Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Malcolm Nicholson, iCN Journalist (UK).

It is rare to come across a major initiative within an organisation that positively impacts not only changing the culture of the organisation but also changing customers’ lives. Recently, I had a conversation with Kevin Hornsby, Head of Tenancy Sustainment for Orbit, a leading housing provider in the UK.  The power of coaching as a tool for positive social impact became very evident. Kevin said ‘At Orbit, we are reviewing our approach to the tenancies we offer and the support and advice we provide to our customers to achieve successful and sustainable tenancies. At the heart of this change is a brand new, sector-leading coaching model, turning our current service inside out, from a support and actions based model, to one focused on empowerment and coaching.’

The Issues

For a number of years social landlords have found themselves grappling with welfare reform, trying their best to mitigate the impact on individuals, communities and their own businesses. The roll-out of Universal Credit remains hugely problematic for customers, pushing hundreds of families into debt and hardship.

For over 50 years, the Orbit’s ethical approach to business has enabled them to re-invest profits into their mission of building ‘thriving’ communities. With 40,000 properties, Orbit provides high-quality housing and services to more than 100,000 people and as a responsible business, they invest in their communities, helping people to maximise their potential. In the last five years Orbit have committed £12m back into their communities, helped more than 800 people into jobs and supported around 30,000 people with financial and energy advice.

Kevin continued “To give the size of the problem some scope, here are some results of our research. One in 10 of our households have used foodbanks in the last year and have taken out a quick cash loan or used cash converters. We also know that out of the more than 1,000 customers who received money advice in the last 12 months, almost two in five were households with children. Around 75% of our customers in receipt of Universal Credit are in rent arrears – we know these statistics are not unique to Orbit and housing providers up and down the country are encountering similar challenges. Make no mistake, this is a massive problem for many, many households. In responding to a challenging operating environment, we needed to review the way we worked.”

The Required Outcomes

If Orbit were to continue to operate as an efficient business, responsible landlord and one of the largest developers of new affordable homes in the sector, they had to change the way they operated their tenancies. They needed to:

  • Minimise the impact of Universal Credit on the organisation
  • Improve the consistency of their services – becoming more proactive
  • Reduce the number of customers in rent arrears, and
  • To make their services more accessible, simple and easy to understand for customers

“The result of change must be empowering customers to fulfil their potential. With a renewed focus on tenancy sustainment rather than traditional housing management and persistent focus on turnaround times, our role becomes more about the customers, we house and the support we offer as opposed to simply the properties we own and manage. Our aim is simple – we want to enable our customers to have a successful tenancy and transform their lives.  We are focused on providing our customers with better days, every day.”

The Solution

After months of research, insight gathering and consultation, Orbit has now launched a brand new coaching model focused on early intervention and prevention. Adopting Sir John Whitmore’s GROW model, Kevin reflected that Orbit ‘Feel both our leadership and customers will benefit from this simple method of goal setting and problem setting. The common and hugely successful framework has just four simple steps; Goal, Reality, Options and Wrap-up/Will.’

To ensure we are giving our customers the best chance of sustaining their tenancy, we have created a series of tenancy training courses, inspired by the GROW model and developed using the expertise of our in house employment team.’

There are six coaching sessions available for tenants which can be delivered in either a 1-2-1 or group coaching environment with a focus on enabling our customers to become tenancy ready: The courses are:

  • Keys to a successful Orbit tenancy
  • Managing the unexpected
  • Being a good neighbour
  • Living in a thriving community
  • Thinking about work
  • Making a positive change

Given that only 17% of people in debt seek advice, we know that for many, taking action when struggling is difficult. At Orbit we estimate 5,000 of our households are struggling with money at any given time.

‘To help support these customers, a new Income Maximisation Team of specialists, including an underwriter function will now risk assess customers pre-tenancy and money coaches will help support with budgeting skills. The addition of Tenancy Underwriters is something new to the housing sector and previously synonymous with the banking or insurance sector. They will enable Orbit to make good decisions around the tenancies we offer and to identify the support needed from our Tenancy Sustainment Coaches.’

Orbit’s coaches typically work with a customer prior to the tenancy commencing and for anything up to six months as part of a tenancy success plan. All coaches will be upskilled and trained up to levels 3 and 5 in coaching to enable a successful and empowering customer journey with coaching at the heart of the service.

This new model built on the great work already carried out by Orbit’s Employment and Skills team and money advice service. Last year Orbit’s advice team supported 1,940 customers achieve an additional £3.3M in income and a further £1.1M in one-off financial gains related to backdates and/or right-offs.

A Success Story

‘One of Orbit’s new Employment and Skills coaches has already had great success as a customer has used our ‘No Stopping Grant’ made available by the organisation, to help set up their own business.’ Said Kevin. “Due to ongoing health issues, the customer was finding it increasingly difficult to continue to fulfil her duties in her building and maintenance job. From talking through the concept of setting up her own business with one of our coaches in March, just a few months later the customer has now embarked on a new adventure, selling a range of completely natural sourced cleaning products, marketing them through an established Facebook page, Eco-Vie The Cleaning Power of Nature.’

Moving Forward

Kevin emphasised that ‘In my role of Head of Tenancy Sustainment, we see it is no longer enough for landlords to provide low-cost housing.  Our role and remit is much wider and people require our support with increasing urgency. Our new coaching model allows us to assess our customers’ needs and life skills way before a tenancy is offered, meaning that we can have in place everything needed to make our tenancies a success from day one. We need to invest in our communities and in the people living in our homes; not just our assets and this is a key part of the new model.’

Orbit’s Initiative and the context of third generation coaching

It’s pretty easy to want to produce better results that affect the wellbeing of employees and customers. It’s far more difficult to translate those intentions into sustainable actions and behaviours. So let’s put the Orbit initiative into the context of the evolving world of the coaching. We are currently seeing third-generation workplace coaching, which typically promotes cultures of high functioning and high well-being, developing appropriate quality conversations. Such cultures aim to be anxiety-minimising by emphasising positive outcomes and by giving attention to personal and organisational values and goal alignment.

The Orbit initiative fits right in this space. Kevin concluded ‘With one in ten people living in a housing association home, our sector and a coaching based model is well-placed to help the thousands of struggling families across the country. As a responsible landlord responding to a challenging environment, we believe that our new coaching model will not only help thousands of people manage their tenancies, but also support them into employment and with their general wellbeing. All while enabling Orbit to run more efficiently and effectively, helping us to continue in our role of supporting people and helping tackle this country’s housing shortage.’

About Malcolm Nicholson

Malcolm is the owner and Coaching Director for , and works successfully with a wide range of senior business people, both in the UK and internationally.  For nearly 20 years he has been enabling people to improve business results through transformational individual changes. He is also an interviewer for Coach Radio International, a visiting speaker on the full time MBA course at NEOMA Business School, Paris, France and a mentor at Help for Heroes. To find out how he can help you or your organisation contact him at or on +44 1932 267597.





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