Housing and social care provider the Accord Group is a large organisation, but remains nimble enough to continuously innovate. CEO Dr Christopher Handy explains how.
Q: How do you balance pursuing innovation in a strategic plan with the need to continue running a viable housing business within a risk-averse environment?
A: Strategy is about making choices. Innovation should remain close to the core purpose of the organisation.
So we are a housing association and we need to provide homes for people – that’s why we exist. We fulfil this by building more homes each year. Historically, we have gone down the traditional contracting route, buying land and tendering a build contract with contractors.
But some six years ago we decided to open our own timber homes factory after some trialling with an offsite Norwegian manufacturer. This was highly innovative as a strategic choice, but still very close to our core purpose.
We now manufacture timber homes not only for our own supply, but also for other housing associations and local authorities, all of whom provide the homes for people on low incomes, which is again still close to our core purpose.
And we make money on the sale of the homes, we have cut the costs of construction and so that funding stream helps our bottom line, which in turn is invested in our core purpose of building more homes.
Q: With 4,000 employees, are you able to engage them in the strategic planning process?
A: We hold staff briefing and engagement events periodically to share with them ambitions for the future as well as getting their views about what the future should look like for Accord.
The vast majority of our staff provide care (since we are a significant care and support provider as well as a provider of housing), so we adopt multiple ways of engaging them. It’s important that different voices are heard in different ways. We would never argue this is perfect, but it is important that staff feel they can influence our direction.
Q: What one piece of advice would you give to a social sector CEO embarking upon a strategic plan right now?
A: Always look critically at what you are doing and be honest about quality. Look at what the best out there are doing and emulate it.
This article originally appeared in Strategy 101, the October 2018 launch edition of our new EP Insights management briefing for social sector leaders. Our aim is to offer a regular, thought-provoking selection of senior-level knowledge and practical advice that CEOs, managers and trustees can make use of to perform their roles more effectively. You can access and sign up for EP Insights at https://www.ep-insights.org/