We throw around a lot of glib one liners in housing (I suppose that most other professions do likewise) and one of the most frequent is that ‘staff are our greatest asset.’

Of course, that is to a great extent true. However, most people who give that quote deliver it in a way which suggests that running an organisation is not dissimilar to an extended episode of the Waltons, with everybody looking after each other’s interests, helping others to achieve their objectives and going to bed each night knowing that they’ve helped to make the world a better and happier place.

Of course, the reality is somewhat different and people are different too – they have unique personalities and idiosyncrasies and need to be treated and looked after in different ways. Making the most of your staff requires energy, time, resources and a willingness to make tough (but fair) decisions.

When City West formed in 2008, it’s fair to say that we had some challenges in relation to our staff. Firstly, our structure was a long way from being fit for purpose. We were a partial stock transfer so there was no rhyme nor reason as to which staff had transferred to us and which had stayed with the Council. We also had a number of staff who, to be blunt, did not want to work for us. With many, we were able to turn this viewpoint around but with others the feeling about not wanting to work together soon became mutual!

How did we get around this? Two things really – communication and honesty. We had lots of contact with our staff to emphasise what we were about as an organisation, what our vision and values were, and how they could help shape our future direction. We were also honest – some might say brutally so. We made it clear that we would provide support, resources and training but that if they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do their job then we would part company with them.

Did it work? Well, yes, but it took a while. You can’t always part company with people as quickly as you would like and toxic people can do a lot of damage to an organisation. It took us about 12 months to resolve our staffing issues and a further six months before we were happy with our structures. It’s a credit to the hard work and commitment of our people that performance and customer satisfaction improved during this challenging time.

What would my advice be to anybody running a stock transfer organisation? Set your stall out early; be firm and clear in what your goals are; lead my example in terms of your behaviour; take as prompt an action as possible against those will never be productive members of the team; and, just because you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with challenging people, never ever lose sight of the fact that the majority of your staff are doing a great job.

So that was a lot about dealing with people challenges – next time I’ll be more upbeat and will cover talent management and how we can make our good staff even better.

Tim Doyle, Group Chief Executive at ForViva

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