In December 2021, One Housing joined Riverside Group as a subsidiary, making it one of the largest housing providers in the UK. Danny Nicklen and Roch Ottaway-Schollij share some tools and techniques they used to successfully support organisational change.
When we talk about digital change and transformation, we often label activities as IT, business or change, focusing on costs and solutions. However, we believe that every project is a change project, and any change, if it’s to be successful, is driven by and adopted by people. Like so many sectors in recent years, housing providers have had to become smarter, leaner and more willing to embrace change. For many, mergers have become a key driver of change, combining people and resources in an effort to scale and deliver more for our residents. Whether in a merger context or not, it can be all too easy to get lost in a busy, pressurised change landscape. How do we keep our focus on the ‘why’, rather than getting swept up in the ‘how’?
At the centre of our decisions is the question: how can we simultaneously make good choices, focus on our customers, achieve value for money and drive a positive organisational culture?
Lean and continuous improvement (CI) puts our customers and staff at the centre of our work. It answers the ‘why’ question by championing a data-driven and people-centred approach to how we design and deliver change, improving the change-delivery experience and how we’ll function as an organisation in future. Lean and CI are a particularly powerful toolkit, enabling an organisation to both listen to the views of those who know a service best while providing frameworks to deliver small-, medium- and large-scale process and IT improvements for customers.
Below we outline three tools that we’ve used to successfully support our change activities, with a focus on how these can support both people and choices around digital solutions.
A day in the life…
A ‘day in the life of’ (DILO) tool is great to build an understanding of the roles and responsibilities across teams, particularly across teams where colleagues don’t know one another and may work in different ways. The focus is on collaboration and providing the opportunity to ask and answer questions.
We’ve successfully used this tool to assess the type of activity undertaken by our property services administration team to assess task and cycle times, improving how we use team resources to deliver better services. DILOs are helpful in providing a basis for where systems, people, processes and technology can potentially address the ‘top hurts’. They provide a clear foundation for using digital tools to standardise, automate and address daily challenges in the work we do.
‘Five whys’ – Creating a problem-solving culture
Knowledge is the key to understanding, and understanding is the key to achieving. A lack of understanding in teams may lead to feelings of insecurity which undermine trust, team motivation and the ability to effectively collaborate in the longer term.
A successful team is underpinned by a high-performance culture, built on psychological safety, openness and a problem-solving attitude. ‘Five whys’ is a lean tool used to explore a problem, using root-cause analysis to help understand the real problem needing to be solved. ‘Five whys’ asks us to state a problem, asking ‘why’ at least five times to explore and develop a full understanding of why something is the way it is.
We recently used ‘five whys’ to improve how we manage property disposals. Using team meetings and workshops, we drilled down into our data-sharing process to better understand where and why blockers existed. As a result, we uncovered a cause that was different to what was previously assumed, highlighting how this tool can support better problem-solving conversations.
‘5S’ – Spatial and digital integration
‘5S’ describes the five elements of spatial organisation. As a method, it can be used to ensure we set up a fit-for-purpose workspace. The 5 Ss comprise: sort, set, shine, standardise and sustain.
Why does it matter? Working together drives teamwork, and we know that the simplest, everyday tasks can sometimes be the biggest time wasters, such as looking for documents. Taking an extra two minutes for a task repeated several times a day quickly adds up.
‘5S’ can also be used in a digital context, such as agreeing and organising file structures, how and where to save documents and manage cases. We believe in this so much that we’ve applied it to our own team. This exercise can be extended to standardising templates and tools regularly used to reduce the time wasted on repetitive tasks and can support the better adoption of digital collaboration tools.
In summary, we aim to put people at the heart of any change we deliver. As the name suggests, CI is continuous and shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should be considered as a core set of tools and techniques that can be leveraged to drive meaningful results from day one if your organisation wants to thrive and not just survive.
What does this mean in practice?
- Keep your eye on the ‘why’. Ensure customers, staff, value for money and customer benefits are part of your strategic vocabulary when considering plans and decisions; define transformation roadmaps by value, not just timelines and costs.
- Embed lean and CI from the start. Embed CI in business cases, project plans and project teams. Give appropriate weight to both cashable and non-cashable benefits to ensure that your customer and staff experiences remain high priorities.
- Do ‘with’, not ‘to’. Involve people and teams who will adopt the change to leverage the collective expertise of our most valuable resource. Ensure that we enable the people with the best knowledge of what we do to define what ‘good’ looks like.
Danny Nicklen and Roch Ottaway-Schollij are continuous improvement managers at One Housing