Tech out the future of Housing!

Future house

Technology is constantly evolving, and at a phenomenal pace. SMS messaging recently celebrated its 20 year anniversary yet it is no longer the primary form of communication through a mobile handset – not now social media has nestled its way into our everyday lives. The television set has been commercially available for almost 90 years but despite our appetite for soaps, films and live sport we are watching less on a traditional set and opting for other devices such as desktop PC’s, mobiles and tablets.

This story on the BBC tells how “Local Authorities had been required by law to provide council housing since 1919” and whilst there is still very much a demand for Social Housing – is the traditional service we once knew evolving into a service that offers more than just ‘Bricks & Mortar’? Here are some of my thoughts:

 

Social Media

Whether you prefer to tweet, like, post, pin, video or get linked in; chances are you are on Social Media and if you are it’s highly likely that people who reside in social housing are too – it’s just what people do these days. Social Media is happening, regardless of your viewpoint, but if you choose not to take part it will still continue to happen – without you! If customers are choosing to express their feelings about your business, positive or otherwise, isn’t it best to have a presence yourself and engage in that conversation? You might just learn a few things along the way too – for me personally, I find a wealth of information through my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

 

Self-service

Having the option to self-serve isn’t a new thing. Supermarkets and petrol stations have offered this facility for years and now with touch screens and smartphones in the hands of almost everyone, this drive will naturally gather more momentum over time. But will this catch on in Housing? At Bromford we firmly believe in helping our customers be as self-reliant as they can be which is why we launched our new Deal last year. But when will Housing reach the point that customers can do more for themselves digitally? Customers being able to pay their rent through a mobile device, accessing their statements, obtaining financial advice and support, booking a fuel service and diagnosing their own repairs, I’m sure these are all possible but will we ever truly go mobile with them?

 

Mobile Technology

Mobile technology continues to redefine how people and businesses are interacting with one another. According to this survey, at least 72% of mobile device owners use their devices for browsing or making purchases online. These people are online whilst they are waiting for appointments, watching TV and working yet what surprises me is that some organizations are choosing not to give mobile access to their services. However, there are some companies who are well and truly embracing what mobile technology can offer, like this fantastic project; Shared Walk (which you can read about in this post from Shirley Ayres). And mobile technology is not just for the benefit of the customer. There’s an opportunity here to introduce mobile learning and training for your employees, enhanced system integration so that users can access their desktop whilst they’re visiting customers’ homes, and at some point in the future we could see Google Glass in the workplace – now that would be something!

 

Reward Schemes

Reward schemes could be a great way to increase loyalty and incentivize engagement. Here at Bromford we trialed the government’s Tenant Cashback initiative last year, Sainsbury’s and BP have been connected with Nectar for years, Boots introduced Treat Street recently and Amazon now has Amazon Local. I think we’ve all heard of Groupon and Living Social and have a fair idea of how that works, this is what Groupon’s ‘about’ page says:

Groupon

How good would Social Housing be to offer that kind of experience to its customers in their communities?! Could this be that product that truly enriches the landlord/customer relationship?

 

3D Printing

Printing has, for a long time now, been a taboo in our offices. Many of us even carried taglines such as: “Please don’t print this e-mail unless you really need to” in our email signatures. But 3D Printing would no doubt be a welcomed addition to our work. Although we are still some way off from making this phenomenon both a timely and cost-effective tool, imagine a world of Social Housing where we are able to instantly print those boiler parts we need rather than having to wait for that 7 day turnaround from suppliers? Imagine if we could design and then print that new home your customer is longing for! What if we could print that new body part for that accident prone….OK, you get where I’m going with this!

 

Like I say, these are just a few of my observations and I’m sure many of you have some of your own. Social housing is so much more than just homes that people live in. At Bromford we’re about supporting people, inspiring, and creating opportunities. We’re about changing peoples’ lives for the better!

So where do you see the future of Housing? Where do you see technology playing a part in your workplace? Are there any technological advancement’s that you think would enhance the customer experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Are your friends giving you a helping hand?

