Housing association elevates employee engagement to a new level

Key facts and figures

Business priorities:

Culture and Values Conference
Overcoming resistance to change / Communicating organisational clarity

Sector: Social Housing
Lead contact: Assistant Director People and Organisation Development
Employees in the picture: 800 people
Locations: United Kingdom
Lead time to launch day: 5 months

“The Big Picture People were a joy to work with and never missed a deadline. Their team had the gravitas and expertise to work with the Executive team to engage them in the process, the ease and humour to make everyone in our various working groups feel relaxed and able to participate, and the ability to motivate and build the confidence of our internal facilitators to help us deliver our ambitious vision for the ‘Big Picture Staff Conference’, as it became known.”

Communications Manager

Our client’s challenge

Karbon Homes (formerly Isos Housing) are a not-for-profit housing association, so every penny they generate through commercial activities is re-invested to support their core purpose. They work hard to balance a strong business head with a strong social heart, to ensure they are a successful, sustainable business and a values-driven organisation.

Karbon Homes provide strong foundations through providing affordable homes, supporting communities and making a lasting difference in neighbourhoods. They are one of the largest housing associations in the North, owning and managing nearly 24,000 homes regionwide and employing almost 800 people.

Karbon Homes (then Isos Housing) had completed a significant restructure (Better As One), amalgamating three operating companies into one organisation. The purpose of amalgamating was to become leaner, stronger and fit for future growth, reinvesting savings into bolstering front line services to customers. Strong external drivers around welfare reform and reduction in grant funding and changes meant that they needed to become more commercially driven and be moving towards generating their own income and focusing more on value for money.

At the outset of the change project Karbon Homes identified that coming together marked an exciting stage of their evolution and represented a unique opportunity, both to signal a step change in their intent and ambition as an organisation and to respond to staff survey feedback that was telling them they needed to create more organisational clarity and direction.

They also identified resistance to change as a key risk to successfully achieving the amalgamation, recognising that Better As One had the potential to negatively affect morale and performance if they failed to engage staff through the process.

Culturally, the three operating companies were distinctly different – with a mixture of long serving staff from local authority backgrounds who had been transferred in from councils following stock transfer, as well as people with more commercial development backgrounds, and those who were from an independent social housing provider. The varied backgrounds of staff highlighted the potential risk of resistance to change, which needed to be overcome by effectively communicating organisational direction.

Karbon Homes knew that a significant number of staff feared that Better As One represented a threat to their independence and sense of being an intimate team and the likelihood of a change of reporting lines and relationships. With that fear there could also be a resistance to change. They also knew that the message about becoming ‘more commercial’ would be new for some staff who were perhaps unaware of the impact of external changes.

To address their communication challenges, Karbon Homes created The “Big Picture project”. Its purpose was to facilitate and communicate organisational clarity in a way that engaged the hearts and minds of managers and staff, creating a sense of connection to the purpose and aims of the new ‘Better As One’ organisation. To deliver this, the project had the following objectives:

  • To review their primary purpose and restate their reason for being, in order to create a ‘rallying cry’ that glues everyone in the organisation together.
  • To create a compelling vision that inspired and energises staff, providing a focus for the opportunities beyond the Better As One restructure.
  • To revise their values to ensure they support their new vision.
  • To launch and communicate the new purpose, vision and values in a way that signals a step change in their ambition, models the new values and gets people excited about where they were going.
  • To help staff to understand the importance, relevance and connection between their roles and responsibilities and how this links to the organisation’s goals and achieving the new vision.


Our solution and results

Karbon Homes worked with The Big Picture People to develop a visually rich metaphor as part of a Learning Map that would explain the journey of the organisation, from the coming together of the original operating companies, to Better As One and then forward to achieving the new vision. Karbon Homes involved a range of staff and managers in developing this, with the aim of using it as the tool to engage staff in thinking about their role and contribution to the future. By clearly communicating the organisational direction and overcoming the fear that may cause resistance to change.

The activity culminated in a staff conference, attended by 300 staff from across the business. The Learning Map was delivered across thirty tables of 10 staff simultaneously who took part in discussions and exercises, facilitated by volunteers (staff and managers) who had been trained in the use of toolkit. Karbon Homes also ran a mop up of the conference two months later to cater for those staff who’d been on leave.

Karbon Homes have also revised and updated their corporate induction to align it with the new purpose, vision and values. They have also incorporated the Learning Map and adapted some of the key activities to bring the business to life for new starters. They have also run some team events since the conference using the Learning Map.

Feedback from the Big Picture Learning Map sessions was overwhelmingly positive. Scores against the learning objectives for the Learning Map were:

  • I understand the external environment is becoming more competitive and demanding = 98% agree/strongly agree
  • I understand Isos needs to be more commercial to deliver on its social purpose = 96% agree/strongly agree
  • I understand what Isos is about, where we are going and why = 99% agree/strongly agree
  • I understand how important the values are to our future success = 99% agree/strongly agree
  • I feel proud to be part of Karbon (Isos) = 98% agree/strongly agree

The following year, Karbon Homes (then Isos Housing) received the results of their fourth “Best Companies” survey and achieved:

  • 1 star accreditation – previously they were in the One To Watch category.
  • An increase of 15% in the response rate from the previous year’s survey to achieve 83% response rate which the founder and CEO of Best Companies described as “outstanding”.
  • Uplifts in eight out of nine of the engagement factors, including 6% for Leadership and 9% for Giving Something Back
  • A listing (71st place) in the “Sunday Times Top 100 Not For Profit organisations” for the first time.

The work from Big Picture project also enabled Karbon Homes to develop and communicate the strategic plan they developed after roll-out in a much more focused and clear way than ever before as staff and managers were now really clear about our direction and priorities.

The language of the Learning Map and the 2020 Vision permeated conversations throughout the business and was continually used as a reference and touchpoint. For example, in a piece of work looking at the terms and conditions of trade staff, it was used to set the context. Karbon Homes also had the Values and the Learning Map re-printed onto large canvases which adorned the walls in each of their offices.

Karbon Homes also found that new recruits to the organisation were being attracted by what they are reading and hearing about their vision and values and were recruiting an increasing number of candidates with commercial background and experience.

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