Tag Archives: chartered institute of housing

Housing Festival: Fishbowls, failure and complexity

A presentation at Housing Festival, which was held in the Depot, an adaptable space for creative events

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The Chartered Institute of Housing recently held the Housing Festival, which was billed as a new type of event to share new ways of working. Dyfrig Williams shares what he learnt below.

Recently, I’ve been working with the Chartered Institute of Housing to share learning from their Frontline Futures work with wider public services. This led to me being invited to moderate a Fishbowl discussion to share stories about solutions and innovations at the Housing Festival, which was being held in the Depot in Cardiff.

What the hell is a Fishbowl?

A graphic of the layout of a fishbowl, which is Five chairs surrounded by concentric circles of chairsGood question. I had to undertake a bit of research beforehand to get my head around what it was I was being asked to do. Essentially, it’s a chance to discuss a topic in a loosely structured format.

A number of chairs surround a smaller group of chairs. A few participants are selected to fill the fishbowl, while the rest of the group sit on the chairs outside the fishbowl. The moderator introduces the topic and the participants start discussing it. The audience outside the fishbowl listen in on the discussion and can take part by sitting in an empty chair in the middle, and then one of the speakers in the middle must make their way to the chairs on the outside.

Iteration is key

Esko Reinikainen spoke about the importance of iteration in his presentation at the start of the day. We got the opportunity to iterate our Fishbowl by gathering feedback from participants. We started off a bit slowly in the first fishbowl because I wanted to try and ease everyone into the process by focusing on questions. By the end of the first session though, we’d built up a real head of steam and participants were really engaged in challenging what they were hearing and how services could be improved. So the second time around we dashed through the initial discussions and encouraged people to contribute in the centre of the circle. If anyone’s planning on moderating a fishbowl, this meant that everything flowed a bit better and we had more of an opportunity to share good practice.

Learning from failure

Esko also mentioned Amy C. Edmondson’s concept of Teaming during this presentation, which starts with helping people to become curious, passionate, and empathic. I referenced another of Edmondson’s concepts, her Spectrum of Reasons for Failure. I think that this is a really handy tool for looking at failure and identifying subsequent action. We spoke about Trust a fair bit during our chats (and I’ve previously written this post about why trust is important to innovation), and I think that her dissection of what warrants blame is a really helpful tool for us as public sector staff. There are of course times where failure is not an option in public services, but too often we apportion blame for failure in inappropriate circumstances.

Ian from The Wallich shared a gut-wrenching story from the stage about how he became homeless. He could have appeared on the radar of any one of a variety of public services (health, social services, housing or the third sector), but it was The Wallich who helped him in his time of need. The complexity of his circumstance means that in this type of situation we should be looking to share lessons about what we can do better, yet too often a fear of blame is a barrier to learning, sharing and innovating within public services.

Working in complex environments

The Cynefin Framework, which is divided into the domains of Complex, Complicated, Chaotic, Simple and DisorderI shared The Cynefin Framework during the discussions, which we have used at the Good Practice Exchange to help us think about how we share practice. In simple circumstances where we can predict everything that’s going to happen, there is one right way of doing things that we can clearly apply to what we do, for instance in controlled environments like manufacturing. Yet in complex environments in which housing and other public services often operate, there is no one size fits all approach. This is when many of the approaches that Esko spoke about are most appropriate – we need to test, prototype and iterate.

We also need to think about how we can minimise our own organisational complexity so that we reduce our potential pitfalls. Do we need to create more policies for every conceivable circumstance? Can we move from process to productivity in order to empower staff to make better decisions instead? Paul Taylor has written a great post on this, and Owain Israel from Charter Housing gave a really good example of putting this into practice as they’re scaling back their formal surveying work to look at more flexible ways of checking properties. Neil Tamplin pointed out that this was a rare case of someone looking to make themselves obsolete, and Paul has written another good post that’s worth checking out on planned obsolescence as a driver for innovation.

