To innovate or not to innovate?
This is a question many housing providers find themselves asking at a time when delivering core services is more challenging than ever. But what does innovation really mean and how can housing organisations innovate in a way which supports their core goals?
David Done, the chief executive of RHP, knows more than most about the merits of innovation – his organisation has topped Inside Housing’s Innovation Index for two years in a row. We spoke to David ahead of his session on innovation at our Eastern conference to find out more…
"We have to get away from this idea that innovation is something which takes you away from your core business – if it’s done right the opposite is true."
David Done’s views on the importance of innovation are clear – to him it is something all housing organisations should be doing.
RHP, which topped Inside Housing’s Innovation Index for the second consecutive year last month, has made innovation the norm and the results have been hugely positive.
"We’ve transformed the organisation - it’s that simple,” David explains. "Innovation is right at the heart of everything we do now and it has improved our processes, resulted in significant savings for the business and ultimately improved the services our customers get.
"I think it has gone from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’ for housing organisations. We have to adapt before the adapting is done for us by someone else."
Though some of RHP’s key innovations have revolved around technology this represents only half of the innovation that happens at RHP.
"It is fundamentally about original thinking," he continues. "That is what we have fostered. We’ve led on innovation from the top but we’ve put in place measures which give all of our people the chance to put forward new ideas."
Among those measures is an initiative which allows any member of staff to pitch an original idea in four minutes and put forward a case for it to be adopted and funded. The ideas are then put on RHP’s Yammer page and staff vote for their favourite.
"It is about making innovation central to your culture. Part of that has been recruiting outside of the housing sector – the creativity and the fresh ideas it has brought to us has been hugely positive. People at RHP feel that if they have an original idea they can come forward with it.
"Fostering originality has worked so well because we’ve had people from all over the business come up with really innovative solutions. Often it is people that you would never expect to come forward but they have these amazing ideas. It has also helped to make RHP a really great place to work which supports creativity."
But what about those who say innovation is a luxury they can’t afford in challenging times? They need to flip that idea on its head, explains David.
"We have to get away from this idea that innovation is risky and dangerous – it isn’t. Housing organisations need to find the courage to support creativity and innovation – that is the only way we will meet the challenges we face.
"And it is absolutely not something which takes you away from day-to-day business - for us it has added huge value to our core services. So for example we recently introduced an entirely digital housing offer for tenants which allows them to do everything relating to their tenancy at the touch of a button. That has resulted in significant cost savings and better services.
"We’ve also looked at our tenancies and shifted the relationship to one of trust and placing more responsibility with tenants. We looked at our maintenance programme and we shifted things so that now tenants are given five-year tenancies and we hand them a high-quality property so we cut down on our responsive repairs budget. If they meet the terms of their tenancy they then receive £1,000 cash back to help them find somewhere else to live. So in this case, the innovation has not only completely changed our core service - it has also made a direct contribution to our performance."
So what should other housing organisations consider when they are looking at introducing new innovations?
"Be bold,” David continues. "Approach innovation as something that can add real value to your work and lead it from the top – channel it where you want it to go. We’ve really focused our innovations at the core aims of the business and that has been really successful.
"Finally, bring in people that aren’t from the housing sector. The new perspective that they bring will be invaluable – having the mix of people who know and understand housing and new ideas and approaches is really important.
"Embracing innovation can reap huge rewards, it is time for housing organisations to see it as essential."
- Why is innovation so important, and how can we develop a culture which harnesses it? Join us at the CIH Eastern conference from 2-3 November in Cambourne and hear more from David