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!


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I manage a small Housing recruitment business (www.greenacre-recruitment) covering the Midlands and South West Regions. Outside of that, I'm a dad of 2, a keen rugby supporter (knees don't allow me to play anymore) and cyclist (the knees let me do that!)

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