Commerciality in social housing?

In my last post, I referred to the increased demand for candidates with “commerciality” (if you missed it, you can read the full post here).  Since then, I have had a number of discussions with people about this, and as expected, there seems to be a confusion as to what that actually looks like on the ground.

Money, what is it good for? states that it stems from the noun commercial (no surprise there then) and is “quality or character; ability to produce a profit”.  So how does that work in the not-for-profit sector?  I’m not so obtuse to think that’s actually what Housing Associations want- people to come in and drive profit as the number one goal- but I do think that the word has come to represent something completely different.

The general consensus seems to be that the market now wants someone who understands how a business works- not just the friendly neighbour approach of yesteryear.  Sounds sensible doesn’t it?  A Housing officer out on patch, speaking with a tenants about their arrears and is able to negotiate effectively with them, an agreeable re-payment plan which brings additional revenue in to the business.  That’s commercial right?

Yeah, I suppose it is, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg and the issue I have is that then this is turned into stats and KPIs as a way to prove how the business is now so much more commercial in its thinking.  “This year we reduced arrears by 3.4% YOY, with a more streamlined team, covering larger patches, so our ROI increased by 35%”.

My belief is that Housing is hiding behind statements like the above to appear “commercial” and to justify to tenants where their money is going.  And I get it, with self-regulation that is needed, but its not solved the entire issue.

Commerciality isn’t about proving how your activity translates into revenue. Commerciality is about empowering people to make common sense decisions.

What I’m saying is that I think it is right to look at a wider pool of candidates, lets look to attract people from outside the sector, people who do understand business principles, and empower them.  Encourage them to question processes, allow them to make common sense decisions, rather than worry about meeting relatively meaningless KPIs.  Whilst the rest of the “commercial world” is moving away from reams of KPIs as a management tool and trying to become more human, Housing is going the other way?  We are in a situation where we are starting to attract people into the industry (despite much more needing to be done), so lets not then repel them by tying them up in meaningless admin.

If people are working in Social Housing, then they are most likely decent, honest people who are 100% committed to doing the right thing by tenants and providing them with great customer service.  In my mind, that is commerciality!


What am I expecting to be BIG in the world of Housing recruitment in 2015?

It seems that if you blog, then you have to make some kind of comment on the fact that its now 2015.  What are you going to do differently this year? What are your hopes and aspirations for the year?  So, having taken the risk to leave a safe, nice job, to go an set-up a new office for my new company, I thought I would have a look at where the trends will be in Social Housing Recruitment in 2015.  For the next 5 minutes, think of me as a Housing Derren Brown.


1. A continuation of the use of temp front line officers to supplement existing teams– from about Q2 last year, I saw a marked increase in the demand for temp officers (predominently income, but also generic, lettings and ASB).  These often weren’t to cover a vacancy either.  It was often to add balast to teams looking desperately to reduce arrears, to get out in to the patches and be more pro-active in order to hit KPIs.  I think this will continue at least for the first half of the year, until organisations can work out their optimum team size and the related ROI.

2. A continuation in the experimenting with candidates from outside the sector– we had numerous requests for Housing Officers, rents officers, with pretty standard Job Descriptions, but I was often asked for someone with “commercial” experience.  This seems to be the buzzword this year, alongside selfie and twerk (I wasn’t asked for the last 2 very often).  I had some success in this area especially in income recovery- so have pooled some other similar candidates for this very reason.

3. A further increase in permanent recruitment being managed by agencies– in the last 2 years I saw a 140% increase and then a further 32% increase in revenue from permanent campaigns which is massive.  the main reason for this seems to be the increase in job boards, and the drop in printed press, which has meant job seekers are not too sure where to look for jobs, and employers are therefore fishing in smaller pools.  This lead to many unsuccessful recruitment campaigns and money down the drain.  The benefit of using agencies is that you only pay if you get someone, which represents a better VFM for many.  No solution has been found to concentrate industry job seekers back in one place, so I see this trend continuing.

4. Recruiters will dabble more with Social Media– I think recruiters are still confused at how best to use it to their advantage, so I think you’ll see various experiments or changes in emphasis on this, the success of this will remain to be seen.  My view on it is that I think people are looking for how social media can do their job for them or make their job easier.  I don’t think thats how it should be used- its another tool for engagement to allow us to reach a wider and more diverse audience.  For me it will supplement my other communication channels- I’ll always prefer face to face or over the phone (with this in mind I think Skype is one real way to make our jobs easier), but Social  can help break down barriers and help develop stronger relationships between recruiters and their clients and candidates, as well as giving clients and candidates another way to assess the type of recruiters in engages with.

5. Welfare Reform will continue to create havoc in associations– as Universal credit is rolled out in stages, some organisations will hit the panic button.  I’m not complaining, it keeps people like me very busy.  Once panic stage is reached, Income Officers, Financial Inclusion Officers, and Welfare Reform Officers will be in high demand…and most likely short supply.  My advice?  Prepare ahead, work out what your current capacity is and when you feel you are starting to be squeezed, get organised, otherwise you’ll be too late.

6. There will still be some excellent talent not able to get work– one of the most difficult parts of my job is when you can’t find a job for a great candidate.  My commitment this year is to work closer with these people and try to be creative about what sort of roles we look at for them and how we approach the market about them, but also give them more support and advice during these often trying times.

7. I will be wrong about a lot of the above– the beauty of the current market is that it is so fluid that it keeps you on your toes.  There is a new challenge around every corner and the market can shift quickly.  So although this is the outlook at the beginning of 2015, I’ll probably have to revisit this blog on a quarterly basis and see how much of the above proves to be right.