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I’ve been privileged enough to attend some pretty fantastic training sessions through my time here at Bromford and one in particular was with a brilliant guest speaker by the name of Nigel Risner. If you’re not familiar with him I encourage you to visit his website and subscribe yourself to his newsletter. I did this shortly after he presented to my Leadership session and remember reading one particular post entitled; ‘Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?’ Nigel stated:

“You are the average of the five people that you hang around with”

It’s a great saying and one I’ve not really thought about properly until now. I’m fortunate enough to have a circle of friends that stretches slightly wider than the above quota but I can’t say that I see each and every one all of the time. Some of my friends live and work hundreds of miles away, some in this country and some jet-setting or cruising around the world (lucky devils), so really I guess those that I actively see right now probably is a little closer to five.

So, what do my current circle of friends bring to the table? In no particular order (and I’ve named them A – E here so to not embarass them!), let’s take a look:

A Confident
My first friend is without a doubt the confident one of the bunch. Nothing seems to faze him. He has certain suave about the character he portrays although when you know him like I do he’s actually quite aloof and a private person. So, despite any woes or worries you may be languishing try and rise above them and apply yourself 100%, be confident and be the best you can be.

B Supportive
There will always be a moment when you need that helping hand, somebody to run an errand for you or a person to talk to. More often than not you turn to that same person, time after time. I’m fortunate enough to have a guy like this in my life right now. You always need somebody like this person. That one you can depend upon for that second opinion and to tell you how it is, not just what you want to hear. Have someone like this close by and you’ll never feel as though you’re ‘going it alone’.

C Sociable
This person is one of the friendliest of human beings I’ve ever come across. I’m not aware of anyone who’s said a bad word about him and should anyone choose to, I wouldn’t have it! He’s young, sociable, and punctual and really easy going, he’s a pleasure to be around. It’s not easy to get along with everyone, you never will I don’t think, but we can at least make every effort to make every interaction count. Always present yourself in the best fashion and you’ll make a lasting impression.

D Happy
This guy never fails to raise a smile. Call him daft; call him stupid, there are never dull moments when this guy is around; the life and soul of every party. A sense of humour is so important to me. I do my best to wear a smile every single day, no matter how I feel and what might be happening personally. A smile is radiant and infectious, go ahead and smile at the next person you see – they’ll almost always smile back at you!

E Successful
I’ve known this guy the longest of all my mates and have always admired what he has done with his life. Every group of people has at least one success story; somebody who, against all odds, no matter how big or small will always achieve great things – even when things are stacked against them. They lead from the front, they innovate, create and succeed – but most important of all they never forget where they have come from. They remember those who supported them from the beginning; and this is something I’m always mindful of.

And that’s it, these are my five. Like I said, these are the main people who currently keep my company. But are these really my fingerprints that make up my identity? In reflection I can say that I do take on some of these qualities, I’m not sure whether they come across and are perceived by the wider audience, but I’d like to think so.

So what do you think? Who would make up your five? Are you happy with the people you hang around with and do you see their qualities in you?

Is there anyone who’s zapping all of your energy, who brings you down? Is it time for a change or do your group bring the best out of you? Have a think and let me know.

Once a Leader, always a Leader

Follow the leader

Leadership is something that’s very relevant in my life right now, both at work and for me personally. Here at Bromford I’ve recently completed the first part of my Living Leadership training which is designed to deliver our core strategic objectives:

  • Delivering A Role Model Service
  • Creating A Great Place To Work
  • Leading Innovation and Change

With an itinerary that covered topics ranging from Fierce Conversations to Getting to Yes and Knowing the Numbers to Leading Change, I knew this was going to be a journey that I could look back upon to help me improve my leadership qualities. My next steps see me walking within our Talent Academy; a 12 month journey which was launched on 16th August by our CEO Mick Kent and special guest Jeff Grout. You might ask; why so much learning? Before I answer that let me share a Mahatma Gandhi quote with you that Mick used in that opening session:

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow, learn as if you were to live forever.”

