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Opinion: Survival of the fittest or genetic engineering?

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Opinion: Survival of the fittest or genetic engineering?


Published by Anonymous for in Housing

Opinion: Survival of the fittest or genetic engineering? Opinion: Survival of the fittest or genetic engineering?

Former bpha chief executive John Cross says embracing the new socio-political and economic climate is the only way forward for housing associations.

Today I embark on the next stage of my career. A career that has so far seen countless housing ministers, experienced a few recessions, several housing booms, a plethora of government initiatives and a few crises along the way. Despite our collective best intentions, enormous amounts activity and desire and plenty of rhetoric we are still not building enough homes, particularly for those not already well established on the property ladder.

When I look back at the affordable housing sector that I joined in the late 1970s I can see things have moved on significantly. Looking more critically at the changes since I first became chief executive at bpha in the mid-90s I see that the sector has indeed moved on some fronts but it still feels fundamentally the same in many ways. We have done plenty of things and innovated but the business models remain very similar. Dare I say that this is because we’ve been operating in a relatively benign environment?

As the socio-political and economic climate continues to change, our sector will be under more intense scrutiny and increasing pressure to deliver. So what does that mean for our industry and our businesses however we might describe them? Can we afford to continue our evolution or do we need the benefit of some genetic engineering? As Darwin said “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those can best manage change”.

My instinct is that we can adapt and change - but it will come at a price. Not all will survive. We need to collaboratively develop our ‘meta-view’ for the sector and follow this with our own cultural revolution.

There is no need to abandon our values and principles – far from it. However, we must be open to new ideas, new thinking and new approaches. The private sector is far from perfect but we need to properly and fully embrace the best of commercialism and embed it across our socially motivated businesses. Philanthropy has to have strong commercial foundations – ask Bill Gates!

Leadership is at the heart of this culture shift. We need the right people on the boards and senior leadership teams that will inspire and give confidence to their colleagues and stakeholders. They need to be courageous to take bold, difficult or unpopular decisions, like the thorny question on executive and non-executive pay, that are right for their organisation.

Above all else they need to create a transforming talent strategy for our socially motivated businesses of the 21st century which encourages innovation and, collaboration, creates tomorrow’s leaders, drives performance but critically focuses on customers and our social purpose.

Our operating environment is not fixed. It will continue to change and flex with the ongoing austerity measures impacting upon society and the businesses we lead. The best talent policies will be able to respond to these changing circumstances and that is what we must aspire to. But will that talent want to join us rather than our commercial cousins?

I am the eternal optimist but we face a real challenge in selling our sector as a career choice for the commercially capable and socially committed talent we undoubtedly need. Without it I’m afraid our ability to evolve will be challenged and our regulators at the HCA may have to call in the genetic engineers!

John Cross is director of John Cross Consulting Ltd.


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