Neil spoke about working out load on the panel, and I haven’t come across anyone in any public service who does this better than him. His Braindumps are a brilliant example of working in the open as they’re incredible roundups of his working week and interesting resources. This is so important because whilst there may not be a one size fits all approach that works for us in complex environments, there’s nothing stopping us from learning from others and adapting what other people are doing. Quite aptly, Neil has already written a great post on the event, and I couldn’t say this better than him:

“If your purpose has something to do with improving the lives of people who need housing then I would argue you are morally obligated to share anything that advances that cause, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.”

Having talked so much about taking risks and learning from failure in this post, I wanted to finish by saying how great it was that the Chartered Institute of Housing took a chance on a different format and a different type of venue. It was certainly very different from a traditional public service event, which certainly provoked a few discussions and gave me a few talking points when meeting new people. Hopefully you all took as much away from the event as I did so that we can all make a practical difference into making people’s lives better.

Trivallis: Changing culture within the frontline

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In the third of a series of posts on the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Frontline Futures Programme, Dyfrig Williams spoke with Jonathan Tumelty of Trivallis to find out how they are empowering their staff to lead service changes.

At our recent event on improving digital leadership and ownership, Chris Bolton shared a slide that showed the vast number of business fads that had been implemented within organisations in recent years. It’s probably not surprising that some staff aren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of digital transformation being the latest change process that’s being implemented at their organisation. So how can organisations go about changing the way that they do business?

Richard Pascale's chart of (many) business fads, with Digital Transformation manually added

At Tai 2017, I spoke with Jonathan Tumelty about how Trivallis have enabled frontline teams to lead their service change.

What did Trivallis do?

Trivallis found that their teams were working in silos as they were grouped by job roles. Each area of responsibility would be informed by others, but this structure almost encouraged clashes and ended up with fraught relationships between different areas of the business. They decided to align their systems geographically based on the patches that they work in, but this was easier said than done as attempts in the past hadn’t worked.

Although Trivallis knew what their end goal looked like, they decided to hand control over how a geographical structure might work to staff by holding a series of meetings to shape the change. It started off as quite a light touch process through involving managers, then they had individual conversations with key influencers who were working on the frontline. Staff were given ownership and control of the process, and there was clear communication throughout.

What did this look like in practice?

Initially, staff got people together to map their frustrations, which was in turn affecting customer satisfaction. Employees undertook an exercise where they grouped post-it notes together, which fortunately echoed the initial thought process. They developed principles for these new ways of working with staff, with the managers only offering very broad parameters. Pilot teams were set up to test the plans that had been put together by staff, and they then worked to unblock barriers that they faced. In the first few meetings the staff were waiting for directions from Managers, but eventually they began to take control of the exercise themselves. Jonathan described the process like this video from a music festival, where one person starts the discussion, and gradually more and more people get involved. People who weren’t initially keen to take part ended up really wanting to be part of it.

From the staff feedback, Trivallis created virtual teams. Now all frontline services have been split up by areas, and the next phase is to build links between each team. The services are no longer siloed services, but a multi-skilled team working around an area. Jonathan said that this localised approach had been achieved without changing policies or any change in spending – it was all about empowerment and identifying power.

The power bases, including reward; coercive; expert; information; referent; legitimate

To go back to our recent Digital Seminar where we looked at digital leadership and ownership, Kelly Doonan ran a fascinating workshop for us on influencing change. Kelly shared French and Raven’s power bases in her workshop to help people understand where their power lies. It’s fascinating here to see how managers shared their legitimate power, whilst also harnessing frontline staff’s expert power from their delivery experience. It was great to hear from Jonathan about how Trivallis have made the work a success. If you’ve improved your organisation’s work by sharing power, we’d love to hear from you about how the changes that you’ve made have resulted in better public services.

How coaching can support better frontline decision making

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How can coaching help frontline staff to make better decisions? Dyfrig Williams met with Owain Israel from Charter Housing to learn about how they’re helping staff to take ownership of complaints.

Charter Housing's logo: Their name written inside the outline of a house, with "housing people" written underneathHaving blogged about the Frontline Futures programme and the learning that can be drawn from it for frequent users of public services, I was invited to the Chartered Institute of Housing’s TAI event to find out more about how the coaching approaches have resulted in improved public services. I met Owain Israel from Charter Housing to find out how he’s putting the learning from the course into practice.