We should use every opportunity we are presented with to enhance ourselves and build on our personal development, Mick himself will be the first to admit; “we are all trainees”.

For me Leadership is about how you portray yourself, how you represent the organisation you work for and the influence you have on others. And you don’t need to be directly managing anybody to be a leader. My current secondment means that I don’t have any direct responsibility of a team but I do feel that I’ve always got a wider team at heart. I feel that I have a duty of care to anyone who may turn to me for help, advice or support within their work – and even if I don’t know the answer to something I’ll always do my best to point them in the direction of somebody that will. I always try to do my best for others, encouraging their work and demonstrating a positive attitude when I’m around them, if I don’t then I would feel as though I’ve failed the people who turn to me and I’d even feel as though I’ve failed myself.

John Terry was recently stripped of the England captaincy after he was found guilty of racial abuse by the Football Association. But despite his actions he is still seen as a role model to many young Chelsea fans up and down the country and most probably in many countries around the world too. Chelsea’s recent dip in form, which led to the sacking of manager Roberto Di Matteo last week, is said by some to have been contributed to by John Terry’s absence through suspension and injury. Whatever your opinion of John Terry, rightly or wrongly, he is a leader. On and off the pitch, inside and outside of football, people watch his every move and a number of people look up to him for inspiration, guidance and support. So John must always be at his best, if not for his own sake most definitely for others.

Andy & Paul

I’m not posting this saying I want to be the next John Terry, I’m not the best at football for starters (although I’m told I do resemble Paul Scholes in the looks department) but we can take something from his situation. John Terry has achieved pretty much everything a footballer would dream of having captained his team to Premier League glory, lifted the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Community Shield. He’s won the Champions League, PFA Player of the Year and captained his country – but is John Terry the best player in world; no. Are there things he wishes he would have done differently; I’d say so. Is he still learning; most definitely!

Leadership is a journey that’s one for all, not all for one. You can be at the very top of your game but if you’ve not careful things can come tumbling down very quickly around you. If we want to achieve amazing things in our careers we cannot afford to become complacent. We need to surround ourselves with fantastic people, have a willingness to get better at what we do and we must use our experiences to help one another. Even when our circumstances change we must remain true to ourselves and one another. If we want to be better leaders we must continue to learn. I believe that we must act on the basis; Once a Leader, always a Leader.

Pay it Forward

I remember watching a film some 10 years ago called Pay it Forward. It wasn’t the greatest movie I’ve ever seen but its message has stuck with me to this day. The movie is based on a novel of the same name which tells the story of a young boy who does three good deeds for others in need. All the child asks in return is that they pass on the good deed to three other people and keep the cycle going. It made me think that I should be doing more for others.

Over the past few days I’ve been badgering my family, friends and colleagues to help me on my personal journey to promote awareness and raise much needed funds for men’s health including prostate and testicular cancer. And over the coming weeks I’ll continue to give them all a gentle nudge to dip into their pockets, tell people about the charity and tweet where and when they can to get the message even further widespread. For me the 11th month of the calendar will now take on a new name, no longer November but instead Movember!

I’ve always been keen to support fundraising of good causes. I find it difficult to walk past somebody collecting in the high street without putting in some loose change and just as hard to pass up the opportunity of re-tweeting for somebody who’s asking for their message to get further into the digital domain, so it seemed only right that I now try and make a difference to peoples’ lives using some of my own initiative.

In the workplace we are always conjuring up fantastic ways of raising funds for charity. A number of colleagues are keen runners and one in particular raises huge amounts of money each year for Children with Cancer UK, a leading national charity dedicated to the fight against all childhood cancers. Another colleague runs the brilliant Link Romania Shoebox Appeal where boxes filled with gifts are passed onto families at Christmas time who live in some pretty appalling living conditions. These are just a couple examples of some amazing fund-raising people I know do; year in, year out – and I’ve supported both. But now it’s my turn to help raise the coffers!

