Adaptability is king

Don’t get me wrong, cash is clearly important and financial sustainability is crucial for any organisation. But anyone who has heard me speak about transformation in the sector over the last four years will be familiar with the following quote from Charles Darwin:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

And never has that quote seemed as pertinent. The need to adapt and evolve are now critical success factors for organisations in all sectors right now.

When we look back on this period of crisis, I am sure that adaptability – whether in adjusting the overall business model or making more tactical changes to the way services are delivered in a time of lockdown – will be a critical learning point.

Some organisations have got it right and some organisations have got it wrong. Although a once in a century global pandemic is perhaps an unfair test to determine which organisations are best placed to adapt to change (as change isn’t usually this drastic!), it does help to highlight the importance of ensuring that adaptability and agility are hardwired into the way we all work.

We’re still not through this current crisis period, but it’s important that as a sector we start to plan now on how we want our organisations to operate in a post Covid-19 world. Some key thoughts on the learning points we can take so far, and some of the longer-term impacts are:

Technology is our friend, and a necessity

Our Future Gazing Future Shaping series of reports (published in 2016 and 2019) highlighted that the housing sector has been slower in adopting new technology and implementing modern ways of working, than other sectors. The often-cited reason for this is that housing customers are not ready to receive technology-based services. That view needs to change. If anything, the current crisis has highlighted how much of a necessity technology is in the sector and society at large. If we are about to enter a period a long-term shielding of vulnerable individuals, we are going to need to better utilise technology to ensure they are provided with the support they require. This will include interventions ranging from using technology to tackle loneliness, right the way through to using smart technology to track when repairs are required or remotely monitor homes.  

Home working works

It’s well documented that many have adapted quickly and largely seamlessly to home working over the last few weeks (some stating that in a week they achieved what they planned to take three years), proving that by and large it works. The benefits of home working are huge, and we should all protect against an immediate shift back to the status quo. But it does create new and different challenges – ones which HR teams in many housing associations probably need to start thinking about now. For example – how do you build a consistent organisation culture with limited face to face contact? If home working is the norm, can you recruit someone with the right skills who lives 100, 1,000 or 10,000 miles away from office (answer – probably!) and what does this mean for traditional views around regional salary markets and approaches to performance management? This is before we even get into the scale of the opportunity for re-purposing existing offices into homes.

Ethical leadership is critical

One of the lasting impacts I hope will come from this crisis, is a stronger focus on ethical leadership. This concept had already started to gain some traction last year in response to examples of unethical leadership across politics and a range of business sectors. We have an opportunity to press the re-set button here and promote leadership which is based on a stronger set of ethical values. Some excellent examples have already begun to emerge with brewer re-purposing their breweries to make hand sanitiser, through to highly paid executives foregoing large bonus schemes to protect staff jobs. To achieve this going forward we will need strong corporate governance, a commitment to diversity and a focus on values. The housing sector has a real opportunity to be a leading light is this field. 

We can tackle climate change

We can’t forget that post Covid-19, we still need to tackle climate change. But as our lives have changed so radically over the last four weeks, that daunting task has suddenly become much more achievable. After transport, housing is the sector that contributes the most to carbon emissions in the UK. All in the housing sector should now be using the current crisis as an opportunity to catalyse plans to become carbon neutral organisations. This should start by seeking to embed new ways of working to help reduce travel related emissions. But it should be using pauses in development programmes to review other areas such as how we build, maintain and manage new properties.

The most important lesson of all

The last decade has seen a significant period of change, including three genuinely ‘game changing’ events for the housing sector (credit crunch, Grenfell and Covid-19). We don’t know exactly what the next game changing event will be, but we do know that change is an ever constant. Organisations across all sectors have struggled to deal with change and have been slower to adapt than what they should have been. This current crisis has already however created some new opportunities and taught us some important lessons – perhaps the most important of all being that adaptability is essential.

Michael Appleby, Markets and Growth Director at Aquila, Altair’s parent company with extensive experience delivering project on a range of projects including TOMs, transformation and service improvement, organisation design and review, change, strategy development, market and competitor analysis. For more details and contact information please view Michael’s profile here. Follow Michael on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn