Case Study – Octavia – Recruiting a Key Role in the Social Housing Sector in Lockdown

Case Study – Octavia – Recruiting a Key Role in the Social Housing Sector in Lockdown

Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged Wickland Westcott to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an Assistant Director of Housing Management for them in February of this year. This was a critical hire and it was important to employ a leader who could continue to build on Octavia’s transformation journey to becoming a more commercially focused organisation whilst maintaining its core values of providing high quality services for its residents and the wider community.

Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged Wickland Westcott to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an Assistant Director of Housing Management for them in February of this year. This was a critical hire and it was important to employ a leader who could continue to build on Octavia’s transformation journey to becoming a more commercially focused organisation whilst maintaining its core values of providing high quality services for its residents and the wider community.

A further challenge was that, not long after the assignment commenced, the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed, so traditional face-to-face methods of assessing candidates could not be employed.

After meeting with the Director of Homes, Care & Community to get a detailed understanding of what the role involved, Wickland Westcott carried out a comprehensive search to identify target organisations and engage with potential candidates. The reputation that Octavia has meant that it was not difficult to get people interested in the opportunity. However, the challenge was to assess their suitability, motivation and approach. As well as having a strong track record in providing high quality services to customers, Octavia were looking for somebody with enthusiasm, creativity, positivity and the capability to help them drive through changes in systems, processes and culture.

From an initial potential longlist of twelve (including two internal candidates), all of whom were interviewed by Wickland Westcott’s Consultant, eight CVs were forwarded to Octavia. This process took longer than planned as three of the original list either contracted the COVID-19 virus or had related symptoms during this stage of the process. We also asked the candidates to carry out a psychometric test to help assess leadership style and the ability to operate flexibly and creatively within a regulated environment.

Whilst the original plan was to put the recruitment on hold until after the crisis, the hiring manager decided to have initial telephone conversations with the candidates to keep them engaged. However, the high quality of these conversations resulted in them being extended to hour long calls and acted as the first stage of the formal assessment process. From this, we short-listed 4 candidates who then delivered a presentation to a panel of Octavia stakeholders and completed a timed written test to assess their report writing capability. We also took verbal references with previous employers.

By utilising a combination of assessment tools, we were able to identify two very strong final candidates who had the required technical capability and, as importantly, the right approach. One of these candidates was offered and accepted, and Wickland Westcott supported him through the joining process.

A reference from Sarah Shaw, Director of Homes, Care & Community, is as below:

“Keith really took the time to understand exactly the type of person we were looking for, digging way beyond the job description and person specification. The shortlist was exceptionally strong, with a broad range of experience across the diverse candidates and gave us the luxury of more than one appointable candidate. At every stage there was friendly and professional support and advice on hand, covering all stages of the selection process. I would highly recommend Keith and Wickland Westcott.”

Inspired by its founder, the social reformer Octavia Hill, Octavia provides thousands of people with affordable homes in inner London. Octavia engaged Wickland Westcott to identify, evaluate, assess and recruit an Assistant Director of Housing Management for them in February of this year. This was a critical hire and it was important to employ a leader who could continue to build on Octavia’s transformation journey to becoming a more commercially focused organisation whilst maintaining its core values of providing high quality services for its residents and the wider community.

A further challenge was that, not long after the assignment commenced, the COVID-19 lockdown was imposed, so traditional face-to-face methods of assessing candidates could not be employed.

After meeting with the Director of Homes, Care & Community to get a detailed understanding of what the role involved, Wickland Westcott carried out a comprehensive search to identify target organisations and engage with potential candidates. The reputation that Octavia has meant that it was not difficult to get people interested in the opportunity. However, the challenge was to assess their suitability, motivation and approach. As well as having a strong track record in providing high quality services to customers, Octavia were looking for somebody with enthusiasm, creativity, positivity and the capability to help them drive through changes in systems, processes and culture.

