Engagement. It’s a word our sector uses a lot and we all do it a lot. There is undoubtedly some very good practise in the housing sector and some really poor practise too. And then there’s those that pretend they’ve got good practise nailed and those that wonder why it doesn’t work.
Here’s the thing. When we make a new friend, get chatting to someone in the gym or go on a first date, we don’t consider our approach to engagement. We’re just the best version of ourselves when we’re with others (mostly).
What does engagement even mean? It surely means building a positive relationship akin to our values. In our sector, essentially, this means we aim to get people to do things we want them to do. How different is that in a personal relationship in as far as we want that person to be in our ‘tribe’. Engagement means not being a d^*%, treating people decently, being honest (which may mean vulnerable), being reciprocal, apologising from time to time, making some kind of commitment and showing up – to quote the great Brené Brown.
With the Housing White Paper comes a renewed focus on resident engagement. This has to be a massive opportunity for us all, including those kidding ourselves that they’ve got this nailed, to explore what engagement means in practise.
So here’s what all those normal human approaches to a friendship might practically look like in the housing sector and repackaged as engagement.
- treating people decently – this means telling the truth if you have to change plans or got something wrong. It means listening to their suggestions (and again – being honest about why you might ignore some)
- being honest and brave (which may mean vulnerable) – as above, there are very few reasons that people can’t be trusted with the truth if you just have to change the date. Or if you have not met the plans for year one – discuss and share why. This will give huge insight into your world and build empathy.
- being reciprocal – we’re humans and generally pretty selfish. If someone does something for you, do something back. But don’t assume it’s a voucher they want (would you get that for your friend after they gave you a lift to the garage?). Ask (explaining the parameters you have) what people want and keep asking. People change.
- apologising from time to time – wow it goes a long way. And with no ‘buts’. Just say sorry – I stuffed up and I’m human.
- making some kind of commitment – good engagement takes time, values, energy and money. You wouldn’t start a relationship saying that you’ll probably have to end it in a year as you’ll run out of capacity. Be honest about the challenges, involve people in the solutions and own your commitment to finding a way forward. If it’s really just for a year – be honest about that, set realistic aims and consider how this will impact on your relationship.
- showing up – be your best! This is the one that might differ from a friend. A good friend will let you have a bad day. Resident engagement is a job – people rely on and trust you. Don’t sit on your phone or look bored. For that time to be worthy of their time and commitment, follow all the steps above to being your absolute best. People deserve no less.