In the latest instalment of our ‘Five minutes with’ series, Tom Neely, Housing Practice Lead at Berwick Partners’, talks to Nicole Kershaw about her first year in charge as the Chief Executive of One Manchester.
Together, they discuss her transition into her new role, leadership traits and how One Manchester is weathering the pandemic.
What have you learnt as the CEO during your first 12 months, and what skills are needed from a leadership team during such a period of crisis?
It’s been a busy, interesting and rewarding first year in post. As a new CEO there has been a lot to navigate but managing our response to the pandemic and getting to know our colleagues, customers and stakeholders in a mostly virtual way has brought an added dimension of complexity. I’ve learnt so much and have spent a lot of time listening so I can better understand the issues and concerns people are facing and turn their insight into positive action.
I think One Manchester has embraced this new world with enthusiasm and positivity and I’m incredibly proud of our colleagues’ commitment to supporting our customers and communities. In terms of leadership, being able to predict what lies ahead and communicating a clear course of action has been key. I think leaders also need to be accountable, approachable and empathetic so we can remain connected and respond to issues with agility.
Events such as this can create opportunity as well as challenge. In the current climate, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for the sector to embrace?
I think there are a number of opportunities for the sector; greater collaboration and partnership working will be key to maximising these. COVID-19 has brought existing inequalities in our communities into much sharper focus and there is a real opportunity for us to build back fairer and work closer with health and other key partners to create healthy homes and inclusive places. The sector also has significant opportunities to drive economic growth through:
- Employment and skills agenda and our key role as community employers / anchors
- Affordable and sustainable housing delivery
- Opportunities presented by green agenda and housing retrofit
There is also a fantastic opportunity to adopt more pre-emptive and agile ways of working, to become more efficient, improve the customer experience and attract the best talent to the sector
Moving forwards, what do you believe the ’new normal’ will be for the sector?
I think there will be a willingness to do things differently in terms of where and how people work. In the challenging times ahead, it will be hugely important for us to connect with our customers and communities so we can anticipate their needs, build trust, and deliver relevant services. To do this I think roles will need to become more fluid and we may need to consider reskilling so we can be responsive and remain outcome focused.
What measures do you believe organisations need to implement, to secure the next generation of talent for the sector?
I think organisational culture plays a big part in this, not only to attract future talent but to also nurture people’s potential. I’m a firm believer in a creating an open and inclusive environment where people can be themselves, innovate and thrive. I think it’s also important to embrace differences and acknowledge our mistakes – it’s how we learn and it’s also what makes us human! There is definitely more we can do as a sector to reach out and develop talent within our own communities.
The Kickstart programme is a great example of this and means we will be taking on 45 roles in the next 12 months. These roles range from grounds maintenance to digital marketing, and everything in between! We’re investing in the potential of young people from our communities and developing our own workforce by benefiting from their outlook and skills. We’re already working on the pathway for young people once they have completed their Kickstart job to create a springboard for their future career. Providing opportunities and nurturing potential is what we are all about!
What have been the biggest influences on your leadership style throughout your career?
I have been very fortunate to work with some brilliant and inspiring colleagues, peers and leaders over the years. When I got my first senior manager role, the CEO was incredibly supportive and helped me to believe in my abilities as a leader. She was very honest, brave and absolutely committed to making a difference which in turn, inspired me to do more and break through perceived barriers. I’m also passionate about coaching and mentoring and have benefitted from both myself. Moving forward, I think leaders will need to be even more resilient to be able to adapt to the complex change that lies ahead. Leadership isn’t just about technical skills; emotional intelligence and the ability to connect with colleagues will become increasing important.
What would be your key piece of advice to those looking to move into their first Chief Executive role?
In any role, I think it’s important to make sure your values align to the organisation but it’s even more critical as CEO because you’re responsible for driving a healthy culture. I also think you have to believe in what you do with a passion – it’s a role like no other and can be all encompassing, but it’s also a huge honour to be able to make a difference to our people and places.