Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Customer service delivery is often a reflection of the culture within an organisation and the operating models that reflect that culture.

We are entering the Digital Darwinism age.

Private and third sector alike, will need to adapt operating models to achieve the channel shift that is expected as a result of digital transformation, as well as the structural and cultural shifts needed to reduce operating costs, while addressing universal levels of falling productivity and staff and customer engagement.

Digital alone is not the cure for all ills. Digital Strategies provide the foundations and platform for digital service delivery, but as Bill Gates famously stated, automation applied to an efficient process will magnify the outcome: automation applied to an inefficient process will magnify the inefficiency.

In the reality of today’s operating environment and the continued drive for Vfm, millions are being spent by start-ups on developing simple and effective app-based systems, to manage and maintain operations.

The real competition is coming from outside the housing sector, just like it has elsewhere. Amazon, Airbnb, Uber. Challenges will come in every aspect of simplicity and cost – delivering alternatives to manage and maintain social housing at half of the operating costs of the current top quartile housing associations.

The reality is that many and most social housing policies, processes, transactions and interactions with customers and partners, will have developed over time and been added to with workarounds and regulatory dictats to make them more complicated than they need to be.

Complicatedness will have taken root because of the traditional ‘hard’ approach to organising the organisation. In this hard approach, structure defines the role, processes instruct how to perform it, and incentives motivate the right person in the right role to do it. In this perspective, if there is a performance problem, then it must be because some key element is missing or not detailed enough. So managers jump straight from identifying a performance problem, to deploying new structures, processes or systems, to resolve them.

Smart, well-meaning people are also driven to demonstrate their talent, experience or ability to manage – in many cases by creating a work-around to any blockages. And work-around is, of course, just another term for complexity. And complexity has a way of breeding more complexity.

Global research by the Boston Consulting Group has identified that in the most complicated organisations:

  • Managers spend more than 40% of their time writing reports and between 30 and 60% of their time in meetings.
  • Teams spend between 40 and 80% of their time wasted on activities which add no value to the business or the end customer.

Research by Adobe identified that most workers in the developed world spend six hours a day checking email and, we have found across the housing sector, that up to 40% of front line staff’s time is wasted on non-value adding activities; writing, editing, rewriting and presenting reports, travel and the complicatedness bound up in permissions, processes, office politics, silo working and workflows.

The traditional approach to delivering efficiency and value is very much the hard way – via staff structures. Reduce operating costs by reducing the number of staff through restructures. Just a cold hard look at what is core or non-core to the business and what can therefore be cut, followed by a myriad of ad-hoc unconnected projects, such as lean reviews, alternative ways to work or markets to explore, etc.

Economy without a long term view of the efficiency or effectiveness of decisions.

Ignoring the root problems but trimming the branches anyway.

This approach fails because it does not address the inherently inefficient operating realities outlined above. In order to be able to maintain personal staff contact in aspects of services where this makes a real difference to customers, we will need to make other service aspects more efficient and on a self-service basis.

A Smart Simplicity approach.

Barry Marlow and Peter Hall


The cake depicts the temptation of multi-layering to produce something that looks nice but is inherently complicated to use. Much like many social housing processes.

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