Sadly I lost my father-in-law to cancer this month. Dave was more than just my wife’s Dad; he was like a friend to me. We’d quite often speak on the phone or text each other, we’d shared many family holidays, played snooker together, even shared a similar taste in music and often went to concerts together to see the likes of Kasabian and Kings of Leon. Dave had, in my opinion, three of the finest characteristics any human being can possess; a huge amount of patience, heaps of kindness and a seemingly endless amount of time to listen to what you had to say. Having spoken to friends and family who knew Dave, they all said the same.

I’m hoping that these three gifts from Dave will be passed onto at least three others whose lives he touched and they in turn do the same to three or more others that they know. This is why my post this time is more of a personal one. Movember is in Dave’s memory and I’m proud to be able to do something in his name and hoping that this post touches at least three people who, like me, can help make a difference.

Movember isn’t for everyone so you may choose to do something different; bake a cake for a colleague who needs cheering up, do some voluntary work for a charity close to you or take the rubbish out for your elderly neighbour who finds it difficult. No matter how big or small, if you did just three random acts of kindness and the good deeds were reciprocated – how amazing would that be?!

So, it’s nearly time for me to step up to the mark and set deed number one in motion. For one month I’m throwing away the razor blades and donning the coveted nostril tickler known as the moustache. If you’d like to support me and my team you can do so by clicking on my link below.

Thanks!

Donate to me

Sow our Futures

 

This week saw my role take yet another turn as I was asked to take part in an online debate through the Guardian website discussing how housing providers can help to cut rent arrears. The approach to take part came just last week and whilst I was pleased to have been asked I must admit I was a little confused as to why they would ask me. How does Tenant Cashback appeal to this audience? Why me? It got me thinking about an earlier blog I’d written: Your presence is out there!

So, the discussion is only hours away and I’m doing some reading in preparation for the midday kick off. Lots of debate around Universal Credit and Bedroom Tax – I’m still scratching my head, a little self-critical on the value of my presence but hey, I’ll give it 100% and speak of what I know.

The introductions are laid down and the conversations under way. Questions and viewpoints come from all over with customer’s welfare rightly at the forefront. There’s talk of rent collection, Universal Credit, Direct Debits and customer eviction notices! These are some worrying but very genuine and pressing matters that are circulating within the very organisations from where we work, but there’s an underlying message behind all of this which I quote from one of the commenters on the forum:

“Education, education, education”

Something new is happening right now and something that some of us know little about or we are uncomfortable with, so we need to ensure the message is out there and we need to support our customers and our colleagues. But we must remember that with education also comes communication. I made a comment in the debate:

“If customer’s are given a voice they will speak, give them a choice they will make one, give them an opportunity they will take it.”

In the shape of society today we can ill-afford to walk around with the blinkers on, we need to open-up our senses and be more aware of what’s going on around us, whether that means to integrate our services, listen to advice from others or adapt our approaches – we simply cannot continue on a single track without accepting and embracing change. Some changes will happen regardless, with or without our influences, so it’s down to us to greenhouse our ideas for the sake of our customers and each other – we need to sow our futures.

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Self Serve Airways

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Picture this: you’re at the airport check-in desk about to board a plane to your favourite destination and you’re presented with an option; would you like to be checked in by the assistant (who appears to be very helpful, approachable and friendly) or with their new ‘self service’ check-in desk which will mean £20 less on your flight cost?

OK, whichever option you’ve chosen you’re now on board the ‘big bird’ and have taken your seat. It’s a lovely aircraft with all the mod-cons including your own television screen in the back of the facing headrest, it has several entertainment channels on demand, a library of music and movies, several radio channels and your own set of headphones. However, if you want to benefit from these you’ll have to bump up your flights costs by an extra £12. You suddenly remember you’ve packed that book you had for your birthday into your hand luggage – so what do you do? Pay £12 for the airplanes entertainment or will you stick your nose into a good story for the next couple of hours?

It’s about one hour into the flight and the food trolley makes its way up the aisle. You’ve not long eaten as you were up early and made yourself some sandwiches to snack on whilst you awaited your boarding call. So, not being particularly hungry are you still going to eat for the sake of it or would you rather have had the option to exclude meals from your travel costs saving yourself a further £20?

