Lessons from Campbell Tickell’s WhatsApp CEO group
Partner, Campbell Tickell
It doesn’t get any easier in the housing sector, does it? Along with health, housing has long been seen as the area of public policy affected by more changes in legislation, guidance and practice than any other. But the changes and challenges of the past couple of years have taken matters to new heights.
Last year, ahead of the first lockdown, Campbell Tickell set up a WhatsApp group for housing chief executives. We had always been conscious that the position of a CEO is not an easy one. You are the key leader of your organisation, but you need to share and unload too, as you face up to real-life challenges. Where do you turn?
Your chair and board members may not provide the engagement you need, however positive the relationships. It isn’t easy to share everything with your executive members who report to you. Many CEOs have coaches, but that role is different, and coaches are commonly sourced from outside one’s sector. What about other CEOs though? Especially when all are facing similar and directly comparable challenges – which was where we all found ourselves with the arrival of the pandemic.
Earlier in the pandemic, the group’s focus was inevitably on immediate issues such as:
- Managing repairs and judging what was deliverable
- Keeping in touch with residents, especially the most vulnerable
- Mental health and wellbeing of customers and staff
- Spiking domestic violence and ASB
- Accommodating street homeless people
- Managing care homes while protecting both residents and staff
- Tenant hardship
- Making remote working – and virtual governance – effective
- Safe working practices, and access to sufficient PPE
“Colleagues have recognised the value of sharing where there is no need to compete, but every need to work together. That must be one of the big takeaways from the way we have all had to face up to the pandemic.”
The group’s membership swelled and swelled, to 220+ CEOs of housing associations and arm’s-length management organisations (ALMOs), drawn from right across the UK and into the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps as remarkable, membership has remained at that level to the present day.
The amount of ‘traffic’ has inevitably reduced – over the first six to eight weeks of the group’s life, we were seeing up to 150 messages a day posted – but it remains active to this day, and for its members, an invaluable medium to share information, ideas and good practice. While the prevailing issues have shifted from those requiring immediate attention at the onset of the virus, the current topics demanding CEOs’ attention also require sustained focus and agility, and shared insight continues to be valuable.
Current key issues
Over recent months, attention has gravitated to longer term questions, including:
- Demands of existing housing stock: fire safety, building safety, decarbonisation
- Increased regulatory focus on consumer matters, including resident engagement
- Latent demand for repairs not reported during lockdowns
- Effects of furlough and Universal Credit uplift ending
- Funding for cladding replacement
- Costs and lack of availability of staff and materials
- Data, artificial intelligence and augmented reality technology
- Funding new housing to help tackle homelessness and meet continuing demand
- Role of the office and expectations of hybrid working
- Engaging more effectively with diversity and inclusion
- Changing housing demand – location, space etc
This group showcases much of what is best about the housing sector, with a willingness to share, collaborate, develop partnerships. In the early days of the pandemic, it led for instance to some joint purchasing of equipment and supplies. The ‘Media, Docs and Links’ section of the group’s feed is a veritable library of policies, procedures, action plans and best practice guidance.
Colleagues have recognised the value of sharing where there is no need to compete, but every need to work together. That must be one of the big takeaways from the way we have all had to face up to the pandemic, and find positive ways through it, in the interests of our customers, our staff, our local partners and our communities.