Bringing culture change home

A new mission, vision, values and strategic plan needed to be backed up by a shift to an achievement culture at Hyde Housing Association

The organisation

Hyde Housing Association is a housebuilder operating in London, the South East, the east of England and the East Midlands. Founded in 1967, it provides a combination of homes that are available to buy or let. Most properties are new builds and are classed as ‘affordable housing’, which means low-income households can buy property at prices lower than market value. Many can be bought through a shared ownership scheme, where the buyer pays a mortgage on a share of the property and pays rent to a housing association on the rest. Typically, it allows people to buy a first home with a smaller deposit and lower monthly rent payments than normal in the private sector.

The problem

In 2017 Hyde celebrated its 50-year anniversary, which seemed as good time to step back, look at how far the organisation had come, where it currently was, and where it wanted to go next. This need for assessment came right from the top, from CEO Elaine Bailey.

In taking stock of the organisation, Bailey and the wider senior team identified a number of cultural issues. These included Hyde not being as focused on delivery as it could be, not getting things right first time as often as it could, not working well across organisational silos, and handovers between departments damaging the customer experience.

These findings were backed by stakeholder surveys where feedback showed that, although doing good work, Hyde was ‘a bit vanilla as a brand’ and wasn’t making the most of its size and muscle. Feedback from individual residents (Hyde’s customers) also revealed that repairs weren’t being done in a timely manner.

As head of organisational development at Hyde Sue Bunt explains, the housing association needed to undergo a shift in strategy, and in turn a shift in culture.

“It was a really joined-up piece of work, around looking at a whole new brand strategy in terms of the vision and the values, which linked into the strategy,” she says. “And then the people question that flowed from that was that if we want to be doing these things in the future to hold our own, to grow, to be a sector leader, then we need to address some of the cultural issues that we see in our organisation.

“We didn’t want to become a really task-focused one-directional organisation. We wanted to keep those things that make us a nice place to work. But we needed to up our game a little bit in terms of what we expect of our people, how we expect them to do it, and so on,” Bunt adds.

The method

Out of this desire to ensure the business was fit for the future came a new vision – ‘a great home for everyone’ – and a new mission: ‘to give people a roof over their head so they can make a home’. Then came a change to the organisation’s strategic plan, which became about growth (building more homes), facilitating easy-to-use landlord services (digitalisation), and being as efficient as possible. An achievement culture was also included as an objective of the strategic plan, which focused around the six key themes of focus and clarity, delivery at pace, high expectations, empowerment, collaboration, and celebration.

Bunt explains that, in order to fulfil this strategy to build more homes, make transactions easier and more digital, and leverage funding for homebuilding, Hyde “needed to change the way we did things”.

The challenge for HR was ensuring staff were united behind the new vision, mission and strategy. Employees would have to buy in to a new set of values: ‘we’re doers, we’re professional, we’re open and we’re ambitious.’ Everybody needed to be on the same page. But this was easier said than done.

“It was very easy to say ‘we need to change our culture’. My challenge was where do we think we are, what needs to be different and how does it need to be different? To start with there was a bit of toing and froing just to try and build a consensus about what the future looked like,” says Bunt.

As the push for culture change was coming from the top, but would perhaps be seen and felt most by those on the frontline of service delivery, a combined top-down, bottom-up approach was deemed best to drive this cultural change.

From the top-down standpoint there was an internal communications campaign that culminated in the unveiling and explaining of the new brand strategy, vision, mission and values at a staff conference in April 2017.

To highlight the need for change and develop new behaviours from the bottom-up, various workshops were held in the months leading up to launch. It was important that these workshops were delivered to employees right across the business and at all seniority levels, and that they were interactive, with staff encouraged to figure out what the values mean to them. For example, what being professional, or being a doer, looks like in their specific role. These workshops helped Hyde to solidify the behaviours that would be needed to fulfil its aims going forwards.

As with all change though, managers would hold the key to grassroots onboarding. As such Hyde ran awareness-raising workshops with 200 managers in May and June 2017. The CEO attended each workshop to personally set out the need for change. The achievement culture was explained and so were the tools that would be in place to support managers. Following this 70 of these key personnel were selected to then attend an Achieving Success Together programme in October.

“They weren’t necessarily senior people; they were a mixture of people who we thought either managed very big teams, very important teams, or who we knew were key influencers,” says Bunt.

This programme was delivered through a series of half-day or day-long workshops looking at the six themes of the achievement culture. Managers were then tasked with sharing what they’d learned with manager colleagues and team members who weren’t on the programme. “Those sort of cascade conversations were really important to try to get everybody engaged in thinking ‘we can’t just carry on as we are’,” she adds.

The result

The figures speak for themselves. In a staff survey conducted in June 2017, just after the new strategy, mission, vision and values were launched at the staff conference, 97% of employees said they understood the vision, 98% understood the mission, and 95% said the new values fitted with the new strategy. In a February 2018 survey the numbers were similarly impressive: 81% said Hyde’s mission made them feel they have an important job, and the same number agreed Hyde is an organisation run on strong values.

Engagement also stands the highest it’s ever been, reaching 81% in March 2018 compared to 65% in February 2016. Bunt admits that not all of this can be attributed directly to the culture change. But “that sense of purpose and some of the things we’ve put in around the culture have definitely contributed to that increase in engagement score,” she says.

“If people aren’t feeling positive about the organisation and what it does they’re less likely to want to stay,” she reports.

HR has worked hard to cement the values and achievement culture through all people practices; from inductions to appraisals, career development, recognition and reward. By making it clear what people have to do to succeed in the organisation, and what they can achieve by living the values, it was able to ensure the shift wasn’t merely superficial.

In reward, for example, the values and behaviours are being used as base criteria for awarding bonuses. There’s also a discretionary bonus from the CEO of £1,500 per person or £1,000 per person in a team if that team is nominated. The nominating manager has to show how the individual or team has demonstrated Hyde’s values and behaviours, and the CEO then selects which “culture carriers” to recognise.

“We’re not just saying we have an achievement culture; we’re trying from an HR point of view to embed that. To both underpin the achievement culture but to continue to create it,” says Bunt.

“We’re looking to really integrate it in a proud way into our approach to HR.”