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.


The Dark Side of The Moon

Recent pilots in Sweden on changes to the working week have come to an end, raising interesting debates on the different ways in which organisations structure work. The Housing Sector should take note, and take on board the lessons learned. Particularly as a work-life balance is increasingly important for current and future workers and at a time when productivity is stagnating, why not reinvent the wheel?

Who’s a Good, Productive Little Worker?  Not us Apparently 

In the UK we have a serious issue in relation to productivity growth. In that it’s not really happening. At least not at the rate needed and/or hoped for. We fair particularly poor when compared to the G7. Sitting 18 points (whatever that means) behind that rich block of countries, if one excludes the UK from the count. Germany, quite typical given the subject matter, was top. 

The reasons for stagnating productivity (as with many things in life tend to be) are complex. But part of the picture will inevitably be the working environment for staff, expectations around how they operate and investment in tools for them to do their job. And that is where this blog is largely focused on, conveniently.

Health Warning – the above is based on one particular measure. Full Fact does a good job of explaining the pitfalls here. For more in-depth stuff check out Ha-Joon Chang’s introduction to economics – Economics: The User’s Guide. Or, if you’re a masochist, full on Economics text books, with maths and everything. You monster.

Ain’t it funny how the factory doors close? ‘Round the time the school doors close?

One of the things I’ve found odd for many years is the way in which both the school week, and the working week are constructed. Mostly because they are rooted in such arcane ways of working. Both stem from working patterns introduced as part of the industrial revolution. When it was realised that child workers and stupidly long hours weren’t great ideas in the long run.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that our productivity woes will all stem from failure to work 6 hour weeks in places that have ball-pits, free food and a full body massage as part of the working schedule. However, considering the industrial revolution was 200 years ago, should we not revisit how we organise the working day? In so many other ways we have improved ways of working and related inefficiencies. The email has made the fax redundant. The mobile phone and associated tablets have largely made the office irrelevant for many. Video purportedly killed the radio star. Yet we cling on to modes of working that were thought up when King George IV was the monarch, when Germany had barely unified and the height of male fashion had only recently abandoned wigs and make up. More’s the pity.

Sounds Good to Me

One of the most convincing arguments to changing how we work is the fact we’re simply not built for it. People tend to work best in compressed periods of activity followed by rest (mental/physical) and then repeating the process ad nauseam. But not everyone works best the same way and to say it is not an exact science would be an understatement. But it is something that simply isn’t challenged enough. In terms of value, and productivity the best quote I’ve googled quickly seen on the subject is the one below. As an aside I would strongly suggest reading the whole article from which the quote comes it’s by Tony Schwartz and is called For Real Productivity, Less is Truly More. The article is much better than the title suggests, I promise.

The value of those you manage isn’t generated by the number of hours they work, but rather by how much value they produce during the hours we are working.

Making It Relevant, but a note of caution

Many in the sector are talking about channel shift, moving away from cost and labour heavy interactions such as call centres and open offices/receptions. Whether customers want it or not. Yet very few organisations are looking at shifting their work patterns to change when we are available to customers outside the 9-5 or to drive a more flexible approach to patters of work.

There has been some begrudging acceptance of using social media (comms people, I feel your pain here). Certainly, I’ve lost count of the amount of “Hi, my name is [insert instantly forgettable name here] and I’m here until [probably about 6pm, maybe 8pm] to help” that I’ve seen both within and outside the sector. Yet particularly for our back office functions why have such rigid working hours? Who does it help?

Whilst many of the headlines focused on the ‘success’ of the pilots in Sweden only a few bothered to delve deeper and show the many layers of the story. Working 6 hour days does not fit all people and all circumstances and it ain’t cheap. Furthermore a number of other businesses in Sweden who started similar pilots have backed out over negative impacts reported by staff. Interestingly enough a number of employees felt constrained by the condensed working hours and felt they couldn’t deliver what was needed.

