· 6 min read · Features

How Anchor embraces change


Rather than adapting to change as it comes, Anchor is actively preparing for it

Swathes of chic, modern-looking glass, houses that rotate on turntables to provide sunlight and shade, and dedicated areas for yoga and alfresco dining. Not the vision that typically springs to mind in relation to care homes for the elderly.

And yet this might be the future of retirement homes according to retirement housing and care home provider Anchor – a future that could also, according to its Silver Chic: The future of retirement housing and care report, involve virtual pets, ambient monitoring walls, and homes connected by a series of futuristic-looking bridges.

Of course such projections are a far cry from the downtrodden spaces often associated with institutional care, and indeed with the care home scandals of recent years. But so too is Anchor’s Norton House, a care home in Victoria, London that HR magazine visits one chilly winter morning.

“I was at one of our villages the other day at a dinner where a chef had done an absolutely stunning meal, and all the residents came in their finery and were having a great time talking to each other,” HR director Sue Ingrouille recounts as she greets Norton House residents. “I was talking to one resident who was saying they’d just been to the gym and how great that was. Another lady came over and said she was on her own and was a bit worried, so we introduced her to other people and soon got her socialising.”

Ingrouille explains that these retirement villages – of which Anchor boasts three, and which involve predominately leasehold properties co-located with a care home – are the organisation’s “first step in foreseeing the future”. “You can buy your own property and when you need to you can have help, then you can get more help. Then you can move into a care home,” she explains. “You’ll have all your friends around you, you’ll have a restaurant, you’ll have a swimming pool.”

Revolutionising the way we think about elderly care and what this might look like in future is something Ingrouille and her organisation are incredibly passionate about. She describes what attracted her to the position at Anchor when it came up during her time working as a headhunter at Norman Broadbent. “I had two elderly parents and when this job came up I thought: that’s really important to me. It really chimed... I couldn’t think of anything more important.”

Fortunately for Anchor, dramatic organisational change is something Ingrouille also has strong feelings about. “What I’m passionate about doing is managing change really well,” Ingrouille reveals, recounting how the venture she lead at Orange as HR director – launching an at the time revolutionary B2B data arm – was very much a leap of faith back then. “We hadn’t even started selling data at that time, it was purely mobile for customers. I was asked to lead on the B2B side so we developed a whole different segment to the business,” she says.

Having the faith to “get stuck in” and help visualise a radically different future is something all HR professionals should be doing, no matter their sector, feels Ingrouille.

“I would advise people to seize the opportunity and see what the next thing is,” she says. “I’m fascinated to see what care might look like in 15 years’ time,” she adds, citing the US example where some providers have started offering homes for parents and their children, who are perhaps only 20 years apart in age, to live together.

Managing change and looking to the future involves several challenges for Anchor. As England’s largest not-for-profit housing association, with 662 rented schemes and 225 leasehold estates (additional to its 120 care homes), it will be seriously affected by a rent reduction of 1% a year for the next four years, mandatory for all providers of social housing. Added to this is the National Living Wage and the looming threat of a care cap. “Funding into care is the big issue,” says Ingrouille of this latter challenge. “We want to make sure people get high quality care, which does cost money.”

She explains that Anchor already pays the living wage (as set by the Living Wage Foundation) to employees accredited to a certain level, but that George Osborne’s Living Wage will still add significantly to the wage bill. “The rent reduction is also a lot of money to us,” she adds. “That’s £30 million over four years so we have to do things differently. We’ve got to think: ‘what can we stop doing, what can we ask someone else to do for us?’ Are there services we’ve got that smaller organisations can’t afford to fund themselves and might want to buy?”

Technology will be key. “We have thousands of locations that are dispersed and our managers who run those locations have to travel around,” says Ingrouille. “It’s not the best use of time or resource so we’re looking at how we can better use technology.”

The most successful HR professionals, in Ingrouille’s view, are those able to support transformation but also identify the change that needs to happen. “While of course I run a function, when I’m round the executive table I don’t talk about HR I talk about the business; I talk about the five-year plan, the opportunities, the financials,” she says.

Her advice to others : “You’ve got to know how the financials work, you’ve got to understand how the business runs and it doesn’t do any harm to go to other businesses. I often have a career discussion with HR people where I say ‘it’s time for you to move on, but move on and come back.’”

Regarding managing such potentially radical, and for staff possibly frightening, change, Ingrouille cites transparency. “It’s about letting people know about the journey,” she says. “We have a banner with our five-year growth plan on in all of our locations, so everyone knows what it is.”

She explains that the organisation also hosts regular Directors Direct events, where employees can ask senior-level individuals anything. And it’s not only Anchor executives who staff are encouraged to challenge. The organisation is involved in a range of lobbying activity, from its Grey Pride campaign petitioning the government to appoint a dedicated minister for older people, to recording a song, See Yourself, designed to change perceptions of older people. (This raised £15,000 for charity Contact the Elderly.)

Anchor’s focus on harnessing strong appetite for such activity is one reason engagement levels are high, feels Ingrouille, with the organisation this year making it into The Sunday Times Top 100 Best Places to Work ranking for the first time. “Our engagement is tracking at 77%. When you think the UK average is 68% we’re really proud of the fact we’ve got that much differential in a sector that’s really tough,” she says, adding: “We’re trying to treat our employees brilliantly so they in turn treat our residents brilliantly.”

But Anchor still has some way to go convincing others how rewarding a career in care can be. Men currently make up just 18% of the sector’s workforce, and International Longevity Centre and Anchor research has found that if current gender-specific employment rates continue England could face a shortfall of 718,000 care workers by 2025.

The organisation faces a serious recruitment challenge when it comes to young people as well. “Anchor has struggled and I think it’s still got a way to go if I’m honest,” says Ingrouille: “Care can have a bad reputation. So we need to demonstrate that it can be exciting. ”

The organisation is making great strides in doing just this. Adorning the office are colourful, inspiring pictures of real-life Anchor customers and their care workers. One features a pair in matching Liverpool FC scarves, another pair bonding over their pet dogs; the lure such imagery could have on someone deciding on a career path is clear to see.

Ingrouille explains that it’s crucial to capitalise on the reasons people are attracted to care. Offering a strong employment proposition, through measures like the Living Wage Foundation’s living wage, is also vital. “We have to compete with retail; if you’re a young person and weighing up a career you might be predominantly driven by money,” she says. “So we wanted to increase that pool. Once we’ve got our people we want to invest in training and the career pathway and keep them – and we are keeping them.”

Ingrouille is confident that Anchor’s future is an exciting one. The organisation recently acquired 24 Ideal Carehomes and five Cavendish Healthcare Group care homes, and has embarked on a cultural change programme to integrate these new sites.

Difficult decisions, such as that made in 2014 to close Anchor’s shared services office and make 300 people redundant, will inevitably have to be made, feels Ingrouille. But she is confident her department can manage these as effectively as in this case, where extensive support in CV writing and job-hunting meant “most left saying thank you”.

“When I came in the function wasn’t performing very well. It was very transactional, it wasn’t enabling the business to do things better, it wasn’t managing change. So I brought all that in,” says Ingrouille, reflecting on her four years at Anchor.

And this has, she iterates, been largely down to reconnecting with the bigger picture: past, present and, of course, future. “We should be discussing world economic issues because they will affect organisations in the UK. We should all know what’s going on in the Middle East and China,” she enthuses. “Those are the things we’ve got to know about because they’re going to affect what people can spend. We can’t carry on doing what we’re doing today tomorrow.”