Dealing with voids

Before talking to Owain, I had very little idea about the role of surveyors in housing associations, but it was fascinating to learn more about how they improve the quality of housing. Owain’s work has a particular focus on voids, where the surveyor carries out an end of tenancy inspection to check out the property before it becomes void. This gives tenants an opportunity to sort out any issues before they get charged by the housing association.

As part of the old process, the surveyor would ideally go back into a property for a post-inspection after work has been carried out. However, they’re not always told when people will leave. At the Good Practice Exchange, we hear a lot about the process that people work to, without thinking about what the outcome is for people. Owain and his team have questioned every aspect of the process, including whether an inspection can be carried out instead of a void survey. Some contractors have only done work that has been identified in the survey, which means that other work that may be required hasn’t been done. This process has created accountability issues, with tenants occasionally being unhappy with results.

So how are Charter Housing getting to grips with this? One of the things that I really liked from Charter Housing’s work is that they’re looking to make lots of small changes, and also that they’re looking to undertake those changes incrementally. They’ve changed the survey sheet that they use and they’re looking at whether it’s always necessary to undertake a survey where the tenancy is in a reasonable condition. This means that contractors have more freedom to undertake appropriate work.

Taking ownership of complaints

The next step in the streamlining of this process is for surveyors to take more ownership of the complaints they receive. Currently, the Support Services Manager picks up complaints and spends one day a week dealing with them, which isn’t an effective use of their time. Part of the answer is technological, and Charter are giving surveyors the right information systems to get better access to data. They’re now running training sessions on the use of the system in order to upskill everyone.

The second part of this process is the human aspect, which is where the Frontline Futures course has really added value. Owain has been coaching staff so that they feel like they can deal with problems themselves without passing the issues up the hierarchy. These confidence issues fit with Jonathan Haidt’s theory on the elephant, the rider and the path, which Melys shared in the previous post. In this theory, it’s the emotional system that provides the power for the service improvement, not the rational system.

Owain’s been undertaking this coaching through meeting with individuals, where he identifies what support they need and what the blockages are. Owain hasn’t described these sessions as coaching sessions, to staff they are one-to-one meetings. These meetings have helped him to identify why staff are reluctant to make decisions themselves. He’s also used these coaching techniques within team meetings, where staff come to a meeting with a problem. They then reflect on how they’ve dealt with it in the past and looked at how they can resolve it. Surveyors are now speaking more openly about the issues they’re facing, they’re more aware of the appropriateness of their responses and they’re now taking ownership of similar queries and dealing with them themselves.

The Good Practice Exchange has undertaken lots of work in the past on empowering staff, including looking at staff trust, an essential ingredient to empowering staff. We’ve also been looking at how organisations take well managed risks in order to innovate, where we’ve found that safe to fail approaches are often likely to enable staff to deliver better services. I’ve got a book on moving away from command and control on my reading list, and talking to Owain has certainly made me even more interested in how coaching can help staff to move away from a strict focus on process to looking at how outcome focused approaches can result in better public services.

Frontline Futures: changing behaviour and empowering people

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How do we ensure that organisations work together to provide the right service in the right setting, with better outcomes for frequent users of public services? Dyfrig Williams spoke to Melys Phinnemore to learn from the Frontline Futures Programme.

Is Housing fit for the future? The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Cymru have undertaken research on where the housing sector is and where it needs to be, because service delivery is taking place in a rapidly changing environment. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act means that public services will have to work together in a different way too. Not only that, but there’s much less money to go around, and the financial footing of Housing Associations is less secure now that Universal Credit is paid directly to claimants instead of housing associations.

Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales repeatedly talks about the need to take well managed risks. The above situation is one such situation, where housing associations cannot continue to work in the same way.

What is Frontline Futures?

CIH Cymru developed Frontline Futures to help organisations to work differently in this changing environment. It‘s a practical course where learners identify, plan and develop a change project for their organisation. The programme is attended by a mix of about 3 or 4 people per organisation and typically this might be a number of frontline workers and a supervisor or line manager. They each identify and work on a change challenge after learning about the theory behind change. The programme is based over 5-6 months for a day a month. CIH have run two cohorts so far, which have looked at changing behaviour, practice and mindset.

