December 31st, 2013
Tina Drury is Executive Director, Customers and Communities, at Isos Housing, a not-for-profit company that manages over 12,400 homes across the North East. In March 2013 Isos Housing was awarded a place in the not-for-profit category of the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies list and the business has also been recognised for its employee engagement by Best Companies.
One of the reasons that Tina joined the Academy for Chief Executives in May was because she wanted to connect with people who had commercial mind-sets and different ways of thinking and working. She was looking for a network that provided a supportive environment where business leaders could both learn and share their experiences, challenges, knowledge and insight.
In the same spirit of sharing, this case study illustrates an innovative programme that Tina has put in place to help drive engagement and performance within Isos Housing. It all started with National Customer Service Week and was combined with an initiative to encourage people across the business to do something different to improve customer service.
Says Tina: “When someone turns up to fix your leaking tap, what they’re actually doing is delivering customer service. Everything they do reflects on Isos. So it’s important that our people perceive their roles as more than simply carrying out repairs. At the same time, it’s important for them to understand that I really do understand the types of issues and challenges that they face on a daily basis.”
To prove that this was more than an empty promise, Tina volunteered to go ‘back to the floor’ with frontline staff in different parts of the business. This could mean spending time with a joiner, a plumber, a customer services adviser or a housing officer. The idea was to engage directly with staff as they went about their day-to-day job and to see first-hand the issues and challenges that they face.
The initiative kicked off in October 2011 and has been such a success that it is still going strong today.
“It’s about action and not just words,” Tina says. “It’s not just hearing, but really listening to what you are being told. To translate what you are being told into action, you really have to understand what people are saying. As well as showing people that they are valued, sometimes you can see that you need to make concrete changes in the way things are done.
“One example is the time I spent with a heating engineer. The message I got was that their lives would be much easier if we could schedule their work better to reduce unnecessary travel. We cover a vast area from Darlington up to Berwick and across to Carlisle. So improving our planning enabled us to cut down the amount of unnecessary miles the engineers were driving and so use their time much better.
“I was also able to feed back to our customer service advisors that having more detail on each `job card` would really help the engineers. Specifically, they wanted to know in advance if extra parts would be required to do a job so that they didn’t have to make a return visit to fit them later.”
Another important part of the process that has been put in place is an internal communication loop, with Tina sharing what she has learnt though a blog that she writes for the Isos Housing Intranet.
“This provides me with a great platform to talk about the day, what I got out of it personally and the difference it has made in general. I also regularly get feedback that people are pleased that one of the bosses has taken time out to be with them and understand what they do. The time we spend together also gives them an insight into my own background and role.
“Another output from the day is that I always give feedback to the Assistant Director or Director in charge of that part of the business and share with them what I have heard and seen. There may be suggestions that they decide to take forward for their own directorate. And we also ask that member of staff if they found the experience to be of value when it is time for their appraisal.”
Finally, in terms of the strategic value of this experiential sharing across the business Tina’s viewpoint is this initiative has given her an all-important bigger picture perspective on the business.
“In my position, if you don’t understand the day-to-day operations, you don’t know what strategic interventions are required. Unless you have this depth of understanding, how can you make those strategic decisions?”