"Think Yes"

EFQM
18 September 2013

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA)

Winner of the EFQM Good Practice Competition 2013 - New Ways of Working

Glasgow Housing Association (GHA) is a Registered Social Landlord (RSL), a not-for-profit organisation, a limited liability company, and a registered charity. We provide services to almost 67,000 people across Glasgow, owning and managing 41,000 rented properties. We are both the largest provider of social rented housing in Scotland. Since 2012, GHA has become the largest subsidiary of Wheatley Group, a new organisation formed to ensure a sustainable and growing business in the current environment. GHA’s turnover is approximately £185 million per year of which £150m is generated through core housing, and £35m through other sources.

Our leaders have set a clear direction through our vision of “Better homes, Better lives, a Better Glasgow.” Our core business is to rent properties to individual customers as their home and provide those customers with a range of property and neighbourhood services such as repairs, cleaning common areas and support services to ensure they have a nice place to live and can sustain their tenancy. As a Social Landlord, our priority is to provide housing to those “in need”, including vulnerable customers and those who would struggle to afford the private rented market or to own their own property. The role of Social Landlords in Scotland is defined in legislation and regulated by an independent Government body. We provide services through our Customer Service Centre (CSC), City Centre based shop and a network of community based offices, called Local Housing Organisations. We have approximately 1600 staff members across Glasgow, in 28 local housing offices and 2 corporate offices. Our key challenges include continuing to improve business performance through a poor economic climate, reducing costs to enable us to do more for our customers and invest in our assets and responding to welfare reform which is reducing our customers’ income and may make it harder for them to pay their rent.

Our Organisation is passionate about delivering a dynamic and comprehensive service to its customers and continually looks to enhance these services. There are many examples of changes that have been made with the specific purpose of adding value to our customers. For example, the creation of our Customer Service Centre which operates 24/7 where all routine enquiries are directed, freeing up time and allowing Housing Officers more time in dialogue with our customers. In order to meet the diverse needs of our client group, GHA recognises that “change” within the organisation is crucial and in order to deliver change, it is important to pay attention not only to the tools and business processes available, but to focus on equipping and enabling staff to make the change a reality.

One of the major changes to be implemented is our “Think Yes” initiative, which following its success in 4 Pilot Offices, was rolled out across GHA in September 2012. “Think Yes” is about empowering our staff to make personalised solutions for each customer, using their initiative and professional judgement and resolving customer issues “on the spot”. Our staff take a great deal of pride in ensuring that any “blockages” for effective service delivery are removed and share these “solutions” with each other. As a result of “Think Yes”, staff have become more confident and continually strive to delight our customer which is reflected in the increase in customer satisfaction.

Approach

Our customers matter to us - we want them to be happy with the services we provide. While we had relatively high levels of customer satisfaction, we’d set ourselves an ambitious target of delivering customer satisfaction of 90% or above by 2013/14. Research has consistently shown that high performing organisations have employees with high levels of satisfaction who are engaged with the organisation, its values and its strategy. To build this trust and confidence with our people, we have created our “Think Yes” culture.

“Think Yes” is reflected in everything we do from our leadership and management approach through to the ways in which we manage our policies and processes. It is a mindset we empower all our people to adopt when serving our customers, with the role of managers and leaders becoming to realise the potential of their people and remove blockages that stop our staff being able to say yes at the first point of contact.

We have systematically identified areas where staff have felt they have had to escalate issues for a management decision rather than resolve them themselves and we have sought to remove the reasons for these, both real and perceived. For example, staff were sometimes saying no to customers because they perceived that there was not adequate budget to deliver solutions or home improvements when actually, looking across budgets, solutions were easily affordable. To overcome this, our leaders have had a number of sessions with all front-line staff and put in place new ways of managing budgets locally.

We have further aligned our operational staffing structures to better create an operating environment that will enable our staff to say yes. This has involved putting more staff on the front line and enabling them to make quick and personalised decisions for our customers at the first point of contact. We created clearer accountability for every housing officer for customers in their patch, and reduced layers of local management which significantly reduced staffing costs. An efficiency saving of £1.5million was estimated as a result of flatter structures. However, this has been exceeded and the actual saving was £3.4million.