Melys Phinnemore and Penny Jeffreys are working with CIH Cymru to develop and deliver the programme. They are particularly interested in leadership and cultural change. How can we enable people who access social housing to be the best that they can be? And how can we get staff, whose behaviour may have inadvertently taken away people’s independence, work differently. Supporting not advising by having coaching conversations with people?

Melys says that parent child type of caring or advising conversations very rarely change people’s behaviour. Saying “ I need to advise you that if you don’t stop doing this or start doing that ……you will or could become homeless” rarely leads to a better outcome. Neither does doing things for people, like filling out forms. Our helping behaviours don’t empower people to take control or encourage people to develop confidence in their own abilities. Our legacy of helping has meant that typically people will expect their social landlord to sort out noise nuisance and ball play where as private home owners do this for themselves.

Melys feels that frontline workers need to be empowered to use their discretion so that they can free up and target their resources based on need and take the well managed risks that the Auditor General describes.

What does all this mean in practice?

Melys shared an example with me of how changes had been made at Gwalia by a frontline worker. When a house became void, materials within the house were disposed because of health and safety guidance, whether they were useful or not. This rationale would have been enough to stop many projects, but this frontline worker set out to prevent this waste and developed a recycling project. She organised people to become patent qualified so that they could test and recycle electrical goods. When it was suggested that the Housing Association would be liable if anything went wrong, she worked on developing disclaimer forms. There is now an exchange shop supported by community volunteers which is thriving and not only are there savings from landfill many tenants’ are having a better start with semi-furnished homes. Early indications suggest that one of the side benefits has been some of the hard to let properties are now full and turnover at these properties has reduced. Gwalia are now looking at whether there may be an opportunity to expand this approach and even maybe develop an upcycling scheme.

How do we get people on board with changes in service delivery?

The above example clearly shows an empowered staff member that’s making tenants’ lives better. It’s early days, but staff have changed the nature of the way they talk to tenants. How can we help this change to happen within our organisations?

Melys mentioned the use of Johnathan Haidt’s theory about the elephant, the rider and the path, which is handily summarised in the video below. Haidt says that in order to enable change, you need to think about the rational system, the emotional system and the external environment.

The rider represents the rational system, which plans and problem solves. The elephant represents the emotional system that provides the power for the journey. There is a power imbalance here, so changing behaviour is difficult. The path represents the external environment. The two are more likely to complete their journey if you remove obstacles that stand in their way and it’s as short as possible. Haidt recommends that you:

  1. Give direction to the rider, so that they know where they are going
  2. Motivate the elephant, so you need to tap into emotion
  3. Shape the path to allow for easy progress.

Melys says that you have to empower and support people to make a change – give them the power to make incremental change through small initiatives that they can take ownership of. Once they’re party to the design and development of the initiative, it takes off. They can’t be part of the solution if they don’t understand the argument that’s being made. Having encouraging coaching conversations with staff help empower them to go back into their organisations and lead change.

Melys also referenced Simon Sinek’s TED talk on inspiring action, where he suggests that you should start with a clear purpose and outline your cause. He says:

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it… Why is it important to attract people who believe what you believe? Something called the Law of Diffusion of Innovation.”

In the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, innovation relies heavily on human capital and must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain. Sinek describes how changes aren’t embedded until a tipping point – the early majority won’t try something until someone else has tried it first.

A bell curve graph that illustrates when people adopt new innovations, from early innovators to early adopters,early majority,late majority to laggards

A graph illustrating the law of diffusion of innovation

Frequent users of public services who regularly contact organisations make up a significant proportion of the demand on services, which amounts to huge costs in terms of time and resource. CIH Cymru’s practical approach to learning and development is leading to financial savings and improved public services. It’s been fascinating learning about the changes that are being made, the theory behind them and most importantly about the empowered staff and tenants that the programme has produced. The Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office is currently working on a national study on behaviour change, which will share examples where public services have changed behaviour effectively. If you’re changing behaviour or the way that you allocate resources to frequent users, we’d love to hear from you.

More information about the Frontline Futures programme can be found at the CIH Cymru website at www.cih.org/cymru/frontlinefuturesprogramme.