The recent UK general election result delivered more uncertainty for most businesses – social housing included. But one thing is for certain: all customers now live, work and shop in a digital world and marketplace, and companies need to join them there. Peter Hall explains how one housing association and social enterprise is applying Smart Simplicity to secure its future in the brave new digital world.
While many across the social housing business in England reacted to the government driven rent cuts in 2016 by slashing staff in non ‘core’ business, there were some who saw the need for a more nuanced approach. One not just focussed on the here & now, but reflective of the wider context & history of their business: the past, the present and the future- for customers, staff and partners.
CHS Group were just such a business. Now celebrating their 90th year as a charitable housing association and social enterprise operating in Cambridgeshire, they decided to opt for something a bit smarter.
Nigel Howlett, CEO for 17 years explains why CHS group opted for Smart Simplicity.
‘The traditional approach to delivering efficiency and value in the public and third sector is very much the hard way - via staff structures. Reduce operating costs by reducing the number of staff through restructures. Just a cold hard look at what’s currently core or non-core to the business and what can be cut. Economy without a long-term view of the efﬁciency or effectiveness of decisions.
We wanted a more holistic approach.
We recognised that the real challenge wasn’t in the rent cuts or regulation, but in the cultural and structural shifts needed for us to survive the Digital Darwinism era, and improving our productivity to avoid being Uberised by some lean start up at some point in the not too distant future. Because the disruption taking place though the Internet of Things goes beyond going digital and channel shift. Going digital on its own is not going to be the panacea to ensure CHS is still here housing, supporting and caring for the people of Cambridgeshire in another 90 year’s time’
In October 2016, CHS’ board approved the first stage of the approach – a Digital Strategy shaped around eight key principles (Automation, Analytics, Collaboration, Communication, Culture, Mobile Working, Scalability & Simplicity) to inform and shape remastering and simplifying the business.
The board also approved the wider principles of the approach; aimed at reducing operating costs over a three-year period but within a positive context – with 15% to be achieved from traditional ‘efficiencies’, 20% from growing the business but not increasing costs, and 65% from Smart Simplicity.
A team of Business Change Managers was recruited on a secondment basis from front line staff - chosen because they are the people who experience organisational complexity first hand, as demonstrated in the iceberg of ignorance.
Trained in techniques and led and coached in complexity busting by the Smart Simplicity team, such staff are also way more effective than external consultants, because their colleagues respect and trust that they are in it for the long term - aiming to improve ways of working for the business and the customer.
As Richard Crozier, a former Housing Officer, and one of the CHS Business Change Managers explained;
‘I’m finding it all a real eye opener in terms of learning the huge range of things people and CHS do. And it's already clear there's lots of scope for doing things better – I’ve been amazed at how long some people spend in meetings!’
And the forecast ROI of £3 for every £1 spent, alongside payback of the investment in the team within 16 months also appealed to CHS!
The Business Change Team are approaching the conclusion of Phase 1 of their work - identifying what the organisation’s housing, care and support staff currently spend their time doing - before embarking on detailed specific reviews to change services, prepare relevant tasks for automation, and simplify ways of working.
Preliminary results indicate many productivity gains to be had from remastering current activities through the lens of the eight digital strategy principles - or simply stopping them if they add no value to the business or customers.
And their review work will also be incorporating ‘nudge’ into CHS’s future; with Business Change Managers being coached and trained by Smart Simplicity team members on how to run the segmentation, randomised control trials and analytics elements of applying Behavioural Insights into transactions and interactions with customers.
Over the next 18 months, the project is set to contribute towards a reduction in operating costs of at least circa £1m for CHS, and shift CHS from being a primarily analogue 20th century business, to being a truly 21st century digital one.
As Nigel Howlett explains:
‘We already have sector leading net promoter scores and operating costs, and are a Sunday Times top 100 company to work for. We wanted an evidence based approach to prepare us for a digital future which would still deliver on our core values. Smart Simplicity is providing us with that, and will elevate the reach, scope and quality of CHS’s services – hopefully for another 90 years to come’.