3 steps to setting objectives in the social housing sector

Sometimes it feels like there are never enough available hours, days or weeks to achieve everything we set out to do. Following the recent media focus on poor quality social housing, we look at the 2020/21 Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) Consumer Regulation Review, and how to prioritise your efforts when setting objectives in the social housing sector.

Published on 7th September, the Regulator’s latest Consumer Regulation Review covers 2020 to 2021, a time when housing associations have experienced a strain on resources and focus due to the Covid pandemic. As we return to something closer to pre-2020 life, it’s time for housing association Boards and leadership teams to reassess and re-focus on their organisation’s most important priorities.

In the Review summary, the RSH states:

“Our casework continues to demonstrate the importance of:

• meeting health and safety requirements and ensuring tenants’ homes are safe

• effective communication with tenants, taking into account their diverse needs

• learning from tenant complaints, and the need for registered providers to hear the messages tenants are giving them

• planning to implement the White Paper, taking steps now to strengthen engagement with tenants and improve the services they receive.

These themes have been highlighted in our previous reports and should remain key priorities for Boards, Councillors and Executives.”

The challenge of conflicting objectives

None of this is particularly new or shocking (as they say, these themes have been highlighted in their previous reports) but that doesn’t mean it’s easy either.

We all have limited resources, so how to prioritise when setting objectives in the social housing sector?

A challenge I find a lot in clients’ organisations is conflicting objectives.

Understandably, different teams have different tasks and focuses. But that often leads to objectives and KPIs (key performance indicators) that have teams pulling in different and conflicting directions.

For example, the comms and marketing team have an objective to send more emails to customers about the available services, and to do that they need to update consent records.

So they might want the customer contact team to use their existing phone calls with customers to update the email consent records. But the customer contact team’s objective is to keep calls as short as possible; any extra questions are going to have a negative impact on their own KPIs.

Looking at the list of priorities from the recent RSH report above, I can see how focusing too narrowly on one part of the list could result in directing resources away from achieving other parts of the list.

“taking into account [tenants’] diverse needs”

“strengthen engagement with tenants”

Depending on how these statements are interpreted, they have the ability to become objectives and projects that take up resources – people, time, executive focus, project management support, and so on – potentially at the cost of resources that could otherwise be directed towards other objectives, such as “meeting health and safety requirements”.

Let’s go back to basics

As a housing association leader, how to prioritise your objectives and resources?

If we start by going back to basics, what is your main purpose? You may have a number of values, objectives and goals published on your website and annual report, but your mission or vision will reflect your main purpose and will likely include the word “homes” or similar.

Imagine if you directed all of your resources and effort towards that one thing above all others – homes. Specifically the first item on the RSH list: “meeting health and safety requirements and ensuring tenants’ homes are safe.”

If safe homes became your number one priority, what might the impact be on complaints, satisfaction, public relations?

Distractions lead to risky decisions

You might be wondering what this has got to do with data protection though!

I’m passionate about encouraging housing associations to direct their resources towards their number one purpose because it’s often when they get distracted by other priorities or objectives that risky data-management decisions are made.

Risky in the sense that people, customers, colleagues and the public could be harmed in many ways by them. And risky in that the organisation could suffer, due to complaints, poor PR, compensation claims to be paid or fought, and investigations and monetary penalties from the ICO.

When housing associations concentrate on “[tenants’] diverse needs” as a prime example, this usually translates into a huge increase in the amount of sensitive data that’s collected from tenants, about health, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, without any clear link to achieving the housing association’s main purpose.

More data, and more sensitive data especially, means more risk – risk of discrimination, embarrassment, or fraud, amongst other harmful outcomes.

I’ll discuss the risks of collecting diversity data in more detail in a future blog post. (Update: you can read that blog post here.)

For now, how to prioritise your objectives and resources to most effectively and efficiently achieve your purpose?

By following these steps when deciding on business priorities and strategies:

3 steps to setting objectives that achieve your purpose

1. Identify and articulate your organisation’s overarching purpose.

Housing associations will already know their purpose is providing homes. But you may want to further clarify your main purpose – is it to increase the number of homes, is it to increase the quality of your homes, is it to increase the number of a particular type of homes e.g. rental, supported housing or shared ownership homes?

2. Assess potential activities against your overarching purpose and allocate them accordingly.

You can’t green-light every project or objective, so running potential activities through a benefits and risk test, which assesses how well the activity aligns with achieving your overarching purpose will help you decide what to prioritise.

3. Monitor regularly and be prepared to be flexible as appropriate.

Things change, so monitor projects and activities regularly, to check their objective and outputs are still in alignment with your purpose.

If the organisation’s priority changes, or the outcome of a particular type of work isn’t what had been envisaged, it’s time to take stock and change focus if needs be.

A framework to align objectives with purpose

If decision makers don’t focus closely on your overarching purpose above all else, you risk being distracted by less important objectives, spreading your organisation’s resources too thinly, and failing to achieve your purpose.

To ensure all activities are aligned with your purpose, develop a framework to assess and prioritise all potential activities, and a governance framework to support and monitor the proper implementation of activities that are approved.

In our Purpose/Data Alignment Programme, we provide you with the tools, templates and strategies you need to build a framework that ensures all your activities that involve data-handling are aligned with your purpose.

Join our mailing list to hear about the ways we can help you protect your precious asset – people.

Related blog posts:

Good quality data

Purpose/Data Alignment – Data Governance framework

Benefits of good data protection

If you have any questions about data protection, either about governance frameworks or anything else related to personal data, book a free call!

Clare draws on over 20 years of experience in risk management and quality assurance, including ten years in data protection, to provide clear and practical advice and training.

Don’t tell everyone (shh!) but Clare’s favourite sector is social housing. She worked in a large housing association for 12 years, and she loves to support all types of values-led organisations.