After the food, the trolley re-appears but this time loaded up with empty bin liners. For those that took the option of food they are asked to gather their used plastic cutlery, plastic wrappers and empty juice cartons and place them into the refuse sacks. It’s a great idea from the airline to reduce ‘standing time’ on the airports holding bays and instead maximise their air-miles with paying passengers to increase revenue.

These are some great examples of win-win scenarios for both passenger and airline.

But then the most unusual announcement comes from the cabin crew, one of them asks if any of the passengers would like to take control of the flight for the remainder of the journey! You’d have total responsibility of the flight deck and its electronic control panel. It’s pretty much self-functional but any risk of heavy turbulence would mean you taking the reigns, self-serving the flight path and ensuring a safe and steady landing for you, the people around you and the expensive piece of kit you’ve been given the responsibility of looking after! There’s no talk of money as yet but I’m guessing most of you have already come to the conclusion that this is a crazy idea and would rather leave this to the experts, right?

Now, let’s take time out from for a quick reality check. As far as I know this kind of airline doesn’t exist (thankfully) but there are a series of similarities we can compare to Tenant Cashback. It’s great to be given the opportunity to do more for yourself, to do things your own way, within your comfort zone and through choice. As long as nobody comes to harm, there is minimal risk and there’s the bonus of an associated saving for all involved – what can be the harm in trying?

Here at Bromford our aim is to help people to be the very best that they can be and one of the ways we’re tying to deliver this is through our vision of self-reliance. This is exactly what we’re trying to achieve with our Home Rewards Club scheme. For those customers who have the ability and desire to, we want them to be in a position where they are able to do more for themselves. We want to build and boost their confidence and we want to develop their skills and employment opportunities by linking them with Connect. We want to change lives!

We’re just past the half-way point of our 12 month pilot and as we approach the final stretch I can honestly say there’s some learning for us all. Our initial analysis of the scheme was published in May and already we can say that the scheme has presented us with a whole host of opportunities and new ways of thinking.

So, if you work within an organisation who is thinking of taking on Tenant Cashback, think about a few everyday scenarios where you pay, or could pay, for things you don’t need. Are these things you can do yourself or could do without? If the risk is minimal and you are able, why wouldn’t you want to be given a choice to self-serve and reap a financial incentive? Our customers are no different.

 

Interested in knowing more? Please feel free to get in touch.

homerewardsclub@bromford.co.uk

www.bromford.co.uk

Much, much more than bricks and mortar

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A couple of weeks ago my wife and I invited our friends and family to a momentous occasion at our local church as we made the decision to have our 22 month old daughter christened. In the week that led to it I was asked to attend a pre-christening meeting with the other parents and godparents and we talked about what baptism meant to us and why others make the decision to welcome their children into the church.

Now don’t worry, I’m not writing this to convince you to join with me in my religious beliefs but instead to think about something that we discussed that evening about our children:

“What are you going to do to support them on this journey you have put them on?”

This may not be exactly what was said but it was something along these lines. In social housing we must ask this same question of ourselves. What else do we do aside from handing over the key to the front door?

Here at Bromford our Housing Managers are geared up for trialling the use of iPads, Connect has launched, Home Rewards Club is in full swing, Bromford Deal is underway, social media is being championed and our new interactive website is on its way, all of which we feel will enrich the relationships we have with our customers. Not only this but we also feel we are creating a raft of opportunities and choice for our customers who have a greater say in how their tenancy is run and can make decisions on how they wish to contribute to their community or enrich their employment prospects. This really is all about our customers and supporting them long after they’ve put the key into the door of their new home.

Behind our bricks and mortar there really is so much more on offer and our mission statement of “creating home and communities where people really want to stay” has never rang more true.

As I conclude, I ask you to think about your approach to social housing and perhaps think a little differently about your ‘bricks and mortar’ – what if the bricks were your customers and the mortar your colleagues? For me these are the true foundations of social housing.

 

I give reference to a fab blog by my colleague Paul Taylor – please read it – it makes you think about what we do in Housing and what others perceptions of us are.