“Isn’t this future of work and leadership thinking just for techy, West Coast start-ups?  Isn’t it really hard to apply this thinking to real businesses like ours?”

These are common questions I hear from groups I work with.

When I explain that smart businesses of any type can embrace future of work and leadership ideas, then the follow up question is invariably “Ok, like who? Give me some examples.”

BromfordI’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of ‘nitty gritty’ business who are embracing new ways of doing things.  One of these is Bromford, which provides over 28,000 affordable homes to over 60,000 people in central England.  Their 1100 colleagues include the maintenance teams, neighbourhood coaches who work with customers, and the multitude of behind-the-scenes colleagues who look after the huge estate of properties.

They are definitely a nitty gritty business who I see embracing many things in a forward-looking way.

So what is Bromford doing?  

First, in common with most other forward thinking organisations, they have a clear purpose that is much bigger than just providing homes.  

“Our purpose is to inspire people to be the best they can be.”

They see a home as a starting point, and expect and support their customers to do their bit to improve their lives.  

“We will work with you to agree what it is that you want to achieve in your life (it could be anything that makes you feel more in control of your future) and then you commit to what you need to do to get there and how we can help you. In return we expect you to commit to working with us – making the most of the opportunities on offer and helping to make your neighbourhood a great place to live.”

This manifests itself in actively helping their customers with money management, education opportunities, job seeking and better health and fitness – not just providing a roof over their head.

They call this the Bromford Deal and this holistic thinking is a clear part of everything they do. Having a clear purpose like this (and demonstrably taking steps to fulfil it) is highly attractive to talent and releases huge energy within the business.

Secondly, they have a super clear set of values – they call it their DNA.  These are expressed as:

Be Good

We are an ethical business, a force for good. We work with integrity, trust and fairness. We respect people and our world and do our bit to make things better. We add value to UK PLC.

Be Brave

It’s about us being adventurous, creative and open minded. We try new things and we are positive about change. We’ve made and will make the odd mistake along the way but bravery has led us to a lot of success and will continue to do so.

Be Different

We want to stand out from the crowd. We love different ideas, views and experiences, they feed our creativity and bring us solutions. A mantra to our colleagues is ‘add a bit of you in everything you do’. Whilst we’re serious about what we do, we have fun doing it.

Be Commercial

Profitability and having cash is essential, without it we wouldn’t be here. We do more with less or better for the same. We encourage everyone to release their inner accountant.

Clear, memorable, and highly tuned to their purpose – ie not generic me-too values.  I haven’t met anyone at Bromford who couldn’t recall them and explain, in their own terms, what they meant to them.

Their Purpose and DNA, combined with strong and consistent leadership, is the bedrock for a very forward-looking culture. As a result it’s clear that a great many future-focused ways of working and leading surface.  These include:

They are flexible

They treat everyone as individuals and appreciate there is no one-size-fits all solution, either for their customers, or their colleagues.

They put a huge value on development and training

Just as the Bromford Deal for customers is about helping them being the best they can be, there is a very clear focus and active support for colleagues to develop their skills and talents.

They are connected

They encourage the use of social media – whether it’s the internal yammer conversations or as a channel to communicate with their customers.  You can report a leak via Facebook, twitter, email or phone.

They are curious  

They value learning from others, particularly organisations in sectors very different from their own. Visits to Google, Timpsons, Greggs and MARS, have provided inspiration and insight Bromford can adapt and apply to their own operation.

They are mobile

Many colleagues have mobile devices and they put a huge value on connectivity whether that be managers in the office, or maintenance crews in the field.

They lead with humility

From the both leaders and colleagues, you get a real sense that great ideas can come from anywhere and that ego is well and truly kept under control.

They aim for all leaders to be effective coaches. Creating a culture of constantly giving feedback is growing

They get that leader and managers are leaders and managers of people. One method to promote coaching and feedback is the use of the simple acronym “WWW.EBI” or ‘what went well and even better if’  they pinched from the CEO’s daughter’s school!

They are straight talking

“If we find that the Deal isn’t working for both of us, we will need to discuss with you whether being a Bromford customer is suited to you. We want to make the best use of our time and money, and we want to offer our services to those who are going to benefit most from them.”

They take risks and experiment

With Be Brave as a core part of their DNA, experimentation is evident across the business.  Trying something and getting feedback without fear of failure is a great source of learning and innovation.

Their work environment is vibrant

Work environment is important, and all the Bromford offices I’ve visited are bright, vibrant places with strong and consistent branding. Increasingly they balance this with work being about you and what you do, not where you go to work, and they are entering a new phase of more flexible working from a range of drop-in spaces.

They really value relationships

Finally, they really value human relationships in all their complexity, across all methods of communication.

Are Bromford a perfect example of a future-focused organisation? Well of course not.  They are on a journey and they know there is much to change and develop. But I’m hugely impressed and encouraged in the progress they have made and the direction they are taking.  It shows that future thinking in how we lead, work and do business is universal – not just for funky tech-based companies.

If you’d like to inspire and enable your leaders to better engage their teams by embracing the future of work, then call Simon on 020 3488 0464 or email simon@simonwalker.org

Disclosure:  I have worked with Bromford on a couple of projects in the last few years.  To ensure I maintain client confidentiality, I passed a draft of this post to them for review before publication.  Beyond minor factual corrections, no material changes were made. SW.