A staff-focussed perspective

As part of our 25th anniversary celebrations, our Director of Corporate Services, Gareth Hexter looks at how United Welsh put its staff at the centre of everything it does.

Gareth Hexter (2)

When I joined United Welsh in November 1998 I was impressed by how organised and professional the Association seemed. I had just left a smaller community based housing association, which was far more relaxed and almost amateurish by comparison. I was also impressed with the scale and quality of work carried out by the Association and the passion of the staff. But after a while I started to think that United Welsh was a bit over-hierarchical and bureaucratic and I remember the dreaded timesheets, where everyone in the organisation had to breakdown their days down into 20 minute slots.

We were due to undertake a review of our ‘procedural agreement’ with the recognised union, Unison in 2001 and this became a great opportunity for exploring a new way of working. We used the Involvement and Participation Association (IPA) to facilitate the project and we launched a new ‘partnership agreement’ with the union in 2002. This agreement embraced the core principles of partnership working – to recognise legitimate differences whilst acknowledging the common agenda of achieving business success. The Partnership Group (TPG) held its first meeting in 2002 and we used the IPA’s Option Based Consultation model to ensure that we fully consult with our staff on proposals that affect them before we made a final decision. We trained our managers in how to consult and supported this by establishing a new role in the organisation, Partnership Manager. This approach to involving our people at the earliest stage was transformational and it led to a culture shift.

We looked for ways of maintaining the momentum and decided to enter the Financial Times Great Workplaces Competition in 2004 and were staggered to be awarded 5th Place in the UK. We celebrated by giving all our people a ‘great day off’. We went one better the following year, gaining 4th place in the UK and top not for profit organisation in the European Union. They were heady days and we sent everyone for a day in Paris to celebrate.

Since 2005 we have seen an explosion in the activity and success achieved by United Welsh. We have seen our turnover double from £12m to £24m, the number of homes in management increase from 3,600 to 4,900 and the number of people we employ increase from 105 to 227. We continue to provide quality accommodation for people in need of homes and first class support for people who have additional support needs. We have established Celtic Horizons, set up Together, achieved Investors in People Gold, built an award winning library and have raised over £100m in private finance.

Yet we remain committed to fully engaging with our workforce and have even introduced our own engagement model (Choice Based Engagement), which has achieved national recognition. We know that our people are our biggest asset and it is through our people that we will achieve continued success. And for me this is why United Welsh remains a Great Place to Work.

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