This enabled housing officers to know, build relationships and add value to customers, as set out in our Customer Excellence and Better Lives strategies. We analysed all call handling that was happening locally through our “Think Yes” pilots and identified that over 70% of this was transactional in nature. Given this, we have now routed all customer calls through our Customer Service Centre in the first instance, making for a more efficient and effective service for our customers. All managers are now provided with advice and support to make “Think Yes” real for them, as we move away from our old style of management. This has included a new focus on management development at our monthly Managers forums and a dedicated leadership programme based on best practice in emotional intelligence. The evaluation has shown that this has opened managers’ minds to new ways of building positive relationships with staff and this, in turn, is leading staff to build stronger relationships with customers. GHA now has leaders who create the space through coaching and mentoring for staff to manage themselves and take responsibility and accountability for delighting our customers.

Deployment

The “Think Yes” initiative was first introduced to GHA staff as a pilot project in four GHA offices in July 2011. It was piloted in four of our frontline teams, one from each geographical location – north, south, east and west of Glasgow. Martin Armstrong, our Chief Executive, visited each office and asked staff to use their professional judgment to deliver what our customers wanted. Out went waiting for decisions from managers and in came quick action - at the first point of contact with customers. At this stage, we deliberately set no boundaries. Staff had to interpret Think Yes themselves and apply it in a way that suited their individual customers. Their only direction was to do what the customer wanted and to not break the law. Housing Officers were nervous at first but they soon found their feet. They spent more time with existing customers and established strong relationships with new customers.

The experiments were a huge success with fully empowered Housing Officers thoroughly enjoying their new operational freedom; better engaging with existing tenants and establishing strong relationships with new tenants. Business performance improved, staff morale improved and there was no significant rise in local spend. The staff who were involved in the pilots became ambassadors for Think Yes in both the internal communications campaign and in the training sessions during Better Futures week, an event for all staff that launched Think Yes across GHA.

“Think Yes gave me the freedom to deal with customers’ issues at the point of contact, knowing our bosses trust me to act sensibly and professionally.”
Darren Clark, Housing Officer at Clydeview

Assessment

The achieved benefits are

  • Staff satisfaction across the 4 pilot areas has improved since “Think Yes” pilots mainly due to being able to say Yes to our customers
  • Staff feels more satisfied with their job in the “Think Yes” pilot offices (83%) 
  • Customer satisfaction levels are continuing to improve (87%) 
  • Staff satisfaction, following the organisation wide launch, improved across GHA (85%) 
  • Due to flatter structures at the frontline we have saved £3.4 million from our staffing budget

Refinement

In October 2011, key staff from the four pilot areas met with Martin Armstrong and the other Executive Directors to give their honest feedback on the “Think Yes” pilot.

This meeting was pivotal in the design process for the organisation-wide campaign. Feedback given by staff showed how embracing “Think Yes” transformed the customer/staff relationship.

This, in turn, helped the organisation make the decisions which allowed “Think Yes” to take to be embedded across GHA. These were: 

  • Housing Officers to be key decision-makers 
  • Housing Managers to support staff in making decisions, removing blockages to thinking yes and helping staff develop in their role 
  • Re-organisation of support staff to better allow Housing staff to fully Think Yes

Desired results of "Think Yes"

The objectives of ‘Think Yes’ are to:

  • Improve customer satisfaction levels by asking staff to think positively when faced with a customer request or problem 
  • Improve staff satisfaction by empowering them to make decisions for customers and promote ownership and trust 
  • Put more staff on the front line enabling them to make quick decisions for our customers at the first point of contact 
  • Get to know, build relationships and add value for our customers, as set out in our Customer Excellence and Better Lives strategies 
  • Deliver personalised services to meet individual need 
  • Streamline more efficient operating structures designed to generate savings which can be reinvested in further improving customer experience

As can be seen in the results section, we have met these objectives, our customers and staff are more satisfied with quality of service and our staff are more motivated, feel valued, are proud to work for GHA and are satisfied with their job. This has been a resounding success; research has proven that happy, motivated staff with a positive attitude are far more productive.

Click here to download the full Good Practice in PDF.