TOUGH LOVE –It’s all about the Deal !

As a PA my job tends to be office-bound so shop floor “experience it” days give me a great opportunity to spend time with colleagues and customers to get a real insight to what goes on at the front line and understand more about what we do as a business. Although I “get” what The Bromford Deal is about I wanted to spend some “reality” time shadowing colleagues and customer visits.  Read more about the Benefits of being a Bromford Customer.

In the meantime, here’s my reflections of a day well spent :

First Stop – Called at a foodbank with my housing colleague, to collect a generous supply of groceries to take to a customer who had moved in to one of our flats last week. Talking to the volunteer at the foodbank his concern was obvious about increasing demand and it was clear how genuine the volunteers are in their eagerness to help and support. They do a great job and ask the right questions … does the customer have a tin opener? ….What cooking equipment do they have? This customer only has a microwave at present so they were careful to choose suitable products.

Second Stop – Visited customer who has mobility and speech problems due to a brain injury. His flat was very warm but so empty with no carpets and hardly any furniture.  On moving in, he had been asked to follow up with some tasks such as producing paperwork to the Local Authority, confirming change of address etc. Everything we had asked of him had been done and he seemed very positive. His partner will be living with him and help provide necessary care and his Mom called in whilst we were there, so it seems he is getting a good level of support from family and friends.  My colleague noticed some new net curtains which his brother had put up for him and he told us friends were organising a cooker and washer to be delivered by the end of the week and also had the promise of a sofa if transport could be arranged.  My colleague confirmed she would also contact local charities to see if they can help provide some furniture so I’m sure he will soon settle in and hopefully get a few more furnishings around him to make his flat more like ‘home’.  The support we provide encourages self reliance – for example, even though he had already admitted to lacking confidence in talking on the phone, when phoning to request a repair my colleague dialled the number but then handed him the phone to arrange direct. He did this very well and considering the challenges he has with speech couldn’t have handled it any better – although to most people this is a fairly simple task, I could tell what a big step this was for him and part of what will help him live an independent life.

Third Stop – Visited a customer who cares and lives with his 23 year old son who has severe autism. The house was in a bit of a state and he seemed on edge about his son’s behaviour often ushering him out of the room. His son is “entitled” to just six hours a week respite care which doesn’t really give much relief time for this man who has a lot on his plate and not in great health himself. He seemed a little guarded when being asked to confirm certain information but we will be working closely with him over the next few weeks to try and support him to help improve finance management, the house condition and the quality of life for both himself and his son.

Fourth Stop – Met a new mom with her 22 day old very cute baby, to view a flat which seemed in fairly good condition.  She’s in a house share arrangement at the moment so looking to move into a home for her and new baby but will need help and support to get furnishings. She had been working prior to having the baby (over the last 20 years) at a relative’s restaurant and garage and planning to return to work as soon as she can arrange suitable childcare. Although she doesn’t have much material wealth she is obviously someone willing to work hard and looking to make a better life for herself and baby – it will be interesting to see how she progresses.

Fifth Stop – Homevisit to meet a couple with a 9 month old son and 12 year old daughter – they’ve lived in one of our flats for the last 6 years and have been successful in an application to for one of our new build 3 bed houses nearby.  They are very excited about moving in the next couple of weeks.  I think they were taken aback a little at the in-depth conversation and key “Deal” messages which were outlined very clearly. Photos of passports were taken for ID and thorough checks made, including viewing their bank statements from which it became apparent that, even though they’ve maintained a clear rent account and both working, they’ve fallen into the credit card trap. An appointment was therefore arranged for them to meet our Money Advisor. They did comment how different this experience was to when they first moved in (pre-Deal days) – when basically they viewed the flat, accepted the offer and were given the keys, after which they didn’t really see anyone from Bromford. How things have changed!

Sixth Stop – Home visit to meet a lady who is currently living in private rented accommodation with her two teenage daughters wanting to move into one of our houses to be nearer friends and schools. The conversation, financial and general home checks confirmed that she manages her finances very well, her home was well maintained and in lovely condition and am sure she will be a great customer. She does have confidence issues having suffered abuse from her ex-husband and not worked for many years. She agreed it would be a good idea to attend our Hub and work-clubs and maybe look to take up voluntary work for a few hours per week to help build her confidence up to a level where she would feel able to apply for paid employment. She obviously has a lot to give, not least her finance management and general life skills and I’m sure with a little help and support she will go from strength to strength.

