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2016 - The one constant will be change…

5 February 2016

It will come as no surprise to many in the housing sector that this year will see some interesting and possibly surprising changes for the political landscape and more importantly, how that will affect those who work in and for registered providers up and down the UK.

Firstly – leadership and the changes that will be undertaken by boards for new people at the helm.

The likelihood of mergers, increasing budget cuts and all manner of efficiencies that will need to be derived from a team, will lead to a number of movements at the top table. Experienced leaders either from within our sectors, which are now interims, or even picking up the best of the talent from outside our world, will enable boards to successfully negotiate finding new merger partners and deal with complex problems.

The downside of this is that there will inevitably be some fallout. Strong individuals will leave an organisation, perhaps because of structure and politics and therefore clients will want a recruitment partner (whether internally or externally) who will know of the relationships, reasons and backgrounds of why people are moving, to ensure they are not investing in the wrong fit.

Underpinning the fundamental requirements in leadership, I believe IT systems in a number of organisations will undergo a substantive investment from a number of angles. 

Towards the end of 2015, I was heavily involved in a new type of role: Digital Channel Shift and Transformation. This was perhaps due to clients understanding that without a strong systems platform it would be difficult to engage customers, enable other areas to perform at their most efficient and ultimately provide scope for which all disciplines could flourish along with the right technology to support their growth.

This will be enhanced by the mergers & acquisitions we will see this year where cultures, systems and ways of working will need to be aligned. By investing in and doing this right at the beginning of the merger, it will again help to solidify people across the new organisation and in some ways force them to operate under the same manner. I’m sure we have all seen where this has not occurred, and it becomes difficult for an executive team to establish the right framework and processes to move forward.

Finance is, and will always be, a key area to get right. This will be an area I will watch with great interest as clients start to look for individual with a wide variety of skills to bring to the table. Cost saving will be high on the agenda for everyone, so people who have perhaps been through this before, or who have a long track record of succeeding  in driving out inefficiencies and increasing operating margins will be in high demand.

I can also see that this may mean a further, deeper look into markets and sectors beyond housing. The treasury aspects of many housing teams will mean a strong understanding of this is now essential, so one can only assume this will lead to higher numbers of finance staff crossing over from private companies and /or sectors where this is key, such as financial services or even the big four consultancies.  This is a trend which has actually been in ascendency for the past few years. 

Property Services is the largest part of my portfolio and I believe it will continue to be in 2016. I was lucky enough to work with and help a number of Chief Executives to find the very best Interim Executive Directors and mid management staff in this space. The trend seeming to be,  that it is hard to find good quality permanent appointments and therefore interims managers with an almost guaranteed track record in making this area work are in high demand.

The onset of a few organisations receiving downgrades by the regulator in this space meant that the normal approach didn’t work. Why hire someone from another housing team if they struggled to deliver in their previous post?  Surely the same mistakes will be made?  Hence the interim managers I work with having to undergo a number of due diligence aspects, before I will even consider working with them. We cannot afford to get this area wrong and given the latest set of results about the increase in spending by Inside Housing Magazine – it will only be a more important area of an organisation to get right.

All of the target groups above will be led by one key component in an organisation - HR.

I saw a definitive change at the back end of 2015 and this will rise further in 2016 with the appetite to bring in strong Senior HR Directors from outside the sector, with the feeling being that if we are trying to attract candidates from outside our sector for a number of skills gaps, surely the first point of contact and main hiring teams (being HR) will need to understand and drive this language and help an organisation to structure themselves in a way that is attractive to a newcomer. It can help to find the balance and cultural fit of someone swapping sectors to join us.

Again the M&A activity will provide a strong case for Chief Executives to find a HR Partner who is adept in this space and will know the best ways to quickly establish who is right for the limited posts that will be on offer in a new merged organisation.

A similar theme emerged to that of the property services area, in that finding the right permanent appointment was difficult, so clients turned to interims to deliver a short, sharp return and were happier to look for this experience from outside our space.

No doubt these trends will chop and change throughout the year as teams flex and adapt to new challenges, but I genuinely think that when I come to review this year, these will have been the stand out opportunities and movements of the sector.  Having been involved with and successfully delivered on a number of interim opportunities last year, I hope to be of help when the time comes and to keep track of the ever changing needs of the market. 

Suresh Lal is a Consultant in the Social Housing Practice, read Suresh's profile

Categories: Social Housing


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