• Housing shake-up: the harsh reality

    Apr 23, 2017

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    The Government’s Housing White Paper outlines its plan to fix Britain’s broken housing market but policy itself won’t drive change and leadership has a huge role to play writes Simon Wing, partner at GatenbySanderson.

    The recent announcement of the Government’s new Housing White Paper highlighted many issues and hurdles the sector must overcome. Since its release, there has been much debate on the white paper’s contents, however not enough has been said on what exactly will drive change.

    The sector is certainly welcoming of policies designed to help meet the UK’s housing demands. But the question still remains, will policy itself deliver change? Government policy alone will not be the instrument which delivers the solutions, rather it should be the catalyst that enables the sector to solve the challenges from within.

    Leadership will play a crucial role in driving this change – it is arguably more important than policy initiatives. Nonexecutive board members, trustees and senior leaders shape the direction of organisations and implement initiatives which can be adopted by all employees.

    The white paper sets out challenges for housing associations to meet using innovative and sustainable solutions, which is a step in the right direction. But the harsh reality is that many of the leadership skills needed to ensure that these recommendations translate into delivery are not universally embedded across the sector.

    Our leaders must have the skills, vision and tenacity to do things differently. All the while not losing sight of the purpose of the mission, but to seek and capitalise on the opportunities that exist. This is not to say that this change is not already happening. There are many ambitious, innovative leaders in the social housing sector that are driving change and capitalising on exciting new opportunities. But, this needs to be more widespread.

    The right talent is out there to help housing organisations overcome challenges. What is needed is a clear model for the modern housing sector leader. With this, we can build a recruiting framework which identifies the skills, behavioural characteristics and experience to implement a new vision.

    Modern housing leaders have hands-on property development experience, asset management acumen, and expertise in revenue generation to ensure organisations remain financially viable, while continuing to concentrate on improving housing provision in their key focus areas. The modern leader brings key experience of managing commercially led joint ventures and knowledge of the financial instruments which underpin the scale of development required across the sector.

    On a behavioural level, the modern housing leader gives clear direction and has the strength of character to cope with challenges and adversity. They have strategic, financial and governance expertise. They take advantage of an opportunity as soon as it is presented to them, and act decisively.

    Overall, good leadership requires a more commercial mindset, based on a related set of skills and ways of thinking which permit leaders to generate new funding models and envisage new opportunities. The most suitable candidates will require a diverse skillset that includes practical, commercial experience in all aspects of the housing industry, not just that drawn from handling a similar body or working elsewhere in the public sector.

    Clearly there are many talented people doing great things for housing organisations across the country. While it would be foolish to cast aside those with a more humanitarian approach to housing leadership, they need to combine this with the commercial mindset to be successful in the future.

    This is an exciting time for the housing sector with opportunities to flourish as a result of the white paper’s recommendations. It is however paramount that housing organisations do not wait for change to come around or for a leader’s tenure to end. Leadership teams should make change happen sooner to be part of the evolving landscape. With leaders who can identify and decisively act upon new opportunities and a government policy framework that facilitates innovation, the housing sector can overcome its challenges to deliver economic and social good.

    (This article was originally published in Housing Magazine, March 2017)