Paul Murphy: It takes a sector to raise a housing professional
CIH Scotland board member Paul Murphy outlines the advantages RSLs can gain by recruiting a blend of experience and raw talent onto their boards.
The famous African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”, also applies to the housing sector.
Experience, or the lack of, is a real barrier to participation by young housing professionals in joining the boards of Registered Social Landlord (RSLs). We regularly see RSLs proudly announcing the latest board recruit who possesses years of professional and board experience. It is wonderful when experienced individuals get involved or remain within our sector. However, filling a board with seasoned individuals only can lead to a body which is overburdened by experience. The best boards strike a fine balance between knowledge, raw talent and fresh thinking to propagate debate and generate new ideas on how to improve service delivery and adapt to new challenges in the sector. A mix of ages, skills and experience will allow the housing sector to meet the needs of different generations, by combining the experience and knowledge of what has worked in the past with the freshness of youth.
A board meeting is like a theatre show. It has performers, a script, a director and a certain rhythm to proceedings. The best shows tend to have actors of different ages and levels of experience.
Recruiting young housing professionals onto boards can raise an RSLs game by encouraging board members to reflect on longstanding common knowledge and practices. Scrutiny of policies and practices can allow them to lead the way in developing innovative new methods, which is great not only for the health of the landlord but also the sector. Effective scrutiny starts with a question: why do we do it like that? This is the question that many professionals early in their career ask so they can learn and develop. However, the question also provides an opportunity to see things from a different perspective and to identify areas where current practises no longer work. In today’s world, the needs, wants and lifestyles of society are changing rapidly. To ensure RSLs can keep up the pace, they need to be scrutinising their methods more often.
Recruiting young housing professionals also benefits the sector in the longer term. The advice given to me by many housing professionals was, ‘if you want to go far in the housing sector you have to join a board of an RSL’. It’s the fast track to familiarity. If you present a paper or present to the board you work for, it’s good to feel comfortable in that type of environment. You don’t want it to feel like opening night of a show. Visualization will only get you so far, you have to ‘tread the boards’ so to speak. Board membership will provide you with the experience, knowledge and career development. The experience will give you an overview of every aspect of the organisation and you will learn how to run a business. If there are parts of housing which are alien to you, joining a board can help fill the gap.
I have benefitted greatly from being a board member over the years of Parkhead HA, Parkhead Development Company, CIH Scotland (of course) and now Motherwell & Wishaw’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). As a sector if we want to look after the short, medium and long term health of our wonderful sector, we have to help raise the next generation of housing professionals. The future leaders of our sector deserve the opportunity to help shape the here and now.
- Paul Murphy is corporate services officer at Forgewood and Garrion Housing Co-operatives and a CIH Scotland board member