Governance learnings at Family Housing Association

Karl George MBE, managing director at The Governance Forum suggests that ‘failure at any level in an organisation can normally be traced back to the governance and leadership of that organisation’.

There has been much chatter across the Welsh Housing sector over recent years about the ‘difficulties’ at Family Housing Association (FHA). Joining the Association at a time of crisis in November 2014, the focus of attention and energy was on immediate ‘crisis management’ – but exactly what did that involve?

Almost three and a half years later, as we are coming out of the end of a long, dark tunnel, we have a good opportunity to reflect on what went wrong, what has been done to turn things around and who has been involved in that process. This is not forgetting to think about what’s next for FHA.

In its report on Cosmopolitan Housing Group, Altair Consultancy said that ‘the longer a CEO is in place, the more likely they are to be deferred to as the owner of the Association’s values’.

When reading and reflecting on this statement and Karl’s statement (above) it resonated with my experience of what had gone wrong at FHA. We are a very different organisation today, but the culture and behaviours evident several years ago had been accepted and tolerated despite them not being good for the organisation.

We have some wonderful people doing amazing things that make such an incredible difference to lives and communities. However at a corporate level, balls were dropped, leading to the failings and almost resulting in the demise of a long-established association. How could something like this happen? It happened because of a failure of governance and leadership.

Our work during the ‘period of crisis’ focused, not just on financial performance, but critically, on governance and leadership. This started with the appointment of a new CEO, a new board, and a review of our Vision, Mission and Values. This enabled us to address the ‘ownership of the Association’s values’. As we move away from a ‘command and control culture’, leadership is being embedded throughout the Association. The Board is back in the role it should have ensuring that the organisation is effectively and efficiently managed with appropriate systems, controls and assurance. The Board is the ultimate custodian of our values.

The progress we have made has been recognized in the improved Regulatory Judgement. That judgement (and we as an organisation) acknowledges there is more to do. Our journey hasn’t ended, it has only just begun.

Karen Dusgate
CEO, Family Housing Association (Wales) Ltd.
www.twitter.com/KDusgate