Takeaways for me – these visits highlighted the wide range of skills our front line colleagues need– a wealth of information, knowledge, key contacts, financial management, support and advice – let alone people skills and being able to have honest and, sometimes, tough conversations. I found this a very humbling experience; every customer is unique in terms of circumstances and need – I’m looking forward to joining follow up visits to some of these customers to see how they are progressing.  Both housing colleagues that I shadowed were never judgemental, condescending or patronising; they were totally supportive and able to offer advice to identify the best possible outcome. They treat customers as individuals and with total respect showing a firm but fair approach with a touch of humour if and when needed. The Deal criteria was explained very clearly during these visits stressing the importance of having a great relationship that works for both Bromford and the customer and should help everyone adapt to the changing world and austerity cuts in financial help and services.

The key messages of the Deal are all about the importance of having a relationship that works – on our part to provide a home and services in return for customers keeping a clear rent account, being good neighbours, setting clear targets to achieve their best, taking responsibility (allowing access for repairs, attending job clubs, arranging contents insurance), putting something into the community (working, volunteering, training) and to look after their home and garden. Here’s the Deal video which all our new customers are asked to watch. Hopefully the Bromford Deal will equip our customers with the information, tools and confidence to face challenges head on, be self reliant and be the best they can be!

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Looking Back to Look Forward

50 years logoI’m very proud to have worked for Bromford for almost 26 years and delighted this year to join colleagues in celebrating Bromford’s 50th anniversary. This has included wearing our special 50th anniversary name badges with pride, attending our annual Bash in April which gave us time to reflect and also look forward and – as a finale – last week, we hosted a low key informal lunch for around 30 ex colleagues, board members and friends.

I guess some may ask “why host an event for past colleagues and Board members?” – I think the answer is simple : without the input, innovation, dedication and vision of those people during the formative and subsequent years, some of us may not be in the jobs we’re in now, all working to provide much needed homes, support and a diverse range of services to local communities.

History is a rolling programme and each and every one of us makes our own unique contribution. Bromford is a great place to work; an organisation with a social conscience that encourages customers, colleagues and board members to be and do their very best. Our culture is deeply embedded – we describe it as being part of our DNA and often talk about the Bromford family – and that’s exactly what it is. Our ‘ancestors’ founded Bromford in 1963 and from there, like any other family, it has grown and developed. So, each generation of colleagues naturally take up the baton and are responsible for Bromford’s future history. Whatever decisions they make and work they do now will form part of our history in another 50 years. Their input to influencing and making informed decisions and deciding what risks to take will no doubt be reflected on and (hopefully) celebrated in a similar way in 2063. I, along with many others, am unlikely to be around to witness that 100th year anniversary but maybe someone will take a moment then to reflect on Bromford’s journey and acknowledge all those “relatives” who put their hearts and souls into making Bromford one of the ‘greats’ of today.

I’m sure somewhere in Bromford’s history book reference will be made to our Chief Executive, Mick Kent, who inspires, challenges and encourages all of the Bromford family to stand out from the crowd. If we make mistakes we learn from them, we turn challenges into opportunities and we totally get the fact that we are all trainees. As a father figure to Bromford for the last 30 years Mick has led his Bromford family through turbulent times, not least in how we responded to the credit crunch. But he’s also led us through joyous times; one of our highlights being in 2003 when we became the first Housing Association to get in to the FT’s Top 100 Best Companies list – in fact not just in the top 100, but we were awarded fifth place!

Hot off the press and history in the making will no doubt include our innovative Bromford Deal and management of Welfare Reforms which re-affirm our ethos of assisting and encouraging our customers to embrace a something for something approach. Another big jigsaw piece in Bromford’s history during 2013 is Bromford achieves Moodys Aa3 Credit Rating. This would be remarkable any day of the week but in view of the current economic climate and the fact that Bromford is only one of two Housing Associations in the UK to achieve this rating is truly phenomenal.

