Case study: West Kent Housing
1 Jul 2013 - Case Studies
This case study shows a great example of how engaging and empowering employees at a time of significant budget cuts can help an organisation can come through change successfully.
Additionally it shows the difference employee engagement makes to customer service.
Housing associations are facing a challenging time. Following a case study looking at West Kent’s approach, Joe Dromey, Head of Policy and Research at IPA explains how a focus on employee engagement has provided the foundations for the organisation’s success.
West Kent is a successful and dynamic housing association based in the south east of England. Their success is underpinned by a high level of employee engagement and a willingness to involve employees in the running of the organisation. The IPA undertook a case study of engagement at West Kent to understand both the factors behind the high level of engagement and the impact on the organisation as a whole.
It is immediately obvious on speaking to staff and leaders at West Kent that there is a strong and consistent approach to employee engagement. High levels of engagement are by no means an accident. They have a considered approach which addresses each of the four enablers of engagement.
There is a clear, coherent and well-understood strategic narrative which guides everything that West Kent does, with ‘residents at the centre.’ The strategic narrative along with the organisation’s are regularly and consistently communicated to employees. Staff demonstrate an impressive understanding of the organisation’s values and goals, and how they can contribute to their achievement. To support this, the targets of individual employees are clearly aligned with both their team goals and those of West Kent as a whole.
The organisation always endeavours to act with integrity, ensuring there is no gap between what it says and what it does. This is recognised by staff who acknowledge that, even in tough times, West Kent acts in a way that is consistent with their stated values.
There is a culture of employee voice, with staff encouraged to contribute views and suggestions as to how the organisation should be run. The vibrancy and impact of employee voice at West Kent is due both to a variety of channels for staff to speak up and – equally as importantly – a culture of openness that encourages staff to have their say and get involved.
Finally, West Kent has well-regarded engaging managers who involve and support their staff, building engagement across the organisation.
Engagement is integral to the organisation’s success. Employees at all levels understand the importance of engagement, and they recognise the benefits; for residents, for the organisation, and for staff themselves.
The focus on engagement means that West Kent is customer-focused and offers excellent customer service. As Frank Czarnowski, Chief Executive highlights – “when you’re a customer, you recognise an engaged member of staff and your experience is so different from with a disengaged member of staff.” This is validated by correspondingly high levels of customer satisfaction and external recognition in the form of the Customer Excellence award achieved last year.
High levels of employee engagement also ensure that West Kent is innovative and able to adapt to change. Engagement is seen as a key part of their business model, something they’re willing to work on and invest in to get right. West Kent have demonstrated how, through engaging with their staff, they have been able to cope with significant funding cuts without compromising service quality.
A striking example of this was seen when the Emerald team – which provides housing services to elderly residents – was hit by a substantial reduction in funding from the local authority. In response, management decided to give the team themselves a chance to come up with a response. They came up with an alternative which had enough flexibility in job roles to match people to service requirements, negating the need for redundancies. Hilary Knight, Business Services Director explained that the process was “led by staff; there was a high degree of empowerment… it was collegiate and democratic.”
By engaging with staff to harness their expertise and experience, West Kent have been able to deliver substantial business change for the benefit of residents and the organisation as a whole. One such example is the Customer Access Strategy. This was a major re-organisation which aimed to make it easier for customers to get through to the right person to deal with their issues. As with any re-organisation, it had the potential to impact on staff morale and engagement. West Kent ensured this was mitigated by explaining the need for the change to get people on board, and communicating with them regularly and openly throughout the process. They involved staff as much as possible, soliciting their suggestions and including them in key decision-making, such as on the decision of which CRM software to procure.
In what has been a difficult climate for housing associations, employee engagement has underpinned West Kent’s success and enabled them to weather the recent storms. They are now well placed to continue growing and succeeding in the future.
This post is reproduced from the IPA.
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