Shared leadership in North Star Housing Group

Globalisation, technological innovation and economic shifts are creating greater volatility and complexity in developing and developed economies.

North Star Housing Group is proactive about creating the kind of internal world needed to ensure flexibility and agility in turbulent times.

North Star is also exploring how internal ways of operating – adult-to-adult, creative and empowering relationship – can be translated into external world interactions with customers and other stakeholders.

The development of shared leadership within the context of a more traditional hierarchy is a challenge. Hierarchy is highly effective at creating order, and is critical in the smooth operating of sizeable entities. Where it is less effective is when the external world moves quickly. Too much reliance on hierarchy can render an organisation overly static or immobile as the internal tries to match or even slow down the external world to meet the internal.

From the outside, North Star is as it appears to be – a traditionally structured Housing Association. However, venture inside and what is discovered is a vibrant, demanding and relationally-orientated environment, operating out of a developing set of shared values rather than organisational structure.

Culture is not only about what we do, it is also about how we do it and why. This is at our heart and is what sets us apart from others. The challenges that we as a society face demand courage, flexibility, innovation, resilience, robust relationships and dogged determination to make a difference and to keep trying and this requires new and different ways of working. No one person or small group of people has all the answers and therefore we wanted to involve and include more people.

Carole RichardsonAssistant Director of People Services, North Star Housing Group

Being able to manage both within and without hierarchy demands 21st century skills and those skills, alongside a developing mindset, are being enhanced and acquired throughout the organisation as all staff attend bespoke programmes of development.

Encouraging new patterns of leadership can positively benefit the organisation in areas such as innovation and creativity, bringing new ideas into action and making a difference. In addition, a loosening reliance upon traditional approaches to authority can lead to an increased connection to the values of the organisation as these collectively created and owned principles come alive and are utilised in decision making and action.

Increasingly shared leadership can lead to business success and recognition and the group has received Investors In People Platinum, the first housing association in the country to do so.

We value everyone in this business and we want them to be involved. I thought we would have a chance to resolve some major challenges through this Shared Leadership process. I was worried about the amount of people who were going off with work-related stress. I think stress often comes from people who don’t have a voice, and feel frustrated, but have nowhere to go with that – it’s often an inability to change things. We opened the doors to Oasis and said ‘talk to whoever you need to talk to – we need to hear, we need to listen, we need to learn, we need to understand and we need to change’. For many just being heard made a big difference. And not only being heard but knowing that what was heard would then translate into changes, was very powerful. Fundamentally it was about developing the right relationships with people. The results of that work were quite significant, better than I could have hoped – and it does make you wonder why others don’t do it, because it’s not that difficult!

Angela LockwoodChief Executive, North Star Housing Group

Following a comprehensive Health Check, there’s been a reduction of 50% in staff sickness. Both of these measurable outcomes fly in the face of early detractors who thought North Star ‘mad’ to be undertaking such dramatic shifts in leadership style and approach.

Regardless of the type of organisation, increasingly people want to move away from a transactional model of operating towards one that is more relational, which allows people to bring more of their ‘whole’ selves to their work life.

Engaging in meaningful work, influencing self and others and having greater freedom to work out what is required with others is a 21st century approach to work and North Star, through the dissemination of shared leadership, is encouraging, empowering and enabling everyone to have the opportunity to grow and develop with the organisation.

By moving beyond a culture focused on those in leadership positions, shared leadership is an interconnected web of activity, operating out of a shared set of values with people working across and beyond the traditional hierarchical boundaries.

This does not mean there is no leadership, quite the opposite, but it is leadership through relationship rather than by rule.

North Star’s Story

North Star was established in 2006 and brings together, Endeavour, Teesdale and Darlington Housing Associations. In total it owns and manages nearly 4,000 properties.

The original values of honesty, openness, trust, loyalty and consideration live very strongly at all levels, which is why they have top decile tenant satisfaction levels and IiP comments about being a world class employer.

Development with Oasis

The development journey with Oasis began with the CEO and Directors, then all Managers completed an in-house leadership programme and all staff took part in the Tools for Change programme.

During the first year the CEO, Directors and all managers worked together to develop a shared picture of the future. This became the Leading and Growing Strategy: North Star to 2018.

This vision was presented to all staff during an off-site day, with lots of time for exploration and questions. At the end of the day people completed a confidential score card rating their commitment to what they had heard: 97% of staff said: “Let’s get going with delivery.” This means that levels of ownership, responsibility and accountability are high across the business and everyone understands the direction of travel and their part in making the future happen.

Shared Leadership

North Star has invested in the development of leaders across the organisation and many people are involved in leading the organisation. This is supported by clear decision-making processes at every level. Everyone engages in development and training to enable their skills to be applied flexibly in a way that maximises the impact on the business.

Leading edge people strategies enable a clear approach and consistent management styles.

Adult-to-adult relationships strengthen commitment to fairness, honesty, transparency and personal responsibility. Everyone is encouraged to be involved within the business, to provide challenge and feedback and are all influential. Uncertainty and change are managed through regular, open dialogue, focused external scanning and good planning which enables North Star to manage risk effectively, think quickly, be creative and remain agile and leading edge.

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