RHP: Great customer service, great employer

A photo of RHP's 5 year strategy mural

RHP’s 5 year strategy mural

It’s impossible to have effective public services without staff that are committed and motivated to deliver them. So how do we go about doing that? Dyfrig Williams visited London housing provider RHP Group to learn more about their approach.

I’ve always been interested in how organisations make the most of their staff. When I worked at Participation Cymru, we noticed that organisations that harness their staff’s knowledge and capabilities tend to be the ones who are good at involving the public when planning their work.

So I was really interested in the work RHP are doing, and when the opportunity came to visit the organisation after meeting their Chief Executive David Done, I was as keen as mustard.

Culture

One of the first things that struck me is the effort that RHP put into building and maintaining the culture of the business. RHP recruit people based on behaviours, and subsequently measure performance against these skills and behaviours rather than qualifications. The assessment centres at interviews focus on that, and once employees have been appointed, all new starters go through a “wow 3 weeks” of induction that ensures that all new starters have the same experience and are aware of the organisations’ values.

Their approach to culture and empowerment isn’t something that just applies to new employees. Existing employees had said that they wanted the opportunity to stay and progress within the organisation, so RHP developed a Climbing Frame approach to staff development that allows existing staff to move up the organisation through promotion, or move sideways through a secondment.

Learning and Development

A photo of RHP's meeting room, which is nicely decorated to provide a relaxed environment

RHP’s meeting room – a bit different to your average one

RHP’s learning and development approach is based on gaps in their business, for example their approach to risk management and decision making. I’ve often felt that the traditional training course approach to personal development is a tick-box exercise (I think only about three of the courses that I’ve attended have genuinely changed the way that I work in about eleven years of working in public services), so it was interesting to see how RHP is favouring a bite-size approach to events that last between ninety minutes and half a day.

This approach includes the Great Place to Think sessions, where external speakers are invited to speak on topics that are relevant to the organisation. Wayne Hemmingway has spoken on creativity and Gerald Ratner spoke about resilience and bouncing back from failure.

The Great Place to Debate sessions also give staff the opportunity to debate contentious issues. RHP is moving into offering five year tenancies, and points from the “All new social tenancies should be offered on five year terms – yes v no” debate informed its approach.

The Live Lounge also harnesses staff’s own learning, as employees lead discussions on their areas of interest, including topics as diverse as social media or politics. Live Lounges are 3-2-1 discussions (held at 3 o’clock, 2 way discussions for 1 hour). One employee who is a personal trainer spoke about health, and another employee movingly spoke about their mental health experiences.

The Good Practice Exchange has been working with public service partners on Behaviour Change Festivals across Wales, including in Bangor, where the Centre for Behaviour Change used gamification to influence attendee behaviour (it’s worth checking out Participation Cymru’s blogpost on this for more details). So I was really interested in how RHP are using the approach to look at how employees react to high pressure situations. They developed games with an external company, where points are rewarded on decisions they made during the game and whether they made the right decisions and the consequences of those decisions. The scenarios were based on what people experience at RHP, so employees could see and empathise with the challenges that their fellow employees faced. And as someone who has a dubious taste in murder mysteries, I absolutely loved how they have used those scenarios to test how staff make decisions under pressure!

I also learnt how RHP have developed RHPedia, an online knowledgebase in the mould of Wikipedia that equips people with the knowledge they need to deal with any enquiries and to deal with specific issues. What I loved about this approach to knowledge sharing is that anyone can add their expertise to the site. The next stage will be to offer this site to customers

And if all that wasn’t enough, RHP also have an internal volunteering scheme. Whilst that isn’t unusual in itself, 107 people volunteer out of the 250 people who work for the organisation (which includes people who donate to support the projects that employees volunteer on).

Benchmarking

If you’ve made it this far through the blogpost, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that RHP is an Investors in People gold organisation. RHP have used the Times 100 to benchmark it’s success in the field, where it came fifth in the UK, and it now uses the Great Place to Work Award. This year, RHP were placed at number one for this award. They also use the Customer Service Index to see what others are doing and what makes them good, whilst also asking customers what a very good service would look like.

And the feedback shows that all this work is worthwhile.96% of employees are satisfied with working for RHP and 83% of customers said they are satisfied with the service they receive. And Geraldine Clarke, RHP’s L&D Advisor told me that “If you want to be great at customer service, you’ve got to be a great employer. You can’t be one without the other.” If you’re similarly looking at how you can make the most of the people within your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.

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