Building trust makes complete business sense

This post first appeared on the South West Business Insider blog on 26 March

Businesses in the South West are in a period of unprecedented change, with challenges and opportunities facing every sector.

The impact of technology, political stability, hiring good people and – yes – Brexit are just some big questions that businesses are facing, with varying degrees of success.

All businesses are different, with their own priorities and stories to tell. But research from KPMG suggests that the issue most troubling CEOs is the risk of reputational damage.

It’s long been said in the PR industry that reputations are hard earned and quickly destroyed. It’s a nice line, which has the benefit of being true. Social media’s ability to accelerate that damage makes this a more pressing concern.

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Reputation matters: how developers can build trust in their work

Without putting too fine a point on it, developers’ reputations have had a challenging year.

I’ve been to a few public meetings lately where they’ve been criticised. It’s always been like this, especially when people don’t want development in their areas.

But it feels like the volume and tone of criticism has changed over the last year, as a growing range of issues has hit the mainstream. Land banking, executive pay, leasehold concernsviability assessments and worries about the green belt are all in the headlines.

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Collaboration: more than a buzzword

Calls for ‘collaboration’ across the housing sector are hitting high levels. I have attended conferences recently at which panelists have insisted that collaboration is key to our future. At one event covering areas ranging from the performance of office buildings to the future of cities, speakers used the phrase six times in an hour.

Articles and blog posts stressing its importance are abundant. Google ‘collaboration and housing’ to see for yourself. And local and national government call for a collaborative approach from employees and partners. This can sometimes feel like a call for inspiration.

Meaning of collaboration

In an era of networks, for an industry that has thrived on partnership working, this makes sense. The challenges facing the sector are too big for any organisation to face alone. Those that work together stand a better chance of success.

It is difficult for anyone who works in the sector to argue against this sentiment. But defining good practice in this area – let along making it work – is more challenging. Statements like ‘collaboration is key’ are often used without any sign of how this could happen.

Collaboration between organisations frequently misses the input of the communities or people affected by what they are trying to achieve. And conflict seems built into the system, with some groups feeling their views are ignored. When this happens, positions become entrenched and delivery can grind to a halt.

If we are to benefit from a collaborative approach, there needs to be wide understanding of what good collaboration looks like. And organisations must prepare to change mindsets and structures to embrace it.

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Freedom of Information, or ‘freedom to fish’?

I’d like to share with you two views on our Freedom of Information legislation, which is the subject of some serious discussions about its future use.

The Guardian has today published a leader in defence of the Freedom of Information Act, saying that any proposed move to restrict its application would be ‘a retrograde step’.

This is in response to Parliamentary considerations on possible reform of the Act and mentions a report from the Ministry of Justice into the volume of requests dealt with by Government departments. It’s interesting that the leader states that the report suggests dealing with FoI requests is ‘increasingly onerous’, when no such language is used in the document.

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How (not) to win customers (and get blacklisted)

Don't bother mate: I'm closed for business

I blogged recently about a publisher I’d blacklisted for its dubious ad-selling, amongst other things. It was the first time I’d done this since moving to Bristol a couple of years ago.

Just like the proverbial buses which nobody sees until another one has just arrived, a different company has given me reason to repeat the act this week.

The offending firm has approached me unsuccessfully in the past with offers to publish ‘free editorial’ in return for allowing them to contact partners and pressure them to support this with advertising.

It’s a mystery to me why anyone in the sector supports this activity, which is often produced to such a poor quality that it is barely credible. Housing has a great story to tell, and better publications understand this and will help us to do so without charging for it.

After making this point a few times, I thought they had got the message.

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Blacklisted: you (may not) know who you are

For the first time since moving to Bristol last year, I’ve blacklisted a sector publication for sloppiness. It’s a little-known mag, whose staff sometimes send me annoying emails offering to reproduce a press release ‘for free’ (wow!) if I let them contact partners and pressure them to support this with ad revenue.

This is a dodgy tactic that plays on partners’ goodwill. But it’s supported by some because they are not directly charged for the ad space. I’ve always been staggered by how attractive this approach appears to be to some in the construction industry or public sector. But, believe me, it works.

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