The importance of innovation

What does innovation mean?  Well, for me, what it certainly isn’t is a handful of individuals sitting around in a lab work-shopping cool ideas to trial.


It’s about responding to challenges and finding new solutions that can work.

Housing has many challenges: the shortage of affordable homes in areas of high demand; the affordability of running a home for social housing tenants; universal credit; skills shortages in the building industry; environmental sustainability of homes; fuel poverty.

I could keep going.

With challenges like these, it’s clear we need to think differently while also staying true to our core mission of providing safe, affordable and warm homes.

To me the best ideas come from the frontline and from what our customers tell us.

Innovation is about building the right kind of culture where great ideas are identified and then become real.

Innovation is also about having the courage to try new things, while asking ourselves “how does this help us meet our core purpose?”

Innovation is also about future gazing.

While this isn’t the rarefied remit of a select few, leaders do have a responsibility to ensure this happens.

Leaders need to engage staff, customers, partners and stakeholders to plan for eventualities such as continued population growth, scarcity of natural resources, rising sea levels and climate change.

This is where innovation comes into its own.

To tackle such big issues, it takes big and bold ideas.

Great organisations will already be doing this as a matter of course and embedding future planning into their corporate planning process.

As a leader, I strongly believe that it’s about creating a culture where people are encouraged to think big and be bold.

As a sector, we may need to borrow from, and be inspired by, the best organisations from across the world.

This means being humble enough to learn from others outside our sector and courageous enough to turn learning into action.

Equally, we have to learn quickly when things don’t go as planned and keep trying until we get the right outcomes, especially for our customers.

I’m very fortunate to have recently joined the award-winning Glasgow Housing Association, part of Wheatley Group, as Director of Innovation and Improvement, having worked at L&Q as Regional Operations Director.

In 2017 GHA won the European Foundation for Quality Management’s Global Excellence Award, collecting the top prize alongside international names such as Bosch.

But GHA’s journey to excellence is never done and that’s why it has put innovation at the very heart of its culture.

Implementing a strategy for digital services and high-rise living, and getting these right for our customers now and for the future are two of the key areas I’m working on.

It’s still early days but already I can see how, just by thinking big, and listening to our customers, we could create something positively life-changing for our communities.

Jehan is a participant on the Leadership 2025 programme.

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