretty highly strung and bribing them with easily accessible food and a ball-pit is a decent pay off. Particularly when you’re talking about two of the biggest and most successful tech companies going. For those of us operating in more mundane occupations/organisations, not to mention smaller budgets, challenging the orthodoxy on working hours is just as important as free grub.

In Sweden shorter working hours are again gaining traction. Though more recent pilots have been less conclusive than perhaps hoped, less sick leave and lower levels of stress have been reported. Longer term there’s the potential to not only improve the morale and work-life balance of staff but also productivity. Such moves may be impractical for many in the social housing sector, but more flexible and/or remote working may be just as beneficial. Just make sure staff don’t take the piss on flexi-time.

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

*A large part of Walmart’s working practices still suck to the point that neither me nor the ladyfriend shop at Asda, their UK arm, on principle.