Guest blog: Getting the basics right

In this guest blog, Ian McDermott, CEO of Peabody, discusses how the Better Social Housing Review has created an opportunity for housing providers to reset. In doing so, social landlords now need to recognise areas for improvement and actively move towards the ultimate goal of rebuilding relationships with its customers.

Commissioned by the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing, the independent Better Social Housing Review has published its findings. It makes an important contribution to tackling the extremely serious issues we all know about. I welcome the recommendations, the scrutiny of housing associations’ performance and the public discussion about the condition of social housing in England.

This is a moment to reset. To reframe how we think about the challenges facing us. To reconsider, as the review suggests, how we deliver our core purpose. There may be some debate as to what that core is and how it should be delivered. That’s fine, we are a diverse sector serving diverse needs. There needs to be space for innovation and flexible approaches to service delivery. Different organisations will need to improve in different ways.

Rebuilding customer relationships is the ultimate goal

We can establish some core principles though.  For me, the first principle is that this is not a reputational crisis to be managed. Boards and Executive teams will obviously be mindful of the reputational impact, but fundamentally it is about getting the basics right and rebuilding relationships with customers through better and more responsive services. Everything we do, our priorities, investments and activities should be geared towards achieving this goal.

I can only speak about my organisation, and as the CEO of Peabody I realise there is a high level of scrutiny on what we do. This is quite right, we have almost a quarter of a million people living in our neighbourhoods. We are now one of the largest and most well-known not for profit associations in the country.  Our aspiration is not just to be good, but to be excellent – but I know very well that we’re not always in that place yet.

How Peabody is strengthening its connection with customers

Our merger with Catalyst in 2021 was predicated on improving our whole operating model. It was about being locally focused and getting closer and better connected with our customers. It was about creating the capacity to invest in digital services, boosting our data quality and increasing the number of customer-facing roles in our neighbourhoods. It was also about combining two successful community investment and care and support operations, working alongside people to help them flourish and prosper.

This is our direction of travel, and it will be the key to improving our relationships with our grassroots. We have already divided the organisation into autonomous regions, with Managing Directors overseeing every aspect of our activity in local areas. We are breaking down internal silos, and creating strategic local plans to drive operational improvement, customer engagement, community investment and partnerships. Tackling homelessness and getting people out of temporary accommodation is so important and we’ll strive to keep playing our part. We are continuing to regenerate areas and doing what we can to build new homes, but our primary focus now has to be on improving the lived experience of people in Peabody homes and communities.

Recognising room for improvement is key

These plans were in train before the public scandal of substandard homes gathered momentum.  We weren’t doing this because of reputational issues, we were doing it because we knew we needed to be a lot better to achieve our goals.  With a local focus and scaled up investment (financial and intellectual) in improving our homes and services I am absolutely determined that we will radically improve our offer to our customers.

It won’t be easy, and I am not satisfied with where we are currently, but I think that’s important. As leaders we need humility and to recognise where we need to improve.  From complaint handling to damp and mould to ramping up our planned cyclical maintenance, there is much work to do. But by realising the need for improvement, refocusing on our core purpose as social landlords, and investing in our local relationships, we as a sector can meet the challenges and achieve great things for our people.

We shouldn’t forget why we do what we do. Our not-for-profit movement is a noble cause. A safe, comfortable and affordable home can be the foundation of everything for people. Both a safety net and a springboard to success. That’s what we’re here to provide.

 

For comments or feedback, contact Greg Campbell, Partner, at Campbell Tickell on: greg.campbell@campbelltickell.com

 

Disclaimer: We welcome guest blogs and articles for our website and CT Brief. The views, opinions and positions expressed in such blogs and articles represent those of the authors and do not represent those of Campbell Tickell.


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