How to be a rising star
This week, Inside Housing is guest edited by inaugural Rising Stars winner Carla Keegans. Alex Turner asks what qualities could help you scale the same heights
They endured a gruelling journey, culminating in a grilling from housing minister Grant Shapps, but in June housing’s Rising Stars reached the finish line.The winner, City of London Corporation’s Carla Keegans, guest edits this week’s issue of Inside Housing.
The Rising Stars competition, organised by the Chartered Institute of Housing and Inside Housing to find some of the sector’s brightest talents, launched in April. A huge volume of applicants submitted the opinion piece required to enter, on the topic: ‘How do we tackle the problem that the word “social” is good when followed by “networking” and bad when followed by “housing”?.’
The three finalists, who made it to the very last stage of the competition - Ms Keegans, Bromford Living’s Rishi Spolia and Chris Hancock, of Exeter Council - are fantastic representatives for the future. But housing is full of other dynamic individuals who deserve their chance to shine.
So, if that’s you, how do you set out your stall and get your voice heard? With which initiatives should you get involved? And how can you showcase your ambition without getting up others’ noses?
Inside Housing put these questions to industry experts, including third-placed Rising Star Mr Spolia. Here are their top tips on how to get your career in housing moving on an upward trajectory.
Do the basics well
This might sound obvious, but it’s vital to deliver your key objectives before seeking out fresh challenges. ‘Ensure you’ve mastered your current competencies, then look for developmental projects within your section,’ says Helen Giles, director of HR and consultancy at homelessness charity Broadway. ‘Anyone who goes the extra mile within their immediate team, who takes the lead and finishes things will be recognised as a shining star.’
Listen to others
At every stage of your career, taking on board what others have to say - both in and out of your immediate sphere - will broaden your skill set. ‘Find opportunities to be in places where there are experienced people with different viewpoints and get involved in things based on the information you’ll glean,’ recommends Mark Glinwood, chief executive of consultancy Insight HR.
Choose your challenges
It’s self-evident that to progress, you’ll need to take on duties over and above your job description. Picking ones that you are genuinely interested in will help you to prioritise work and do a good job. ‘Stretch yourself, or you won’t discover what you can do,’ reckons neighbourhood manager Mr Spolia. ‘But ensure you can deliver whatever you take on - and remember you need downtime to absorb information and develop your own opinions.’
Get a mentor
Rising Star Ms Keegan won mentoring from a senior housing figure - she chose David Cowans, chief executive of Places for People. Whether your organisation has an internal programme, or whether it is a case of looking to the CIH, which offers corporate members access to a mentoring service or asking somebody you admire directly, finding a mentor is an excellent way of equipping yourself for more responsible roles. ‘Rising stars need a wise sage,’ advises Mr Glinwood. ‘The mentor needn’t be in housing. It’s about learning transferable skills - diplomacy, influencing and communicating - things that apply to all sectors.’
Talk sense, get heard
Finding yourself in situations where others hog the limelight is common as you climb the ladder. But all our interviewees were dismissive of those who shout loudest to get noticed. ‘Speak when you’ve thought about something and have a useful contribution to make,’ states Ms Giles. ‘Be considered, and talk most vociferously about what you know most about.’
It’s crucial to gauge how your behaviour impacts on those around you, or you risk annoying and alienating people. ‘Always put yourself in others’ shoes when giving opinions, working on projects or trying to build relationships,’ says Jonathan Magee, managing consultant at Hay Group. ‘If you’re not trying to gain feedback on how you’re coming across, that shows a lack of self-awareness.’
Keep your customer focus
Corporate, policy-focused initiatives are a great way of expanding your knowledge beyond your immediate service, but remember that customers are the reason housing providers exist. ‘Look for projects that make a difference to service users,’ counsels Mr Glinwood. ‘Challenge your thinking through their eyes, keep your feet on the ground and don’t get absorbed by bureaucracy.’
Offer a helping hand
As you gain experience, allow others to benefit from it too. ‘It’s a two-way process,’ says Janice Smith, strategy and business support director at Midland Heart. ‘Developing others gives you management and leadership skills to add to your portfolio.’
‘This isn’t The Apprentice; you’re not trying to get one over on your colleagues,’ concurs Mr Spolia. ‘Choose the right attitude and be positive - these qualities will help you stand out.’
Adaptability is often cited as a prerequisite for success, and it’s worth applying this to your career as well as operationally - keeping aspirations wide will offer you a greater number of routes for progression. ‘Ensure you have your own plan of how you want to develop that compliments your organisation’s needs but doesn’t neglect your own priorities,’ says Kathy Hanson, head of learning at the CIH.
People who have devoted time to polishing their business sense are increasingly common in the top levels of social housing management. ‘Work on projects that enable you to find out how money works and passes through housing organisations,’ suggests Mr Magee. ‘A successful balance of watching the pennies and looking after social responsibilities will mark you out as a talent.’