From an initial potential longlist of twelve (including two internal candidates), all of whom were interviewed by Wickland Westcott’s Consultant, eight CVs were forwarded to Octavia. This process took longer than planned as three of the original list either contracted the COVID-19 virus or had related symptoms during this stage of the process. We also asked the candidates to carry out a psychometric test to help assess leadership style and the ability to operate flexibly and creatively within a regulated environment.

Whilst the original plan was to put the recruitment on hold until after the crisis, the hiring manager decided to have initial telephone conversations with the candidates to keep them engaged. However, the high quality of these conversations resulted in them being extended to hour long calls and acted as the first stage of the formal assessment process. From this, we short-listed 4 candidates who then delivered a presentation to a panel of Octavia stakeholders and completed a timed written test to assess their report writing capability. We also took verbal references with previous employers.

By utilising a combination of assessment tools, we were able to identify two very strong final candidates who had the required technical capability and, as importantly, the right approach. One of these candidates was offered and accepted, and Wickland Westcott supported him through the joining process.

A reference from Sarah Shaw, Director of Homes, Care & Community, is as below:

“Keith really took the time to understand exactly the type of person we were looking for, digging way beyond the job description and person specification. The shortlist was exceptionally strong, with a broad range of experience across the diverse candidates and gave us the luxury of more than one appointable candidate. At every stage there was friendly and professional support and advice on hand, covering all stages of the selection process. I would highly recommend Keith and Wickland Westcott.”

Chair Designate and Non-Executive Directors

Chair Designate and Non-Executive Directors

Our client is a North West based social housing provider who currently own and manage more than 12,000 homes in central, south and east Manchester. The Chair was due to retire and therefore they were looking to recruit a Vice Chair who could be regarded as a Chair Designate and assume the Chair position in due course. In view of the additional vacancies due to occur during the coming year Non-Executive Directors were also potentially required.

Ideally the candidates would be Board members with a property development background with a focus on different types of residential development and business growth. An understanding of the dynamics of the Greater Manchester economy was of particular interest. The search was supported by an advertisement.

The assignment resulted in the appointment of four candidates to the board including the Chair Designate.

Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.


Independent Committee Member

Independent Committee Member

Our client is a social housing provider in the North West who own 13,500 homes and employ over 500 people. They were looking for an Independent Committee Member for their Audit and Risk Committee.

For this role we looked at our immediate network of NEDs and senior managers who had a background in this area and had previously expressed an interest in joining a committee / board and where in regular contact with. With an existing pool readily available to contact and known to us we could very quickly provide a shortlist for client interview.

The assignment resulted in placement of a candidate that came from outside the sector and was retired from executive life but building a non-executive portfolio and had sat previously on Audit committees.

Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.


Director of Customer and Community

Director of Customer and Community

Wickland Westcott had worked with Rochdale Borough Housing over a number of years and approached us to complete a full search and assessment for a Director of Customer and Community. They recognised that 42% of their tenants are currently aged over 55 with this expecting to rise over the next 5-10 years and so The Director of Customer and Community would need to put strategies in place to enable the borough to be a great place to live and age.

The process involved advertising online and hard copy within Inside Housing, and a search that focused on the housing sector and individuals operating in a similar or related role and from the local area. Ideally the candidate would come from the sector. A longlist of 12 were interviewed and put forward to the client who agreed a shortlist of four to go forward to an assessment centre to evaluate the candidates. All four candidates completed verbal and numerical tests ahead of the assessment centre as well as Credo – psychometric profiling. The centre involved preparing and presenting on a given subject, an exercise involving representatives of the residents’ association and an interview based on the results of Credo. This was followed by a panel with three members of the senior RBH team conducting a structured interview comprising of common key questions asked of all the candidates and individually designed questions covering issues raised during the centre.

Following a thorough de-brief of the assessment centre the assignment resulted in an appointment being made with the first-choice candidate who accepted the offer immediately.

Wickland Westcott have adopted the Voluntary Code of Conduct for Executive Search Firms which, amongst other things, sets a minimum expectation level for gender diversity for each search assignment.