There are so many of our customers who have real stories to tell so we collated some of these in 50-years, 50-stories and – on our official 50th birthday date (21 Nov) – we’ve launched our first ever Digital interactive magazine which looks back over the last 50 years plus a glimpse into our future.

So congratulations to everyone – whether past or present. We all share the same pride, values, energy and devotion to ensure Bromford’s continuing success and enjoy playing our own part in Bromford’s future history. It’s not a bad idea to occasionally look back and learn from our journey so far to help us continue to look forward, innovate, achieve success and keep one step ahead.

In our continual endeavours to be brave, different, commercial and good the talented bunch of past, current and future Bromford colleagues will ensure we continue on our fantastic journey. Onwards and upwards !

He was Just a Dog – wasn’t he?

 

Our beautiful dog – and best friend – Sam, died last week after struggling with recent illness.  We absolutely adored him and he returned our love ten fold and gave us lots of joy and wonderful times.                     But he was just a dog?  (some may say)….. Or was he?

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(Sam looking like a teddy bear – showing off his beautiful coat prior to a haircut)

We never knew how old Sam was but guess he would be about 5 years old when he was chosen as one of four lucky dogs from a Cyprus animal rescue centre to be sent to England to be re-homed.  Apparently he was found as a stray running the roads and begging/scavenging food before being caught and put in the pound.  He probably didn’t feel that lucky at the time – having to be micro chipped, neutered and vaccinated before being taken away from familiar surroundings and flown over to England to face three months in isolation during quarantine.  It’s a fact that many dogs don’t have the spirit, stamina or resilience to survive this process so the chosen ones are considered to have the best temperament and strength to survive the ordeal.

Once out of quarantine, Sam spent a further four months being cared for by foster families being passed around with no real home………and then we saw the advert for him.  Needless to say he came to join us and within a short time blossomed from a very thin, dull and somewhat bewildered dog with little personality into a confident, happy, loving and beautiful boy (even if a little rotund!)..…his sense of belonging and love was overwhelming – we often said we could feel the strength of him imploring us that this new life should not end as he had at last found a loving, secure & safe home he had only dreamed of before.

Sam had so many qualities including fantastic emotional intelligence.  He could pick up on our moods and feelings in a jiffy and adapt his own behaviour to suit.  If we felt like playing he would jump around and join in the fun but if we were having a serious conversation he would keep a low profile but happily wag his tail and display affection as soon as we paid him any attention. 

Many of us could learn from his attitude and approach to life which included:

Be kind /Be strong/ Be courageous  / Be patient  / Be well mannered / Be loving / Be funny / Be adaptable /Be resourceful /Be loyal / Be proud /Be protective /Be dignified  /Be trusting / Be positive / Be grateful / Be confident / Be hopeful  / Be responsible / Be special  –        and above all ..…….BE HAPPY!

We took it as a huge compliment that many other people commented on his happy demeanour, even those who saw lots of dogs every day like our vet and the dog groomer – they said he simply exuded happiness.  He was like a touch of sunshine.

It may be true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but our dog certainly taught us true life values and skills making us appreciate how important it is to be happy, be positive, how to love and be loved and the importance of having a sense of belonging and worth.

This awful raw pain of losing Sam, we know, will ease in time but the lessons and memories he has left as his legacy will remain with us for ever.  So no – to us Sam was never just a dog…………… he was so much more than that and he has changed our lives and outlook on life.  He was a great inspirer, role model in how to enjoy life and a survivor.  He enriched our lives to such a degree the best way we can honour his memory now is to live those values and behaviours he displayed and appreciate that money cannot buy the true riches in life.  We will use the strength of our sadness to re-focus and accept that hard decisions have to be taken not just based on what we want, but what’s best for others – even if this means letting them go.  

RIP our darling Sammy – and thank you for letting us share your journey over an incredibly happy five years and for showing us how to be the best we can be. 

You made it so easy for us to love you xx

Handsome boy:

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On his favourite chair with a new haircut :

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WHO’D BE A PA IN TODAY’S WORLD?

………….Who indeed?!

