Raising your profile

I recently listened to HBR’s podcast on Women at Work whilst travelling to a Women on Boards event run by emh group and this led me to reflect on a few of the lessons I have learnt so far in raising my profile and progressing my career:

  1. Volunteer for everything – offer to help out with project groups, staff conferences, IT system champion, bake sales, anything! This will help you build your internal network and reputation/brand. You should also pick up some useful skills and experience that you can apply elsewhere. You might not be able to see how volunteering for a certain opportunity might help you at the start, but give it a go and I’m sure by the end of it, there’ll be loads of positives.
  2. Speak up – don’t be afraid to make suggestions in meetings. When I was a fresh-faced graduate, I didn’t always share an idea I had because I thought someone else was bound to have already thought of it but dismissed it. Turns out that wasn’t the case, and more than once, someone else later suggested the same idea I had kept to myself. Even if it seems obvious to you, chances are it hasn’t been thought of yet. and the worst that can happen is it won’t get taken forward. And you can suggest the same idea more than once to different people, sometimes it can take a while for an idea to land.
  3. Be your own cheerleader – its quite uncomfortable for us conservative Brits, but no one else is going to sing your praises so you’ve got to make sure you shout about your successes. Raise it in your 1:1, share it on your intranet, put it on social media, if you’ve done something great that you’re proud of, no matter how big or small, make sure others are taking note.
  4. Don’t wait to be invited – if you’ve got a great idea for how something could be done differently or want to get involved in a certain project or want to find out more about another team, don’t sit and hope that someone will figure this out and offer you the opportunity you are waiting for, get out there and make the opportunity happen. And if you come across an obstacle for any reason, keep trying, go around it / over it / under it, if it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll find a way.
  5. Know the right question to ask – frustratingly I have often found that unless you know the right question to ask, you won’t get the answer you are looking for. This means developing an understanding of other areas of your organisation, what they do, why and how so that you are in a better position to seek their advice and assistance with problems you’re facing in your own area. Seeing the bigger picture and where you fit into it is an important part of progressing in your role.
  6. Be prepared – if you’ve ever done a leadership course, you might have been asked to prepare a 5 year career plan, and like me you might have struggled with this and wondered what the point was! The world is moving so quickly now that I think it’s hard to know what career options there might be in 5 years, so I prefer to make sure I’m best placed to take up any opportunity that comes my way (or even to create my own opportunity). Doing all of the above is a big part of doing this. The other important task is to know what direction you want to go in, what gets you out of bed in the morning, what’s the difference you are looking to make, what’s the legacy you want to leave? If you can answer these questions, you should be able to narrow down the direction you want your career to go in.
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You are what you tweet

After recently attending a social media masterclass with Joel from We are Resource as part of a CIH East Midlands event on personal development, I thought I’d share my own Twitter journey to help those just starting on theirs.

Joel explained how to use Twitter to build a network by having conversations on anything from the day job to running to what you had for tea. He explained the importance of keeping it real (not all about online convos) and you are what you tweet.

My own Twitter journey started with a false start, I’d heard about it from friends so set up an account, but couldn’t see what the deal was so cancelled the account soon after.

I think about a year later I decided to give it another go and this time I knew why I was using it, as a source of information. Twitter has always been a main source of news for me, I follow organisations that tweet on a whole host of topics that I am interested in and consult this daily for my fix of what’s going on in the world, what others in the sector are doing and what reports have been released.

I then discovered it was useful as an online address book, I’ll follow people I’ve met or seen at events and DM them if I ever need to get in touch rather than using email.

Finally, it’s a great way to get to know or get in touch with people you’ve never met but want to meet! I think it’s the easiest way to get in touch with any CEO and ask them a question, I doubt I’d have the same success trying to get through on the phone to them.

Staying up to date and having a network to tap into for advice and support are two really important aspects of being the best housing professional you can be.

If you’re still not sure you’re ready to jump in the Twitter pool, get along to one of Joel’s sessions, you’ll find him at most conferences and he’s usually handing out goodies too!!

Valuing professionalism in housing

This week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Housing Studies Association conference for the second time. One of the key conference themes this year was professionalism and as this is something I spend a fair amount of time thinking and talking about due to my CIH East Midlands role, I was encouraged to do a little research on the subject.

