Culture change housing

Customer-Focused Culture Change in Housing

Culture change in housing that champions an empowering, authentic and customer-centric way of transforming services and improving customer experience.

Background to project

Catalysing customer-centric culture change in housing

Following the merger between Paragon and Asra housing associations PA Housing became one of the larger housing associations in the UK, offering over 23,000 homes across the Midlands, London and the South East.

As part of the merger they’d started looking at ways to reinforce a customer-centric culture across the new organisation. Following work with Peabody and Paragon on shifting culture they asked us to look at ways to improve their customer experience – and rebase the way they worked together around customer-centric principles.

Culture change focus

Putting a customer perspective on culture change in housing

“Similar but different” cultures and perspectives: The organisations, although similar in some respects, diverged in others. We needed to find a way to take the most positive aspects of both cultures and combining them in the new housing association.

Focus less on culture, more on doing: There was a desire to more aware from abstract culture change and more towards practical way of improving things. Shifting from simply looking at culture change in housing and more towards “how we do things around here”.

No “cookie cutter” approach: The previous organisations had experience with formulaic change programmes and were eager to avoid the pitfalls of a “one size fits all” approach. They wanted something that was designed and driven by what their staff and customers valued – helping them feel involved in the change.

Multiple offices: PA Housing’s operations were split across multiple locations over the UK, making it difficult to bring people together and build a sense of unity during the merger.

Doing with, not to: With any change, its success relies on whether people feel it’s being done to them or with them. Peabody felt our approach to culture fitted this idea and wanted to engage people across the organisation in the journey.

Encourage positive, customer-centric change: As with any merger, the level of change was going to be significant. We wanted to ensure that changes to services and teams put what mattered to customers centre-stage and meant ‘business as usual’ wasn’t affected too heavily.

Approach to culture change

Building customer centricity into “how we do things”

We worked with PA Housing to develop the PA Way – a way of doing things which promoted greater cross-departmental working and a more customer-centred approach.

Programme principles

Create a place people want to be a part of: Focus on the idea of creating a place people wanted to be a part of – both within the organisation and for the housing and communities PA Housing affected.

Whatever we developed should be felt in the actions, decisions and behaviours of everyone. We wanted to explore what “creating a place that people want to be a part of” meant to customers and colleagues. What does that look like? What might need to change? What should we do more of?

Everyone should have a voice to make change: As with an organisational change, working with people to it feels done with them, not to them, was essential. There was anecdotal feedback that, in the past, colleagues views hadn’t been fully listened to.

We wanted everyone to have a voice in creating a housing association people would be proud of. This went for customers too and we wanted to find ways to keep the customer voice front and centre of the decisions we made.

Everyone has customers: There’s often a perception that, unless you are directly customer facing, you don’t strictly have “customers”. We needed to challenge this assumption if we hoped to see the kind of change we hoped to see. Our message was “if you deliver a service, internally or externally, you have customers”.

Listening to customers

Engaging with residents, communities and customers in defining the way things are done

We used existing customer research from both organisations to find themes and common sentiment to build a picture of where both organisations had succeeded and where they could improve.

Engaging with scrutiny

We were fortunate enough to spend time with member of scrutiny panels for both organisations – a selection of resident who review and feedback on the services they provide. They gave us deeper insight into areas they wanted to see improved.

Listen to us: When we tell you something’s wrong, listen and do something about it. Essentially, being there, in the way we want, and keep us informed.

Understand what really matters: Invest more time and energy understanding what really matters to us, rather than make assumptions on our behalf.

Support customers to “own their community”: Move away from a traditional, paternalistic approach to one where the residents of a community have greater control to own what happens.

Joined up service: If you’re disjointed internally it shines through in how “joined up” you service feels. If you’re not working well internally you’ll never be able to deliver a seamless service for residents.

Listening to employees

Involving everyone in defining the culture they wanted to create

Cultural change housing conference

Getting everyone involved in defining what matters and what to do about it.

A staff conference had been organised as part of the merger and we were able to use this to run a series of exercises – designed to get relevant and insightful feedback from staff on what they wanted to see.

1. What makes you proud to work here?
2. Which values are weakest and strongest?
3. What’s the environment and mindset we need?
4. What little thing would you change?
5. What gets in the way of doing the right thing?

Customer experience and culture exercises 1

1. What makes you proud to work here?

Understanding what made staff proud to part of the organisation and what they felt less proud of.

2. Where we’re strongest (and weakest)

Benchmarking against set criteria we’d extracted from customer feedback – so we could align internal and external perspective on where things should be improved. We used this to define where we should focus our efforts in terms of teamwork, problem solving and leadership strategy.