This is the thought that sprang to mind when I was running through ideas for my next blog and found myself wondering how others view my role – it got me thinking about who would be a PA and how much the role has changed over the years.   As I wrote it BELIEF kept cropping up and made me realise how important it is to not only believe in yourself but for others to believe in you too.

We’ve moved on from the days when a PA was really just another name for the stereotypical Secretary……. Traditionally women (!) who took notes, typed, managed phone calls, filed papers, sorted post, made tea and, oh yes…. between all that maybe filed their nails!

At the risk of sounding old  (I’m not – honest!  but  much prefer the description of mature and experienced!)  I took time to reflect on the massive changes since I started work aged 16 in a Solicitors office as office junior – the year was 1975.  Within my first year I was handed a golden opportunity by one of the partners who really believed in me and offered me the chance to be his Secretary.  This was despite his partners trying to convince him otherwise – nothing personal (!) but as he had been suffering ill health and only just returning to work they felt he would benefit from a more experienced secretary to ease his workload. However, he convinced them of his belief in me and it worked!  With his coaching and guidance we worked well together and this helped shape my career path towards being a PA.

Predicatably, my first secretarial role was more about filing, audio typing and taking phone messages.  I didn’t even have to worry about making drinks – in those days we had a “tea lady” and “coffee lady” who served drinks at your desk – it was a bit like Grace Brothers !  Manual typewriters were used and I took pride in being one of the fastest (and noisiest) typists, pounding the keys with such verve!   Draft documents had to be typed and once the text was agreed they had to be re-typed onto parchment paper ready for signature.  With wills no typing errors were allowed so you could end up having to re-type a four page document just because of one small typo –it certainly kept us on our toes and accuracy was a must!  A few years later, our company was one of the first to buy a word processor.  The new machine was housed in an office which was kept locked and only two Secretaries – one being me – were ‘allowed’ to use the machine.  There was a huge printer attached which was very noisy, but we thought it was great!  No more typing and re-typing documents, so much time saved in producing perfect documents in minutes – WOW!

The best part of that job was the culture and family feel of the company – this along with great colleagues willing to help one another and working for a very clever, gracious, generous and humble man, helped cement the values I truly believe in today.

However vast the changes have been over the years, my base values remain the same – respect, trust, integrity, honesty, teamwork, professionalism and the belief that we are all on a continuous journey of growth, learning and development.

Since my first job there have been three other key influencers in my working life and I feel very fortunate to have reaped the benefit of their belief in me they’ve helped me achieve more than I ever dreamed possible in those early days…….and convinced me there really are no limits and my journey is a continuous one.   A particular highlight was some years ago when my then boss asked me not just to facilitate arrangements for an Away Day, but to take part.  The belief was that I could and would make a valued contribution. I was very apprehensive joining a group of high level Executives, Directors and Managers who I felt were far superior to me with much wider knowledge and abilities but I’m proud to say I did contribute as much as anyone during the case studies session – afterwards my boss wrote “bravissimo” on my appraisal to acknowledge my contribution– that made me feel 10 feet tall !

Technology is the biggest single reason for the huge changes in secretarial and PA roles.  We’ve moved swiftly into the age of electronic filing, e mail, mobile phones, PCs, – and more recently i-pads, i-phones and social media– a world far away from that which involved filing of papers, audio typing, fax machines – oh yes, and making the tea!

……… so what of the PA ? – what’s their future?

I’m fortunate to work at an organisation with an open and honest culture and where everyone is encouraged to be the best they can be.  I’m not afraid to speak my mind or give an honest opinion – when I think it’s necessary, I give a welcome reminder or an unwelcome nag but am prepared to do either – or both(!) – in my aim of helping my boss keep on the front foot.   OK, it can be challenging when working with colleagues who themselves are under a lot of pressure; PAs do occasionally get a “don’t shoot the messenger” feel with an abrupt response but we totally understand that……. however, the reward of sorting complex diaries, collating information, hitting targets, forward planning, prioritising and successful event planning with an occasional “thank you” or “well done” along the way brings great job satisfaction.  A lot goes on behind the scenes that no-one else is aware of, but when things run smoothly and deadlines are met, that in itself is a great and just reward for a job well done.