This blog post outlines the findings of this research.

Summary

It is debated whether housing meets the academic definition of a profession (as it lacks a clear technical knowledge base) and it is suggested that professionalism in housing is more about acting professionally with an individualised, rather than collective, profession.

The research demonstrated support for professionalism but questioned the value of membership of a professional body. However, the important role of a having a body to raise standards across the sector came across very strongly.

It is suggested that professionalism going forward will focus on customer-focused self-development within an organisational culture, rather than acquiring technical knowledge through a national institution.

I think for many housing roles there is a very clearly defined body of technical knowledge which applies (homelessness, lettings, housing management, development, asset management) and given the issues many of our customers/tenants/residents (delete as applicable) face, it is incredibly important that the staff working with them have the appropriate knowledge and skills.

In my view, an important question is if the sector is acting sufficiently professional and how might be measure this? And how might we ensure an appropriate level of professionalism across the sector?

I am encouraged that the research recognised the importance of a body to raise standards, but discouraged by the suggestion that professional development will be down to individuals and organisations in the future. Whilst many focus on attitude and potential in recruitment, asking someone who previously worked in retail to deal with a self neglect case without a proper understanding of all the relevant legislation and good practice raises ethical questions (just ask @EmmaLeggot). There are also issues of consistency and robustness in this individual, on the job training.

There is much more thinking needed on this subject but my initial thoughts are that certain roles in housing should require the completion of certain training that is set at a national level and compliance with a code of practice. We are starting to see this in other parts of the property sector and although this is for different reasons, given the importance of the work we do in housing, shouldn’t we aim to have the highest possible standards in our work?

Abstract

This research will consider the definition of professionalism, how this has changed over time and what it means to be a housing professional. Membership of the professional body for housing, the Chartered Institute of Housing, has declined year on year and yet work in the sector today is increasingly complex and those working in housing are required to exercise significant expertise, autonomy and discretion in their roles with vulnerable individuals. Following the Grenfell tragedy and the focus on improving standards in the growing private rented sector, the skills, qualifications and regulation of the people working in these industries are being questioned. This suggests professionalism has lost its value for employers and consumers of these services and primary research will be conducted amongst housing professionals to understand the reasons for this and identify potential solutions. Finally, the future of professionalism and the role of professional bodies will be considered and recommendations on how to ensure employers and consumers value professionalism will be made.

Defining professionalism

The Association of Professional Engineers, Geologists and Geophysicists Alberta‘s briefing on concepts of professionalism explains the early use of “professional” meant a commitment to a certain way of life. The verb “profess” meant to be received formally into a religious community such as a monk who takes monastic vows in a religious order. It implied a public avowal to follow a path of high moral ideals. By the late seventeenth century, the word became more secular in meaning and expanded beyond religion. “Professional” included those who were qualified to pursue a vocation or calling. Law, medicine, and engineering became professions because they required professed knowledge, shared values and wisdom, and a fiduciary relationship with others.

A more contemporary and comprehensive definition of professional is: “A calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive preparation including instruction in skills and methods as well as in the scientific, historical, or scholarly principles underlying such skills and methods, maintaining high standards of achievement and conduct, and committing its members to continued study and to a kind of work that provides public service. The practice of a profession requires the exercise of reasoned judgement in the application of this knowledge. Professionals are frequently required to make judgements based on knowledge and understanding of a situation. Often, there are a variety of factors and several acceptable solutions when solving problems. Decision-makers must be able to identify and evaluate possible alternatives, considering that many persons can be significantly affected by the ultimate decisions taken.

The housing profession?

Several studies have suggested that housing does not share some of the essential features of housing professions, particularly a clear technical knowledge base. It is argued that housing management is generalist in nature and comprises a range of relatively low-level skills that straddle different services and which has altered in role and scope with successive governments, meaning that housing is not clearly distinguished from other types of related activity, therefore making it difficult to assess whether or not housing is a profession (Franklin and Clapham (1997), Furbey et al. (2001), Laffin (1986), Kemp and Williams (1991), Thornhill (2004)).

