Gillian Somerville, Director of HR and Corporate Services at Radius Housing Association discusses the organisation’s first 18 months in operation and Radius’ approach to successfully delivering the merger.
Radius Housing Association, formed in 2017, is one of the largest social enterprises in Ireland with £825 million of assets and an annual turnover of £85 million. Radius employs over 1,000 people across 80 sites in Northern Ireland supporting 35,000 homes across the community. The association enables people to continue living independently in their own homes or in a well presented, secure and energy efficient home.
Bringing two distinct organisations together with proud histories, different staff structures, terms and conditions and organisational cultures was always going to be a challenge. With the challenges of a changing business environment with the introduction of welfare reforms, the outworking’s of the Hackett review of fire safety, Brexit and changes to local government and planning, this was already a turbulent period.
Add in the complex needs of residents in care homes and elderly and vulnerable people living alone and this was a merger process with an unmistakably different feel. The merger between Fold and Helm took place on 3 April 2017 and from the very outset we worked to ensure smooth business continuity and the effective migration of two differing staffing structures and two sets of organisation systems into one organisation.
Building a new and shared ethos in the organisation has been a key part of our work, with a new purpose values and vision at the center of housing care and support. All of us work to make a positive difference by building neighbourhoods and empowering communities. We strive for excellence in everything we do, deliver value-for-money and focus on outcomes with an emphasis on creativity and innovation.
How have we ensured that our purpose, vision and values have been widely disseminated across Radius?
Our Radius Management Leadership Programme ‘the future is …us’ was specially designed for mid-level managers to provide tailored training and development in all aspects of our work including leadership is change, community, conversation and creativity. It played a critical role in setting the DNA of our new organisation. It is important that everyone who manages a team in Radius is empowered with a strong understanding of our aims, values and culture and that they embed this within the teams they lead. This training also equipped staff with the broad range of skills and abilities required in a complex, changing public facing organisation like Radius.
Since April last year, we have held several organisation-wide staff conferences where we have set out our plans for the year. They have featured a number of motivational speakers. The themes have covered customer service, teamwork and change. These events have helped us build a strong, vibrant and inclusive organisational culture at Radius where aims and values are widely understood internally and externally.
We are committed to undertaking a review of core terms and conditions of both legacy organisations within 12 months of merger. We were conscious of staff performing similar duties for different rates of pay and contractual terms. We completed an organisational wide job evaluation and benchmarking exercise on time enabling staff to exercise their choice to move to modernised terms.
We have run complementary development programmes for our new board and senior management teams ensuring a seamless and consistent approach to priority setting and change management. The three tiered initiative worked together to develop Radius’ first five year Corporate Strategy.
Our apprenticeship and graduate schemes attract the best and brightest talent and also ensure that we actively contribute to communities across Northern Ireland. Many of those joining these schemes come from the areas where we work and we have put protocols in place to ensure many of our contractors embrace employee apprenticeship schemes for young people.
Some 18 months after it was established, Radius is having a transformative impact in communities. By the end of this year we will have built nearly 600 housing units, we are leading the £35 million redevelopment of the former Visteon site in west Belfast and we are one of the only developers of affordable housing across Northern Ireland. We continue to deliver core services to 33,000 households as well as a substantial maintenance and repair service.
In the midst of the merger we were always concerned that integration activity might distract from day to day core activities. We engaged an independent accessor, Stratagem, to review the progress after merger. They interviewed tenants, residents, staff, suppliers and business partners. I am pleased to report their findings were largely positive. However, the key message from our stakeholders came through “do not lose sight of the needs of your tenants – this must remain central to decision making”. As I visit Radius offices and work locations it is evident our staff are in tune with their customers.
This success is as a direct result of our teams right across the business. As the largest housing association on the island of Ireland, and the largest third sector business in Northern Ireland, aligning all our staff outputs with our organisational culture has been absolutely vital in delivering these achievements in our first 18 months. With Radius now firmly established, we are confident that the work we have done will help us to successfully build a bright future.
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