Yet at least they gave it a go in Sweden. Something that cannot be said for the many other businesses/Countries, Housing Associations included. What have you got to lose?

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

Photo Credit – Natesh Ramasamy (2011)- Victorian Houses, Nottingham


Big is beautiful (again)

The social housing sector is a diverse beast, a myriad collection of the unique, the ambitious and frankly the downright bizarre. From smallscale Almshouses, to Large Scale Voluntary Transfer organisations (LSVTs) and increasingly complex group structures, the sector has a very divergent selection of organisations that operate within its boundaries.

Does it matter? Not really. What does matter is that the mantra that big is beautiful is back. Though in reality this notion has never really left us. Mergers have been a constant part of the sector for decades. It is however the set of circumstances that currently face social housing that may give renewed energy to the get big or get going brigade. Typically it has been times of cuts in, or significant changes to the administration of, funding that have seen spikes in mergers and group structures. The brave new worlds of 1974 and 1988 (private finance) saw a huge rise in mergers, followed by a jump in group structures in the mid 1990s. This has subsequently been followed by a further jump in mergers in the early to mid 2000s, just ‘cos.

And lo and behold capital funding is again getting rare, as rare as Grant Shapps not making an appearance in the media rare. Previous posts have covered this new reduction in funding. But the bleak stats require repeating. Even more so due to the fact that a number of major players have both publicly and privately turned down government funding. Bromford came out swinging, in the stylish, tech-savy way it is now known for. London based housing organisations’ snub of Mayor ‘Cor isn’t he crazy he’s not like the other Tories’ Boris Johnson has been a more private affair. The reason for the rejections? Too little wonga has been offered and the strings attached too stringent. For a number of landlords the sums increasingly just don’t add up. This has left the Mayor of London’s Office scrabbling around like a desperate ex trying to patch things up. “I’m sorry I cheated on you, we can still be awesome together, please take my money and build stuff with it”.

Of course it wouldn’t be housing blog without mentioning welfare reform. It is, potentially, a significant factor in moving organisations towards merging as it does create a slightly awkward operating environment. This in combination with lower levels of capital funding, and reduced bank lending.  Something not unnoticed by the ratings agency, Moodys. Who, in addition to the helpful advice of ‘partner up people’, did warn of potential issues around existing and future funding arrangements when doing so.

So what do we do? Well at the moment around 90% of stock in the social housing sector is owned by just 20% of the largest landlords. That means there are a lot of smaller players out there, though for how much longer remains to be seen, particularly as the number of housing associations is steadily decreasing. In 2012 there were around 1,500 organisations compared to just under 2,000 in 2002. With only 40% of the expected welfare cuts currently in play (the other 60% conveniently scheduled for after the next general election), more pain is on the way. Finding sugar daddy/momma is therefore an increasingly attractive option for smaller associations.

There will be those who argue that small organisations still have a place in the post apocalyptic housing world we are entering, and I do have sympathy with that notion. It is still debatable as to whether economies of scale are actually achieved by mergers. But you cannot keep on levering in dollar without increasing your portfolio. You can only get so much money with your existing stock. As your stock ages overheads will steadily increase, your ability to fund new projects will decrease and eventually towel throwing-in time will occur. This is a situation faced by many smaller organisations in the sector. Better get out that slinky black number and hope someone is interested.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, the sector has always been remarkably resilient. If (and it is a big if) Labour win the next election then it is likely funding will increase. Other countries, Holland in particular, have shown how a post capital funding world could look like, albeit in a highly unique situation. I doubt such collectivist action will ever happen here but a gal can always hope. Also it would be best to avoid going the route of the Dutch housing association Vestia. The derivatives market is best left to the boys in the city.

I will leave you with a quote from a very informative Think Tank policy paper on the future of the sector. It does slightly mirror my thinking on the sector and very small scale organisations in particular.

“…there are far too many of them. You’ll see three councils coming together to share services, yet in the same area there might be 20 housing associations working independently of each other. It doesn’t make sense.” (Chevin et al. 2013).