So instead it has been argued that being a professional in housing is not dependent on the ownership and application of knowledge that is unavailable to others, but is more about acting ethically (objectively, consistently and fairly), in accordance with best practice, and with a commitment to providing a good service (Clapham et al., 2000).

This is supported by Casey & Allen (2004) who argue that an individualized (as opposed to collective) ‘professional project of the self’ is emerging in housing management that has not yet been adequately captured in the sociological literature.

So is it more accurate to say that housing workers behave in a ‘professional’ way? And does it even matter?

Primary research

Primary research was conducted to validate a number of the arguments made in the secondary research. A survey made up of mainly qualitative questions was created online and circulated via social media. The survey was completed by 59 individuals, including housing officers, mangers, directors, CEO, board members, consultants, tenants from housing associations, local authorities, ALMOs, trade bodies.

Question 1 asked respondents to select the defining features of a professional

The highest rated features were:

  • Continuously learning (73%)
  • Ethical (68%)
  • Experienced (65%)
  • Trustworthy (63%)
  • Respected (63%)

The lowest rated features were:

  • Elitist (0%)
  • Exclusive (0%)
  • Autonomous (3.5%)
  • Has a status (17%)
  • Use their discretion (24%)

Around half felt that a professional needed to be a member of a professional body (52.5%) or have qualifications at a higher level (47.5%). 32% felt a professional required a license to practice.

Question 2 asked what respondents considered is the role of a professional body such as CIH. The responses were categorised as follows:

Education and training 44%
Good practice and research 27%
Influencing and leading 46%
Latest news 3%
Member support/personal development 32%
Networking 7%
Public benefit 2%
Recognise qualification 2%
Set and enforce standards 51%

Around half of respondents said education and training, influencing and leading, set and enforce standards.

 

Question 3 asked if respondents are a member of a professional body such as CIH.

  • 27% answered no
  • 73% answered yes
  • 68% stated they are a member of the CIH

 

Question 4 asked respondents if they feel CIH is relevant to their role.

  • 13.5% answered no
  • 12% answered partially
  • 73% answered yes

Those answering no or partially commented that there was no content relevant to their role and there was no detriment from not being a member.

Those answering yes commented that CIH is relevant due to the education and training (23%) offered, provision of latest news (21%), networking opportunities (21%) and CIH’s work in influencing and leading (16%).

 

Question 5 asked respondents if they consider themselves to be a housing professional

  • 13.5% answered no
  • 5% answered partially
  • 80% answered yes

Those answering no commented that either they needed more experience or qualification or that their experience and/or qualifications to date weren’t sufficient. Others commented that they didn’t work (in paid employment) in the industry or specifically housing management

Those answering yes commented that they considered themselves to be a housing professional due to their qualification (32%), their specialist knowledge and experience (30%), their long service in the sector (30%), their CIH membership (21%), their professional behaviour (21%) and their commitment to their personal development (19%).

 

Question 6 asked what respondents considered to be the benefit of a professional workforce for employers and/or customers

  • 71% said that it raises standards
  • 17% said it means the workforce is qualified
  • 15% said it means employees are committed to CPD
  • 13.5% said it means employees are knowledgeable

Respondents also mentioned accountability, seeing the bigger picture, consistency, externally recognised and being part of a network.

 

Question 7 asked respondents if all occupations should be professional. 51% of respondents answered no. Respondents commented that this is only required for occupations that require a certain level or body of knowledge or standard practice, or where the role has consequences to the lives of others or society.

27% of respondents answered yes and some commented that all employees should act professionally.

 

Question 8 asked respondents why they thought the number of CIH members has been decreasing for many years

  • 47% said because it is not required by employers
  • 37% said it is due to cost
  • 35.5% said because it is not relevant

Respondents also mentioned the time commitment to qualify, the reduced workforce, housing is not seen as a career choice or a long term career, lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits, there are alternatives available.

 

Question 9 asked respondents what they thought would encourage more employers in the housing sector to require employees to be a qualified housing professional

  • 37% said the benefits of membership to the employer need to be clearer
  • 15% said regulation is required to make it mandatory
  • 12% said the cost would have to reduce

Respondents also mentioned improving the CPD requirements and making qualifications more relevant. Some stated that employers shouldn’t encourage their employees to become qualified professionals.

