Resident Engagement starts with the right culture
Wednesday 7th of April 2021
Tpas Business Development Manager, Michael Hill blogs about getting the culture right for engagement to thrive.
Recently there’s been plenty of talk about the need for behavioural changes within organisations, especially around engaging with residents. But what do we actually mean?
At Tpas, we have for a long time spoken about the need to get the basics right before any meaningful resident engagement structure can exist. That basic starting point is the culture of an organisation.
It’s the culture of an organisation that sets the tone and determines the success.
Culture eats Structure
Culture is something we focus on heavily, so much so that our National Tenant Engagement Standards are built around culture.
We handle many requests from organisations for support through re-engineering engagement structures. Whilst we are more than happy to support them in their journey, we firmly believe in the saying ‘Culture eats Structure’. So before anything meaningful can be achieved, the culture of the organisation has to be right.
Isolated successes in engagement are achievable, but when the main drivers – in many cases people - take a break, or worse leave, who steps in? That is when you know how well embedded a culture is.
Are we creating frameworks that rely on individuals, or foundations for success?’ We firmly believe that everyone who is responsible for engagement could ask themselves ‘What happens if I leave?’
To effect a cultural shift, we have to accept our starting position.
As a sector we have some ground to make up. Despite there being plenty of great engagement work going on, it is evident that trust has been broken between landlords and their residents, and that can create an environment of cynicism and suspicion.
For resident engagement, a positive culture is absolutely essential because we need residents to trust that we are not only in it for the right reasons, but we are in it for the long term. When it comes to re-building trust, the weight of responsibility rests firmly with Landlords.
So what is Culture?
Here’s a definition that I want to use for the purpose of this post: ‘The beliefs and behaviours shared by a group of people’.
For any significant cultural change to take place you have to believe something is worth doing what you are looking to achieve. You need to know your Why?
You have to believe that residents have a right to be involved. I’m talking about wholeheartedly believing that residents have a fundamental right.
You have to believe that residents have something worthwhile to say. Do you really think there is a value in getting residents involved? If you don’t – it will shine through.
Finally, don’t believe that you know it all.
As a sector we need to ditch our individual and collective egos because no-one like a smart Alec. There is nothing more off-putting than patronising staff with no ability to empathise or listen.
Your individual and organisational engagement behaviours will have a profound effect on its impact, and the heights you will reach on your engagement journey.
Maybe you could create a positive culture that is inclusive, works in partnership, listens, but also hears what is said, then feeds back what has been done and the impact that has been made. I’m talking about having an effective engagement and feedback loop.
Transparency and good information sharing are good behaviours, and this has to be consistent if we are to truly make a significant cultural shift and win back some of that lost trust.
In my experience, residents will support organisations, they will challenge you yes, and I hope they continue to do so, but they will respect you more than if they find something out later down the road.
Share the table, welcome the help, respect their views and time and don’t waste the opportunity to create the new way of working which is through creating mutually beneficial partnerships.
Shared by a group of people
This is where your attempt to drive a different culture could hit rocky ground.
Positive individual beliefs, behaviours and attitudes are great – but in isolation could only show that you have lone rangers. If I asked you if your organisation had the right culture for engagement – what would you say, and why would you say that?
If we asked a range of staff within your organisation, or residents what would be their answer?
What I am asking is whether your strategic vision is shared? Is your behaviour being mirrored, and how are you testing it?
Can you pass the Ronseal Test, are you doing consistently what is says on the tin?
If you are in a strategic leadership role, how do you know that what you are being told is getting to you without being interpreted by a gatekeeper?
So what will you do to not only develop a positive culture of resident engagement, but embrace it, embed it, maintain it, and evolve it?
So where do you start?
Six key points
- Recognise that we are merely custodians. We work in a sector, at organisations and at a time that is largely determined by us. We can leave and get another job if we want, but for many residents they will be there a lot longer than you or I. So what will be our legacy? What will they say about our tenure?
- Make it clear that you see residents as key stakeholders. This has to be overt and it has to be continuous. Some are looking for that overt commitment before they will get on board, so tell them.
- Get a better picture of your residents, look for more than demographics – look at the skills and motivations. There is diversity, knowledge, and determination if we open our eyes.
- Recognise that residents are the only experts in receiving your service – so why would you not involve them? They are your perfect sounding-board, gather it consistently and don’t make the mistake of rationalising it.
A resident said recently, ‘we are unpaid consultants Michael that if they took off their blinkers, would see the huge benefit we can bring to the organisation because we live with their decisions’.
- Don’t just meet the expectations of a regulator, see them as the start not the end. Work with residents to create the meaningful opportunities, plan for outcomes and gather the impact you make. Evidence it, tell the success stories, then do it again.
- If your previous resident engagement attempts has been a little bit lacking, draw a line underneath it. Start again, work with your residents to do the small things well then work up, and don’t pressure yourselves to be top performing straight away.
Will you get bits wrong – definitely, I hope you do, but learn the lessons and as long as you have the right intentions – which is determined by your culture – you won’t regret it and you will get more right than wrong.
Remember that there are no failures, just many ways in which to demonstrate how not to do something.