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Getting Fit for the Future: Implementing change at Midland Heart

Midland Heart

This article is part of the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce’s Raise the BAR (Business Adaptability & Resilience) Campaign, sponsored by Western Union Business Solutions. For more campaign content click here. This campaign provides Chamber members with a platform to share learning and inspiration on this agenda. All views and opinions expressed below are those of the author only. 

By Joe Reeves, Executive Director for Strategy and Growth, Midland Heart

Home is traditionally a place of stability. But while the bricks and mortar may provide the sound foundation of family life, the housing market itself never stands still.

In affordable housing everything we do matters. It affects people’s everyday lives and sets our base to go to work or school, establish a family, rest or entertain, and to feel secure. At Midland Heart, we want people to live life as independently as possible without the need to worry about their home.

And they certainly should never be concerned about those changes in the external environment to which housing associations like us must continually adapt.

In early 2016, a nationally-mandated 1% rent reduction and changes to Universal Credit had a significant impact on housing associations’ income, including ours. Our overriding priority was to protect essential services for residents, but we had to find £10 million in efficiency savings, so we had some tough decisions to make.

Our answer was to develop a corporate strategy, Fit for the Future, which focused on building our financial strength while maintaining investment in customer services. An intensive change programme was needed to achieve this major financial challenge, and it was crucial that our colleagues adapted with us.

Major change can mean difficult messages, so our communications team worked hard to deliver an engagement programme to encourage 1,600 colleagues to support a challenging new shared vision. Central to this was launching a new corporate brand, giving our teams a positive visual “banner” to unite behind.

The new brand – a bold visual identity backed by a clear and accessible vision and values – was launched to 1,600 staff at Birmingham’s ICC and followed up with 13 “culture and engagement days” led by staff champions. We wrote to stakeholders about this work and undertook a brand exposure campaign, placing advertorials in key sector media, conference programmes and other outlets.

Managers across the business ably stepped up to the challenge, energising their teams to work together to do more, with less, and always keep our customers at the forefront. As a result, we achieved:

  • Cost savings of £8m in 16/17 and £13m in 17/18
  • Record colleague and customer satisfaction scores
  • Our lowest ever number of complaints per 1,000 properties – down from 87 to 29
  • Strong ratings for CQC-registered schemes
  • Our highest ever staff appraisal completion – 97% compared to 68% before Fit for the Future was launched.

The income challenges we faced in 2016 clearly had potential to be a negative change. However as the above results show, by viewing it as an opportunity to strengthen Midland Heart for the future, and by tapping into our colleagues’ passion for social housing and their customers, we were able to turn it into something very positive.

Ultimately, our colleagues embraced the changes so enthusiastically that we were able to confirm the strategy would deliver all its aims a full year early. We are immensely proud of this achievement and I cannot thank all the colleagues who played a part in it enough.

As we took stock on what we’d achieved, we asked ourselves the obvious question: what next? Should we stand still, take a rest, maintain the status quo for a while? Or should we capitalise on the strong financial and cultural footing we had created with Fit for the Future and set ourselves a brand new challenge?

We naturally settled on a new challenge and developed Making What Matters Brilliant, a new corporate strategy that sets our direction for the next five years. It represents another substantial change when compared to its predecessor: it’s bold, forthright, and strongly focused on investment, growth and continuous improvement.

We launched the strategy at the beginning of this financial year and staff feedback has been positive. And rightly so, because it’s thanks to their adaptability, positivity and resilience that we now have the financial freedom to invest in building more homes (3,000 of them by 2024), in improving existing housing stock (we’re investing c.£100m over five years), in being a competitive employer, and of course in delivering a first class service for customers.

Perhaps most importantly, our new focus sends a clear signal to colleagues, customers and our peers in the business world, that it’s absolutely possible for an organisation to go through a period of imposed change and uncertainty and, by approaching it with the right mindset, to emerge from it stronger and better than before.

Midland Heart is a leading housing organisation, delivering homes and services across the Midlands that enable people to live independently. We own and manage 33,000 homes and are dedicated to providing decent, affordable homes combined with excellent services to over 70,000 customers. Founded in 1925, we’re a trusted not for profit organisation whose social purpose drives us to reinvest all surplus into our customers, staff and homes.