What’s the environment & mindset you want?

We explored he environment we need to create – how it should feel to work here, the vibe of the business. If someone new came to visit, what kind of place do we want them to feel this is? We also looked at the characteristics (or mindset) we should expect from one another – the attitudes, behaviours we need to have. The way we treat each other.

What little thing would you change today?

Every organisation already has a ready-made stack of insight into what could be better. It’s all around you right now – in the people who deliver your service everyday. They see the issues, the blockers, the moments of truth. They also rarely have a platform to voice these ideas. We used this exercise to start sourcing ideas from staff on little ideas that would make things better for customers.

What gets in the way of “doing the right thing”?

Finally, we asked everyone to give us their feedback on what, in their opinion, gets in the way of doing the right thing for customers. If we worked from the basis that all staff wanted to give the best, possible service they could then what was getting in the way. What were the roadblocks that prevented them.

Creating culture change

Listening, learning and co-creating a way to develop culture

Cultural change and customer expereince insight 1

Topline insight

From the staff conference and initial insight we were able to establish key themes – where the views of customers and colleagues aligned to give us a picture of what needed to change.

  1. Empowered to do the right thing: Processes and procedures should be designed to support and enable – built with enough flexibility to empower you to do the right thing in moment.
  2. Working together better: Building mutual empathy across the teams we work with and rely on – solving problems together. Never forgetting we’re all in this together.
  3. Joined-up view of customer experience: Start with what matters to our customers – designing everything we do around their needs. Mindful of the impact our decisions have.
  4. Celebrating our impact: We all deserve to take the time to step back and celebrate the huge impact we have on people’s lives, and do more of the good stuff.
  5. The “right” attitude: Recognise that a positive, flexible and supportive attitude will help us enjoy work, get stuff done and make this a place to be proud of. 

Guiding Principles

Creating the PA Principles

A guide for “how we do things around here” for every level of the organisation.

Cultural change principles 1

From the insight we gathered we developed a set of guiding principles for “how we do things around here”. They were a tool for guiding decisions and actions, big and small, to improve the experience we give to our customers and work better together.

After listening to what staff and customers were saying we asked: what type of attitude, perspective or approach would create less of what’s wrong and encourage more of what’s right.

  1. Doing the right thing
  2. Being in this together
  3. Looking at the bigger picture
  4. Never stop learning
  5. Never forgetting our impact
1. Doing the right thing

Do we listen to what our customers want?

2. Being in this together

Are we building the relationships we need to succeed?

3. Looking at the bigger picture

Are we considering how our part affects the whole?

4. Never stop learning

Are we always learning and finding better ways?

5. Never forgetting our impact

Are we working together towards a common goal?

Building personal responsibility

Service and culture action groups

Supporting people from across the organisation to get together, solve problems and own the change. Empowerment in action.

The purpose of the action groups for to empower and enable people from across the organisation to champion a way of working that’s collaborative, open to all and focused on creating positive change for customers.

Rather than take a traditional, top down approach, leaders would act as mentors and coaches to the groups. Supporting them when needed.

Around 16% of the organisation had voluntarily signed up to be part of these groups and we kicked off the initiative with a day long problem solving workshop, with groups working in their respective areas to look at issues and service improvements – and work together on fixing them.

Environment & Mindset

Creating the right environment and mindset to enable us to make this a reality. Championing the great things we do and not being afraid to challenge when things could be better.

Change & Innovation

A place where change is a positive and having the support to innovate is encouraged. Where everyone can make the little changes that have the biggest impact.

Service & Experience

The way we design our services, being focused on the experience we give to our customers and one another. Reducing the friction and making it easy for people to get what they need.


How we communicate with one another and with our customers, Managing expectations, keeping people updated and being mindful of how we treat each other.

Working together

Support each other to be all we can be – being enabled by the right kind support. Working across departmental boundaries to design better ways of doings things. 

Empowering managers

Manager sessions and toolkit

Giving managers the tools to embed a new way of doing things – founded in what matters to customers and colleagues.

Decision making and team health check sheet 1

To help embed the PA Principles and get teams to start thinking about what it meant for them we developed a range of tools for managers which we rolled out as part of problem solving sessions. All leaders and managers we engaged in these sessions where we worked through ways to embed the PA Way and

One of these tools was the Pulse Check – a collaborative team activity where teams could explore areas where they were doing well and areas where they could improve.

Working alongside HR and L&D we also adapted their performance management framework to include these topics – ensuring the PA Way became part of business as usual.

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