I’ve often received comments like  “you don’t like / can’t cope easily with change“  BUT …… I beg to differ.  My journey continues and I’m embracing change, adapting my skills and learning along the way – using social media as a  communications tool and just look at me now ….. even blogging !  I was never an academic but life skills, attitude, working with great people and learning from a “hands on” approach have helped me achieve and do my job with pride.  With technology taking care of the previous time consuming tasks this has given more freedom and opportunity for a PA to think, have a voice to be heard, get involved and contribute to decision making and work planning.  Emotional intelligence is very important too and being the eyes and ears for my manager whilst maintaining colleague confidentiality is crucial.  Working in a more pro-active way rather than on a reactive basis brings greater expectations of today’s PA – but the rewards are brilliant and the feeling of being someone’s “right hand” who makes a valuable contribution is just one of the best ways to feel true job satisfaction.

Working through this time of great change has helped me see a clearer and more challenging role for the PA.  Yes, there are still traditional duties like phone calls, filing and post (though more likely electronic than paper copies) but the role extends into a more diverse role requiring wider skills.  It’s important to be a great ambassador, to think in the shoes of your manager, produce prep notes and briefings, take pride in being a keeper of culture, automatically be the first point of contact, decision maker and play a key pivotal role between your manager and all their key contacts.   Complex diary management is a vital part of the role but to do this effectively it’s important I understand the work, the priorities and the needs of my manager so I can take decisions about what can be postponed, moved or spot where other colleagues can help/input – and more importantly to know what really are the non negotiables.

PAs need to be needed – and the truth is they are needed – I truly believe it’s not a role moving towards extinction; more a role that’s blossoming and PAs are now accepted as serious and valued contributors, not only to their manager’s work but also to the company’s success. 

So ….. Who’d be a PA in this world??                                       ………. Well I would !

WHO INSPIRES and INFLUENCES YOU ? ……

Readers probably agree with me that inspiration comes not just from the leading famous figures in politics, sport or even revolutionaries (there’s lots to choose from) and certainly at the moment from our fantastic Olympic TeamGB – but inspiration also comes from those much closer to home………

I was taking time to reflect on this recently when on holiday in Turkey with my husband and parents – particularly when helping my Mom into the swimming pool; she’s 80 in October and lived with the curse of MS for many years.  However, she says she is one of the lucky ones as she has a slower progressing type of MS…. but anyone can see the damage it’s caused, including  not being able to walk very fast or steady, extreme fatigue, nerve pain when the MS flares up…… I could go on but she wouldn’t want me to.  She was told about 30 years ago she would  “have to accept you will end up in a wheelchair” –  she decided then to try and walk as much and as long as she was able, taking the view that wheelchairs are “useful when sensible” – that means when she doesn’t want to “hold us up” or when she knows the walk will be just too much for her. 

Then there’s my Dad – Well he’s just turned 84.  Spends hours in his garden producing wonderful vegetables and salad produce for the family, still drives (though a bit scarily at times!) and is quite robust physically -we have to remind ourselves of his age when he offers to help us move furniture or paving slabs!  He deals with diabetes in a matter of fact way, injecting insulin each day and having to curb what he eats – difficult when food is one of his big loves in life!   He enjoys gathering info on the latest energy suppliers and consumer deals and reads many books to extend knowledge and keep his mind alert – he got through four books on holiday!  Always planning for the future he looks forward to improving his garden produce year on year which all the family benefit from…. Long may it continue!

Although not hi-tech Mom regularly records on her sky box and DVD, happily uses her mobile phone – even though she often comments “all this is getting beyond me!”, she still manages the gadgets that most of us use daily without a thought and both parents now want an i-pad so they can take photos, learn to use the internet, get set up on e mail and more – yet still say “all this is beyond me!” .  Everyone has tragedies in life and they are no exception having had to deal with the sudden death of their 42 year old son, Geoff.  Although 13 years ago, I know they still hurt very much about this.  To lose my brother was very hard for me too but I watched with admiration how they dealt with their grief.   And yet……. they still make the most of their life, having a laugh and making the best of things and their house is ever open for a visit from family and friends……. So they give life their best shot and really do try to be the best they can be.

Proud of my parents ?     Of course I am.