 

Question 10 asked respondents what new skills, competencies, experience and knowledge the housing professional of the future will need. To summarise the varied responses given, employees need technical skills relevant to their role as well as soft skills, which are delivered using modern methods with an understanding of the big picture.

 

Question 11 asked respondents if they think the number of housing professionals will increase or decrease in the future. 46% said that it will decrease and 39% said that it will increase.

Of those who answered numbers would decrease, 25% said this will be because employers don’t see the benefit and 15% said it will be due to cost. Of those who answered numbers would increase, 43% said this will be because the sector is growing. Respondents also highlighted that numbers may increase following Grenfell, the skills shortage and the youth engagement at CIH (CIH Futures)

 

The final question asked if following the Grenfell tragedy and the focus on improving standards in the growing private rented sector, these industries will be professionalised. 41% responded that they would and 44% responded that they wouldn’t. Comments included the increased cost to employers and the likelihood of the government introducing regulation in this area.

Since this survey closed it has been announced that letting agents and estate agents will be required to obtain a nationally recognised qualification and comply with a mandatory code of practice. A new independent regulator will be given strong powers of enforcement.

 

Analysis

The survey responses therefore support the view from the secondary research that being a housing professional is more about acting professionally within an individualised profession, rather than a collective one.

Across a number of questions, responses focused on education/training, personal development, standards (including ethics) and experience as being the key traits of a professional and a professional body. Many responses highlighted the irrelevance of CIH to their role and there being no requirement to be a CIH member in order to be a professional, this can be achieved in other ways, without CIH membership. So whilst there may not be a clear technical knowledge base that all those working in the sector are required to be qualified in, it is clearly considered that being a professional involves undertaking study/training/CPD.

Respondents considered that the primary benefit of being a professional and of a professional body is to raise standards in the sector suggesting that whilst respondents may not see the need for CIH membership to be a professional, they do see the need for the CIH to oversee standards in the sector.

Additionally, the role of CIH in providing leadership and influencing others (in all directions) featured prominently in responses and this is clearly also considered to be a key function of the CIH.

The survey demonstrated support for professionalism in the housing sector but respondents highlighted that achieving this does not require CIH membership and many questioned the value of membership. It is not therefore professionalism that isn’t valued, but rather membership of a professional body.

 

The future of professionalism

Thornhill (2004) highlights Clarke and Newman (1991) comment that across all areas of social welfare provision, the climate for the professions is changing. The ‘bureauprofessional’ state is now being displaced by a ‘managerial state’ that is remaking the institutions, practices, culture and ideology of British social governance. They argue that the influence of the New Right and the emphasis on the rights of the consumer has created a culture of suspicion against bureaucrats and professionals. Paternalistic professions are challenged by a customer focused, market driven culture. Municipal bureaucracy, that has been at the core of the housing profession for fifty years, is displaced by a new social managerialism. The emphasis now is on reflective practice, client responsiveness and inter professional exchange, rather than the preservation and dissemination of exclusive knowledge built upon a defined technical base.

Furbey, Reid and Cole (2001) explain that new external measures of “effectiveness”, mechanisms of performance assessment, financial control and altered relations with consumers, carries major implications for traditional professional assumptions and identities. It is suggested that professional authority and autonomy, even in “strong” occupations such as medicine and law (Walker, 1999), is brought into sharp question. Some consider that the fluid status of housing would seem to suit this new climate. Whereas others expect housing, as a weak professional project, to be one of the first to founder.

Professionalism within this new managerialism world may resemble less the membership of a professional “church” that emphasises a body of “knowledge” and a strict behavioural code, and more a “new age” project of the self, developed reflexively over time by each individual, or within a local organisational culture rather than through a national institution.

 

Final thoughts

How does CIH adapt to this new world, particularly when it is already considered by some to be irrelevant? Does the recent government announcement to professionalise the private lettings agency and estate agency market provide an opportunity, should we expect a similar announcement for social housing in the green paper? Are there roles that require a clearly defined framework of knowledge (homelessness, lettings, housing management, development, asset management) or roles that support vulnerable people that should require qualification and compliance with a code?

