Barry Marlow outlines some real example of complicatedness in social housing - and the benefits of adapting the Smart Simplicity approach to de-layering the cake...
A Director of a housing association launched a newly revised rent arrears procedure two years ago. A year later, the rent arrears had doubled.
The Director said the problem was with the income team. Please coach them to collect more rent and follow the procedure. I asked for a copy of this procedure which had, as its aim, to deal with the challenges of change. As usual.
Here is a representation of this procedure:
The word ‘comprehensive’ was invented for this procedure. 47 pages of factually correct brilliance. Two sets of appendices. It had everything you could possibly want.
The outcome…it made things worse.
Time was spent with the income team finding out what they actually did. Not what the procedure expected them to do…but what they actually do. What they were doing was trying to cope. In their own ways.
The procedure was too complicated. Hard to manage. Difficult to digest. The appendices were the relish. Fattening.
When this hard, structural stuff becomes difficult, a typical reaction is to point at the staff. Coach them. Mend their ways. If that doesn’t work, go for the soft approach. Change the mindset. Do some team building and motivational things.
But this wouldn’t work either. Given time, things would collapse around them complaining of procedural indigestion.
The only thing to do was to disrupt and simplify.
Other articles on this site are indicating the reaction to this overload of complicatedness. Here are a few genuine comments from the Smart Simplicity approach:
These interactions are natural and intuitive but we write procedures on how to conduct a tenancy visit & then analyse it, measure it, categorise it etc. It's disturbing when your IT department has grown bigger than your neighbourhood service. (Business Support Manager)
I feel like I'm not allowed to get to know the customers’ needs as we are continually pressured into following the arrows within the policies and procedures written by people who have no interpersonal people skills. I find it frustrating. One call from an aggrieved customer can turn into a 30 minute recorded complaint or 40 minute logging of an antisocial behaviour incident that could have been sorted within 5 minutes if we were allowed to use common sense and understanding. I have been in housing for 9 years & cannot believe how complex policies/procedures have become & if anything hinders the one aspect we are all trying to achieve… customer satisfaction.
I have a question. Perhaps I should not be asking the question - but - I don't care. Or rather - I do!
I have an odd background to social housing; having previously worked in law &social research. I believe social housing is desperately disconnected & at risk of systemic failure.
For a young housing manager how do I prevent this?
The first one, a manager. The second, an experienced frontline officer. The last, a desperately disconnected young manager already feeling complicated.
Is this the future? All justifiable. All accountable. All will eventually fail.
Here’s an example, in cake format:
That young manager was leading a housing options and void management team. Something we would simply call ‘pre-tenancy’. This cake has 6 layers.
When his work was observed it was discovered that it involved different sections or disciplines involved in letting a property. Letting a property should be the simplest thing a housing business can do.
Not only 6 layers but supported by 5 layers of performance indicator fondant; each discipline having its own distinct set of nicely whisked PI’s and targets, often contradictory but entirely accountable in their own way.
And the icing on the cake? A property re-let by 6 disciplines in a target date far too quick for the customer who was both under-prepared and inexperienced. Highly unsatisfactory.
The power was in the system, and this was disconnected from its true objective. In the marketplace a competitive lettings company would let a property properly and efficiently, usually using one person rather than 6 disciplines.
Imagine the cost! Complicatedness revealed that in this desperate attempt to save a week’s void rent of £90, the actual activity costs to the organisation were almost £500. Highly inefficient. Disconnected. Complicated.
Would you want your cake and eat it too?
Would you want your staff to eat cake?
After a little time of adaption to a Smart Simplicity approach, an email from the income team leader said simply:
“We are really bucking the trend now”
Perhaps you need a different menu.