Leaders at Housing Associations. People leadership through the first wave of the coronavirus crisis
Leaders are facing the greatest challenge of their careers. As stated by McKinsey & Co:
“The goal for digital leaders is to emerge from this not having just “managed” the crisis but being stronger because of it.
For this reason, it’s important…to keep a steady hand on initiatives and programs that can help the business become tech forward.”
In this edition housing association Futr Spotlight, we caught up with Daniel O’Connell, Head of HR at Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), to share his thoughts on the crisis and how his team is responding to the needs of their customers and employees.
Please could you give a brief intro to yourself and BHT?
“BHT is a specialist organisation and charity providing services supporting mental health, homelessness, addiction, housing and advice across Sussex.
About 20% of our staff have personally used our homelessness services or accessed similar services – this is a relatively unique source of our strength, as they become key ambassadors in supporting people with complex and multiple needs in the community.
On me – I lead the people function here at BHT. I work with our Directors, Board and staff on aligning our people plans, training and development to meet the future needs of the organisation and to respond to the challenges COVID-19 has brought us.
What challenges have you faced over the last several weeks?
“Given the pace of the pandemic and the government updates, it was key we took the time to listen carefully to individual concerns of our staff, so we could distil and communicate government information in a manner that supports staff as best it can.
We’ve also had the added challenge of a merger effective from 1 April, so completing projects and welcoming new staff remotely has been tricky. Our transparency with those affected has been crucial through this.
Given the complex needs of our clients and tenants, we’ve had to prioritise our people’s wellbeing above all – so they feel confident, supported, and cared for when carrying out the difficult roles they perform.
How did BHT navigate the above challenges and ensure the firm’s services could be maintained?
“When it all started, we created the BHT taskforce team – including our Directors and key staff from HR, IT and Health and Safety.
Our Chief Executive started these meetings by asking us all ‘What do we need to sustain me?’ – it’s important to recognise we all have mental health needs and are responding to an unprecedented change; a message we carry down to all staff.
The IT team was amazing in the speed of their response, providing video and collaboration tools for all staff to use. From a people perspective, listening intently to what individuals needed alongside daily news in the new, remote world was crucial – so they understood what it meant for them to continue to work flexibly into the future.
In turn, our people have embraced the new way of working, resulting in minimal disruption to our services.”
How has effective leadership helped BHT, both now and into the future?
“Three of our values are: collaboration; empowering people; and inspiring change.
Having these embedded in our culture and leadership team has been a key strength in planning and controlling the changes, to the extent that the people showing up during this difficult time aren’t just managers or part of the leadership team – they’re across the organisation, especially in how our key workers on the front line have responded during this tricky period.
Fairness and compassion is also a cornerstone of our values, which evidences itself through our communications and openness with our staff during this difficult time. No one has all the answers or can do it all, but as a team we can share our expertise and help each other navigate through the many challenges.
We’re also building on our strengths as a psychologically-informed employer, particularly given the diversity of our workforce. Our coaching culture and reflective practice has helped us work with staff and learn in a rapidly changing environment, so that we adapt effectively to changes and we will continue to build upon these anchors in how we train and develop staff well into the future.”