An important question is not whether or not housing is defined as a profession as defined earlier, but rather if the sector is acting sufficiently professional? How can this be judged/measured? How would you rate the sector’s professionalism? If the future of professionalism lies in the hands of organisations rather than institutions, perhaps the role of CIH should be to set a high level framework and take a more active role in enforcing this?

 

National Careers Week Guest Blog: The Power of Networks

*This blog was originally posted during National Careers Week on the CIH East Midlands Medium page*

 

I have blogged previously on what I value most about my CIH membership, as it’s National Careers Week, I have been encouraged to share some more info on how it has benefited my career development.

The most important aspect of my CIH membership in the last couple of years has been the network of housing professionals it has enabled me to develop. I am very blessed to have some wonderful housing professionals that I can call upon for guidance and to let off some steam over a drink! Whether you like it or not, it is very often true that’s it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

I know networking can be daunting for lots of people but CIH creates friendly opportunities to meet your peers, such as mentoring, regional events and conferences with networking time. Plus housing people are all lovely so don’t be shy to say hi.

To demonstrate the benefits of a network for career development, here are some examples of how my network has helped me grow.

Everyone’s favourite Orbit director, Julian Beaney, who I met when I joined the CIH East Midlands board as a student co-optee. Julian got me involved in organising a yearly leader’s roundtable event and also the CIH Midlands awards. This got me engaged in leadership discussions and also connected me with lots of others, including Boris Worrall and Elly Hoult.

On Julian’s recommendation, I was invited to be on a CIH Manchester Fringe event with Boris, who then included me in a think tank session the following year. Having these speaking opportunities were great for developing skills and exploring topics that I wouldn’t get the chance to do in my day job

Elly and I first got to know each other when Elly was on the South West CIH board, we buddied up at a CIH conference for board members and ended up sat on the VIP table somehow. We have since made a pact to support each other as we progress in our careers and I have recently called the Hoult-line to tap into her extensive knowledge of good practice in the sector.

The queen of housing herself, Alison Inman and I met when she grilled me as part of the CIH Rising Stars process and our paths have crossed ever since at various CIH gatherings. Alison has such incredible values, passion for doing the right thing by tenants and has no fear in speaking truth to power. I challenge anyone not to be inspired by her and absorb some of her energy.

Faisal Butt, strategic housing expert and I were introduced at CIH Manchester by someone I had been speaking to on Twitter. Faisal and I meet up in Manchester every year now and now that I also work in strategic housing, is a great contact to have!

And finally, all my amazing East Midlands board members and housing colleagues in the region who still respond to my numerous emails asking for help and favours either to deal with something in the day job or to get a new idea off the ground to benefit CIH members in the region.

I wouldn’t be the housing professional I am today and in the role that I am in without the support, guidance and influence of all these lovely people. You don’t have to walk your career path alone so please stop to say hi to a few people along the way, you never know where it could take you.

A conversation with the Minister

I’ve had the pleasure of not one but two roundtable events this week on the topic of social housing tenants being heard by their landlords.

The first was hosted by my organisation and featuring Jenny Osbourne, Chan Kataria and Martin Hilditch, and the second was the Nottingham Conversation with the Housing Minister event.

Both events included discussions about the potential for increased regulation around resident involvement, from cries of bring back the Audit Commission, to leave us alone we know what we’re doing.

I pretty much agree with the second option, though of course there is room for improvement in some organisations but we must make sure any regulation changes don’t add unnecessary red tape, don’t just become the standard rather than the minimum, aren’t a one size fits all and do focus on outcomes rather than methods. Let’s also learn from things we already know work well, such as accreditation schemes offered by TPAS and Housemark and the provisions for leaseholder associations.

And we’ve got to make sure we do more than just listen to residents on our terms, effective listening happens out in the community where the residents and the issues are, working with them and not imposing our solutions on them. Only in this way can we hope to listen to the hardest to hear too, such as the housebound, disabled, those with English as a second language, etc.

