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Case Study: West Kent Housing Association

Developing line managers for an evolving culture

West Kent Housing Association (West Kent) is a vibrant, community-based business providing affordable homes and services to people living in the towns and villages throughout Kent. Established in 1989, they were one of the first large scale voluntary transfers of local authority housing. They were the first ‘excellent’ housing association in the country and the first Gold Investor in People in Kent. They have an enviable reputation for helping people and communities flourish.

 The Challenge

Like all housing providers, West Kent is facing some tough challenges. There is significant pressure on housing to provide more, for less. With the current political and economic climate, there is likely to be continued periods of change that housing organisations will need to adapt to.

Coupled with this, West Kent has ambitious plans. Key to these plans is a culture change to redefine West Kent’s relationship with their residents based on exceptional services, reciprocity and independence. Once achieved they will be better placed to support those who need the most help. To make this change, the executive and senior leadership teams have invested in their leadership development over recent years to ensure they can lead and support teams effectively to deliver change in relationships internally and externally.

Of course, managers are also critical in making this culture shift. With this in mind, West Kent developed a Line Managers’ Support Network to help front line team leaders and supervisors to tackle staff performance issues, and to build strong relationships with staff for future service development. As well as helping residents to help themselves, managers needed to help staff to help themselves. The managers needed to move from nurturing and rescuing, to being able to have adult-adult conversations and empower their staff. But the do this the network alone was not enough. Like their leaders, line managers needed dedicated, focussed development.

=mc Brief

To that end, West Kent sought tenders from suppliers who could both understand the cultural change that West Kent was putting in place, and had experience of supporting managers in housing organisations. The programme was sponsored by the Executive Team via Business Services Director, Hillary Knight. She explained they needed their managers to positively engage with teams, customers and the wider organisation in order to achieve customer focussed solutions. And they should be able to confidently make decisions, deal with a rapidly changing environment and handle conflict including actively and positively managing performance.

Here is a summary of the behavioural changes they were looking for:

Now (the future includes less of these elements – moving away from)  Future (the future includes more of these elements – moving towards)
Helping people
Individual satisfaction
Avoiding conflict and difficult issues
Employee engagement
Managing change
Treating everyone the same
Helping people to help themselves
Organisational fairness
Challenging and resolving conflict/difficult issues
Colleague co-commitment
Normalising change
Treating people according to need

Our approach

Following a successful pitch presentation – which included a mini-training session – we held a kick-off meeting to clarify the design process with HR, Learning & Development and the programme sponsor. This included reviewing organisational documents, such as the work already done on leadership development, and previous staff engagement surveys, running focus groups and interviewing managers to customise the programme.

What we did

Following on from the research we developed a set of learning outcomes, linked to Investors in People standards and in keeping with West Kent’s values and culture work. And we created a broad structure for the programme, organised under Jim Collins’ Good to Great (G2G) model. Using this model gave the programme a focus on the important link between personal performance and organisational success. It is particularly suited to West Kent because of the scale of their organisational ambition – and the need to build on success to move to the next level, rather than requiring a ‘fix’.


The learning outcomes for the full programme are designed to be delivered over three two-day modules:

Learning outcome Investors in People Standard Good to Great Model
1. Managers are able to identify the skills and role of a manager at West Kent and are to articulate how this relates to the values of West Kent living the organisation’s values and behaviours Module 1: disciplined people (L5 leaders)
2. Managers are confident and consistent in their management approach. They are able to flex styles effectively and with consistency to provide more effective direction and support to individuals and teams, helping people to help themselves empowering and involving people, leading and inspiring people) Module 1: disciplined people (first who, then what)
3. Managers are able to manage performance, motivating and inspiring people through recognising good performance, and addressing issues by having honest and challenging conversations in an adult-adult manner managing performance Module 2: disciplined thought (confront the brutal facts)
4. Managers are able to identify team direction and to make sense of the external environment standard: building capability, delivering continuous improvement Module 2: disciplined thought (identify your hedgehog concepts)
5. Managers plan their individual and team’s work more effectively, in a way that ensures working hard and having fun structuring work Module 3: disciplined action (create a culture of discipline)
6. Managers are able to normalise change, manage change and support others through change in a way that demonstrates compassion, empathy and awareness of the impact of change on others creating sustainable success Module 3: disciplined action (innovation accelerators)


The seventh learning outcome for this programme was for participants to ‘take personal responsibility for learning, and supporting continuous personal development to become both self-correcting and self-generating – both for self and for teams’ (linked to IiP standard delivering continuous improvement). This was encouraged through:

  • A pre-course launch session to review learning styles and set individual aims for the programme
  • A pre-course questionnaire to benchmark management capability
  • Peer mentoring, where participants worked together in pairs, acting as ‘learning buddies’ to support and coach each other
  • Post-module learning logs and assignments
  • Pre- and post-module meetings with line managers to reflect on personal learning
  • A review event to reflect on learning and next steps
  • A post-course questionnaire to analyse behavioural changes against the pre-course results


We launched the first cohort in July 2015, and in June 2016 cohort 3 have their review session. 40 managers have been through the programme so far. The participants have gained a lot from the course and given very positive feedback. This has resulted in more confidence, a better understanding of the management culture needed at West Kent and a drive to tackle issues head on. At these review sessions Chief Executive Frank Czarnowski hears back from line managers what they have learned and then listens to them ‘pitch’ for further support and development from the Executive Team. Frank says:

“Line managers are essential to West Kent achieving its ambitions. It is therefore clear to me that we need to invest in their development. I’ve been impressed with the outcomes from this programme, and what I am hearing line managers say. I can see it has made a difference – they are stepping up more, being clear on their own development needs, and have gained confidence in managing others more effectively.”

Post course questionnaires show participants are applying their learning in their everyday work, using the tools and techniques on the programme to make real differences in their teams.
Hillary Knight (Business Services Director) fed back:

“This has been an excellent course. I’ve been on leadership programmes before, but I didn’t feel I was duplicating. What I got from this course was a really practical approach, challenge to the way I think, and inspiration about what is means to be a leader and a manager. As both a participant and the sponsor it was clear to me that this was not an off-the-shelf solution but one carefully tailored to our needs. The trainers have taken the time to understand the context of West Kent leaders and managers. They truly know their core material tools deeply, and their skill in delivering and engaging participants is as good as I’ve seen.”


After cohort 3, the leadership team were keen to evaluate the programmes’ success. In particular they wanted to review the impact of the programme to date, specifically in terms of learning and behaviours. We provided analysis from the questionnaires and a follow up survey. This showed:

  • Participants had articulated better outcomes for customers
  • Efficiency and effectiveness had improved through delegating and prioritising
  • There were ongoing discussions and a shared language when networking with colleagues and in LMSN
  • Managers had clearer expectations of teams and improved team development
  • There was more consistency in management practice
  • Managers had more confidence
  • Managers were better able to flex and adapt their approach

Of course, the analysis also highlighted some areas where there is still work to be done – particularly around managing workloads and improving communication between different levels of management. Overall however, participants valued the programme, and found it hugely beneficial to their everyday work:

West Kent Housing feedback


Next steps

And the changes continue to be noticed. There is a buzz and energy from the programme, and more senior managers are attending cohorts – helping to improve internal communication and cohesion. Cohort 7 is ready to go, and we are supporting the senior management team with other development programmes.

How can we help?

Several of the workshops =mc tailored for West Kent are available in different formats as in-house training. These include:

If you’d like to speak to us about your specific needs, email Yvette GylesDirector at, or call +44(0)20 7978 1516

You can also find more information on =mc’s learning and development webpages.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...