Yorkshire Housing service excellence trainee Alice attends the RHP Art of Innovation event, in Teddington, London on 6 October. Here’s Alice’s take on the event and some reflections for work back at Yorkshire Housing.
It takes a lot to persuade me to get up early. And even more to get me to visit London but I was excited to be attending the RHP Art of Innovation event. RHP has topped Inside Housing’s Innovation Index for two years running. Its ranked number one workplace by the Times Great Place to Work and David Done was awarded ‘most people focussed CEO’ at the HR Excellence Awards.
It was a good start to the event – tiny pastries, my favourite! Once fed and watered, I was struck by the number of people there for the event, with more arriving by the minute – it was standing room only. Up first was Chloë Marsh, Head of Engagement at RHP introduced the day. We watched short videos about Airbnb and Uber – two successful companies. Chloë pointed out reasons for their success – was identifying a common problem, and coming up with an innovative solution. Their secondary focus was profit. Chloë talked about sustaining innovation, making sure people are engaged and projects don’t lose momentum, as sometimes it can take time.
We then heard from RHP’s CEO, David Done. In order to innovate, David says you first need to start with employment – getting the right people. Innovation isn’t just tinkering or tweaking what already exists. You need to be all in it and commit to some new ways of thinking. You also need to support new ideas, give them a try, like Airbnb and Uber, RHP identified one big problem and have come up with an innovative solution: the need to cut costs and still provide excellent service to customers. Earlier this year RHPi – a fully digital housing service was launched. David says this service can help build trust between tenants and the organisation – as tenants can take control. RHP want to be easy to do business with, and David thinks this starts with dealing with it being easy for staff. How can an organisation be easy for tenants to do business with if it’s difficult for staff to do business with?
Next up was a gentleman who works for a start up company you may have heard of… that’s right, it was Richard Zaltzman from Microsoft! He welcomed us to what has been called the fourth industrial revolution and shared his wisdom. If people don’t like the digital platform you have created, they won’t use it. To be innovative, you don’t have to come up with a ‘barking mad’ idea, just find your comfort zone and push it a little. And make sure you’ve got the employees you need to support it.
Mark Brown, CEO of The Dolphin Index is behind Inside Housing’s Innovation Index. He said he hopes in future when he tells people that he works with tech giant Apple and social housing, people will show as much of an interest in the housing sector. The innovation index works by measuring 13 areas to establish how innovative people think a company is and whether the customer satisfaction and finances back this up. Mark talked about ‘dinosaurs’, those organisations who have become stuck in their ways, and resistant to change. We all need to think like start ups – being creative and innovative. But we also need coherence.
Elizabeth Linder, CEO of The Conversational Century has an impressive record, working for Google, YouTube and Facebook. Her role at Facebook was to train political leaders and public figures to use the social media platform, so I think she’s social media savvy. Despite the opportunities, now more than ever, to have conversations, she has seen the reluctance that still exists. Her clients have said ‘before I just had to worry about doing my job, now I have to worry about tweeting about doing my job’. Elizabeth says it’s OK to fail, and that you don’t need to hide it. She was asked what social media platforms should be used and she advised to use the platform most used in your area. My thoughts were ‘where do we get the most complaints?’ Surely it would be the place to be most vocal on social media.
At break it was time for a tour of the building. RHP HQ has a very different feel to my Leeds office. Each meeting room has a theme, and there are large open spaces for groups to gather. The buildings design is to encourage a culture of conversation and collaboration. This culture was made clear by RHP’s Executive Director of Corporate Services, Amina Graham. She advocated giving staff personal responsibility in order to encourage staff engagement. RHP has a one page job description which may put off as many people as it attracts, which is of course intentional – self screening. One of the main ideas I took away from Amina’s talk was to make people want to use the digital platforms. Like RHP does by making tickets to events for staff available only through Yammer.
Next was a very entertaining Tom Somers from L Marks. They work with businesses, identifying needs and finding start ups to fill that need. Often companies only look for specific technology for a specific purpose, but what Tom was saying was to find out what technology is out there and to think how it could be made to work for you. Tom says to tackle one problem at a time, not to take on several problems and try and deal with them all at once. He advocates not only learning from failure, but also accepting and acknowledging failure! He asked us to cast our minds back to our own places of work where perhaps failure is not being accepted, where ‘zombie’ projects are still running with no progress and no one is really sure what they are doing. A final nugget of wisdom from Tom was to ask your staff, because they know what’s going on. Get those who will be using things to choose them e.g. vans.
You may have heard about HouseMark are running a programme called Evolve. Arturo Dell, Director of Product Development at HouseMark was there to talk about Evolve. This programme has worked with social housing to identify the main issues which face the sector: house building, use of data, digital channels, repairs and maintenance, engaging people, and vulnerable and older people. Evolve is then looking for start ups to come up with innovative ideas to resolve the problems. This is a win for everyone – social housing remains viable and start ups get much needed publicity and investment. This is an exciting opportunity for all involved and I look forward to hearing the outcomes.
Finally, Tamara Lohan, Founder and CTO of the travel company Mr & Mrs Smith provided her inspiring story of disastrous holidays, deciding to write a travel guide, the rejection and the little white lies which led to her running the successful travel company. Tamara’s advice was to stick to your guns, if you think it’s a good idea don’t let one or two set backs put you off. It’s the little details which make an experience.
It was an excellent day. On my way back up North I had time to reflect. I came away from the Art of Innovation Event with my mind racing, thinking about what could be brought back to Yorkshire Housing. Here’s just a few ideas:
1) Competitions asking tenants to submit ideas to improve customer experience;
2) Fun uses of Yammer to get people using it, I liked the ‘caption competition’ idea;
3) I specifically thought about some of the complaints received and have a Facebook campaign for tenants to take selfies with staff;
4) Making more use of Facebook and Yammer polls – like we heard at the event, ask the people who use it!