Grateful to them?            Indeed; they’ve helped shape my life

Inspired by them?           Absolutely, they’ve given me the confidence to be who I am today

If we took a little inspiration from each influencing  person in our lives and that was represented by food on a plate of inspiration………There’s no way we could eat such a massive dinner!  Instead it would have to be broken down into snacks giving a constant flow of inspirational energy and fuel to help us make the most of every day and every opportunity.  If we are inspired by those around us that must mean we too inspire others …. so how do you think you inspire and influence others? ……..and are we all being the best we can be?

Social Media – jump in! – Well…………If you can’t beat ‘em…… join ‘em!

I think I’m part of what’s known as the “X Generation” – or “Boomer” !!- Basically I’m too young to be a (Z generation) silver surfer and too old to be a (Y generation) whizz kid on technology – not least social media .

BUT – working for a Chief Executive who is constantly looking ahead and identifying what we need to do to continue to be successful – not just as an organisation but for every one of us employed here – he took the lead and dragged me (along with many others) – not quite, but almost, “kicking and screaming” into the world of social media.

Yes, I felt a little scared and apprehensive…….BUT WHY??  maybe looking a bit silly with my “tweets” …..maybe wondering why anyone might be interested in my views and opinions……..maybe falling into the trap of using incorrect (pc) language or saying the wrong thing – or offending someone (unintentially of course!)…… but why spend time worrying about what might be and why not just take the risk? –   So I did!  I started using You Tube for useful video clips – joined Twitter, updated my Linked in profile and regularly yammered messages (our inhouse social media site).  And of course my latest addition here – blogging!

Along the way, I learnt about hash tags, re-tweets, @names in posts to ensure messages also sent direct and got to know who are useful follows – and who are not!   I found this to be a really great method of establishing useful contacts and sharing knowledge and info.

I spent time with my teenage god-children and nephews, who are of course the Y generation and into all the latest technology including being members of Facebook, Twitter and other media sites. 

Then……. Just as it was going so well – my Linked in and Twitter accounts were invaded by hackers!! How dare they!  More lessons to be learnt  – avoid using the same password for several accounts and don’t try to open links from suspect messages.  One of my bogus messages was to tell me someone was “saying bad things about me” – made me feel a little uncomfortable hence I clicked straight onto the link……. probably the worst thing I could do as I have since learnt this can open up access to hackers even more!  The other messages were about losing weight and claiming I knew how to lose 20 pounds in a short space of time..(I wish!!) –  this made me smile – if anyone knows or sees me they will guess that tweet is not really from me!

Rules and Lessons which may be useful and – in the spirit of Twitter disclaimers on profile – these are purely my own thoughts :

Just try it !  It’s really not that bad or difficult (if I can do it, anyone can!!) and a great way to keep in touch and communicate.

Social media is like an invitation to a party – if you join you will be part of it and enjoy, if you don’t you will be on the outside looking in wondering what all your colleagues and friends are talking about!

Find interesting and interested people to follow and build on those links.

Don’t open “suspect” links which could open up access to hackers.

Learn from others who are well into social media– don’t be afraid to ask questions – we are all learners at various stages.

To start, try re-tweeting and post links to useful articles (sharing knowledge, handy hints and tips on any subject matter relative to you and your colleagues/friends) – rather than worrying about whether you are sounding clever or funny.

We’re all constantly learning so it’s not just about technology – more a way of life – one sure thing is, change is here to stay !

Change mind set from “how can I find time to do this on top of all the work I have” to “this is a valuable communication tool which I can use in my working day instead of (or as well as) e mail/phonecalls/meetings”

Social Media is a key communication tool as well as marketing/PR tool.  

This is the future whether we like it or not and it’s here to stay – difficult to see how organisations can be successful without!  Our customers, colleagues, stakeholders and partners can all keep up with our latest news

Don’t hash tag for the sake of it – keep it relevant.

Postings are great for immediate impact and fuels fast replies.

Be sensible – don’t post anything you wouldn’t be prepared to say face to face

Deliver quality content and capture relevant information.

Stay in touch with regular postings.

And remember –  it’s never too late to jump in!  Go on….. I dare you!