Leaders Speak – Catherine Cole

Each week we interview a leader who is stepping up and making a difference. This week we speak to Catherine Cole, Assistant Director at Platform Housing Group and has worked in leadership and management roles in the affordable housing sector for over fifteen years.  She lives with her family in Worcester.

The Story

I am Assistant Director at Platform Housing Group (PHG), a large Housing Association created in 2018 following the merger of Fortis Living and Waterloo Housing.  With over 1,200 colleagues and 45,000 homes, we work tirelessly to deliver quality homes and customer services that make a tangible difference to  peoples lives.

I lead a large team and we are responsible for managing homes in the West region. We are passionate about what we do and making a difference and my main passion is working with people.  I am especially interested in the link between engaged and motivated colleagues and high quality customer experiences, the use of technology to

improve processes and services and community investment.  

My focus right now is on integrating teams and looking at how we can harmonise and improve how we work and deliver services.  I’ve recently written a new Customer and Community Engagement Strategy for the Group and I am excited to start implementing that over the coming months.  I am also starting to build links with key local partners and stakeholders to look at how PHG can work with them to deliver joint goals.  

My  background

With over 15 years experience of leading teams, I have experienced lots of challenges such as leading teams through mergers and other significant changes and devising and implementing new strategies. Yet developing my leadership skills and the skills of others is central to my approach.

I have a degree in Professional Housing Studies and am a Corporate Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH).  I believe in continual learning and development and I have also undertaken further leadership training, including a course run by Warwick Business School and a qualification in Education and Training. 

I love working with people to help them develop too and I am  a registered mentor with the CIH.   I am also passionate about the important work that housing associations do in supplying much needed affordable housing.

What’s the biggest issues facing leaders right now?

For me one of the biggest issues is how to successfully engage with and motivate an increasingly diverse workforce.  There are so many different generations of people working within organisations now that it is not possible for employers to go with a ‘one size fits all’ approach and organisations need to go further than simply providing competitive salaries and traditional benefits packages.  

Recent research has shown that many employees are looking to find meaning, purpose, connection and happiness in their work as well as wanting to work for organisations that have a commitment to issues such as climate change, sustainability and social value.  Employees will be looking more for roles that

provide real flexibility to help them balance and enjoy family and other personal interests, with the typical 9-5 pretty much being a thing of the past. 

The other big challenge is how organisations can meet ever increasing customer expectations, in a world where technology is evolving so rapidly and

poor experiences can quickly be shared through social media. 

What’s your take on leadership?

I definitely think that the more traditional ‘top-down’ style of leadership is not as effective anymore and that leaders need to work with their employees and give them the trust, space flexibility and ownership to get on with their roles.  This of course means making sure that colleagues are very clear direction on corporate strategic direction and how their role actively contributes to it.  They also will need to be given the relevant tools to do the job including ongoing training, coaching/mentoring, appropriate technology to enable agile working where possible and the chance to give their own thoughts and ideas.  Leaders need to listen to employees and find ways to engage with them and use this to implement increasingly innovative ways to motivate their workforce. 

Businesses will increasingly need to consider the value that they add and how sustainable they are.  What, for example, is their contribution going to be to addressing climate change?  What is their approach to social value or community investment? 

It is important for leaders to be able to give clear feedback to others and be able to manage themselves.  For example, if a leader comes across as pressured, busy and flustered then this will impact on those that they work with.  Leaders need to work to create the space and time that they need to continually reflect and develop their leadership skills and to keep learning about changes in both the external and internal operating environment so that they and the business are agile enough to respond. 

Companies and leaders will need to keep evolving their products and services in line with rapid changes in technology and customer expectations.  Using customer feedback and insight is a crucial part of this to ensure that leaders stay in in touch with what their customers actually want and expect from organisations. 

If you could have one piece of advice for anyone entering management positions for the first time, what would it be? 

It can be difficult becoming a manager for the first time but it is definitely worth it, especially if you have a passion for working with and wanting to help develop people and organisations.  My advice would be not to be too hardon yourself, and remember that it is not possible to please everybody all of the time.  You need to be clear about what your values and beliefs are and what you and our team are trying to achieve and as long as you always stick to those you can’t go too far wrong.  

I would advise anyone working in management and leadership positions to undertake some kind of formal training.  This will cover many theories and models that can be really useful to you for managing different situations or for planning tools and techniques and working on strategy. I don’t think that this can be taught as theory alone and would also suggest working with a mentor or coach who can help balance the more theoretical learning with real experience. 

Finally, I would also say don’t try to do everything yourself and use your team!

When I first became a manager I didn’t like asking my team to do things as I was worried that they were already too busy or would think that I was lazy!  This had the effect of me becoming pretty pressured very quickly and the team actually feeling a bit fed up as they wanted to be getting involved and getting their teeth stuck into pieces of work and felt like I wasn’t trusting them to get on with it!  Try and understand what your different team member’s strengths are and what makes them tick and that will help you all work together most effectively. 

Getin touch


Twitter: @PlatformHousing     @FortisCCole