I think almost all landlords get resident involvement and would happily do more, but whilst ever the Government focus is on development, organisations will also focus their resources on this and cut back as far as possible in other areas. More balance from the Government in its expectations from landlords was my ask of the Minister when the 5 of us that stuck around for his late arrival got to meet with him. Whilst building as many homes as possible is crucial, it mustn’t be at the expense of the millions of current social housing residents, who require increasing support from an ever reducing number of support providers.

My second ask of the Minister was a joined up Government where DCLG and DWP policies work in harmony and not in contradiction. Whilst residents are struggling without enough money to live on and living in unsuitable housing, often with physical or mental health issues, the last thing they will be interested in is how their landlord compares against its peer group for satisfaction with repairs.

Of course, it’s not just for landlords to listen to social housing residents, the Government must do it’s bit as well and it was encouraging to hear the minister speak so positively about his experiences so far in meeting residents and staff and that he’s been recommending that other departments do the same. But let’s not wait for them to call us, let’s all commit to inviting our MPs to meet with residents and make sure they are listening too.

 

We all chose housing

There have been a couple of thought-provoking blogs recently on the subject of housing as a career choice (one by Adam Clark and the other by Yoric Irving-Clarke. Both blogs focus on the well worn phrase of ‘I fell into housing’ and thoughts on how we could encourage people, especially young people, to actively pursue a career in housing.

This subject also came up at the CIH board away day a couple of weeks ago, and someone wisely pointed out to me that we did all choose a career in housing when we chose to apply for that job we saw. And this got me thinking about the way we tell our housing career stories, always focusing on the fact that no one has ever left school saying they want to work in housing, the suggestion being that they were forced into it?! Instead, we should focus on what we were looking for in a job, make a difference, change lives, work for a charity, tackle poverty/inequality, work for an employer with a conscience, etc, and how we found the housing sector was the best place to do that.

We obsess over making housing a career of choice and hoping one day hoards of graduates will be telling their parents they are going to be a chartered housing professional. But there are already hoards of graduates saying they want to make a difference, change lives, work for a charity, etc that we seem to be ignoring because they aren’t using the H word.

I think we could put a lot of time and energy into trying to put housing on the career map, and achieve very little. I think it’s always best to go to where people are rather than expect them to come to you (and use language they understand not our industry jargon, Estate Officer anyone?) , so let’s take our housing flag to those socially conscious school leavers/graduates/career changers who I’m sure would jump into housing.

And let’s stop bemoaning the fact no one knew as a teenager they wanted to work in housing, what matters is that when they saw an opportunity they went for it and hopefully have stayed in the housing family for many years making that difference.

So tell me, why did you #choosehousing?

 

All about the boss

Being a good boss is something that is really important to me and something that I put a lot of time and effort into. Being a manager isn’t about the status, the salary or the power; it’s 100% about the people in your team and making sure they can be awesome in their work (with a balanced home life too).

So it really annoys me when I hear stories of bad bosses, so bad that people have to take some time out or find a new job. We regularly hear about mental health now as awareness, reporting and attitudes improve, yet stress is the number one cause of workplace absence?

The role of a manager to someone’s wellbeing and mental health at work cannot be underestimated. In the last year, three of my amazing, talented and award winning friends have taken time out because of stressful work environments, two have moved on and one is still searching. In all three cases, the cause can be traced back to the manager failing to ensure their wellbeing in the workplace.

I’m unsure if there are any consequences for most managers who’s staff are absent or leave due to stress? Shouldn’t it be taken as seriously as bullying, harassment or even assault? Suffering with stress can be life changing: low self esteem, lack confidence, panic attacks, social anxiety and in serious cases suicide (the biggest cause of death in young males).

And it’s not just about wellbeing, a good boss is crucial for good performance. A friend recently told me about a two different teams in his office, one made up of three of the best staff in the organisation, the other made up of very junior and inexperienced staff. The performance came down to the boss that could get the most of out of their team (it was the latter in case that wasn’t obvious).

So to all those managers and aspiring managers out there, please respect the role you hold and the difference you can make to your team’s success and wellbeing. To CEOs and HR directors, please put a spotlight on workplace wellbeing and the role of the manager in achieving this and take a zero tolerance approach to anyone contributing to stress related absence; my three friends would have been very grateful to have had that support.