Catalyst is one of the UK’s leading housing associations managing 34,000 homes across London and the home counties. It plans to deliver around 1,000 new homes a year, the majority of which will be affordable housing to help the country’s desperate need. Catalyst is a not-for-profit registered housing provider and invests the surplus from its market sale homes into its affordable homes building programme. It provides affordable homes where people feel secure and can settle and thrive – through social and affordable rent, key worker schemes and shared ownership. It also provides homes, schemes and services specifically designed to help vulnerable residents live independently, including older people, young adults and people with physical and learning disabilities, and those experiencing mental ill-health. Their social investment team, Catalyst Communities, delivers community development projects to create integrated, happy neighbourhoods.
Following Catalyst’s merger in December 2019 with Bedfordshire-based Aldwyck Housing Group, the challenge was to develop a new cultural identity to build on the merged organisation’s shared geography, ambitions and values. Catalyst needed a new united identity to define and drive the new organisation. The focus was on bringing together the two organisations in a true partnership to create a single future-focussed organisation with an embryonic and emotive purpose, vision and set of values. Catalyst’s new purpose became “Homes People Love”. This new identity came from truly collaborative and richly evidenced research that helped them understand ‘new Catalyst’s’ priorities and culture.
Between April and August 2019, Catalyst conducted extensive research with their colleagues, customers and stakeholders to understand their perception of Catalyst and Aldwyck. This included executive and leadership team workshops, colleague surveys, focus groups, external stakeholder interviews and surveys, and input from the integration committee and new board. This research helped Catalyst understand their strengths and synergies, the opportunities to align more closely and reaffirmed the similarities the two companies had. Colleagues described both legacy organisations as ‘a great place to work with a genuine dedication to caring for customers and improving services’. The external stakeholder audit also found commonality with both organisations seen as ‘committed to their communities and social purpose’.
Building on the research outcomes, Catalyst shaped a new set of values that would resonate with colleagues and customers, and that would inform and inspire stakeholders. Catalyst’s focus was on its social purpose, with kindness, love and respect at its heart. It was important that this focus was balanced with professionalism, great service and business accountability. After extensive reviews with both organisations’ board and executive teams, the new purpose, vision and values were ready for launch. In September 2019, Chief Executive Ian McDermott unveiled the new vision, values and purpose at the first ‘new Catalyst’ conference, ‘Evolve’, held at the iconic venue of Alexandra Palace. The size and location of the event helped 1,200 colleagues visualise and engage with the purpose and values they’d helped define for the larger organisation of which they were now a part.
Catalyst’s new purpose, vision and values
Purpose: Homes People Love
Vision: Earn and keep your trust. We will succeed as an organisation by earning and keeping the trust of our customers, colleagues and partners. Trust is never accidental. The continuous commitment and hard work needed to earn and keep your trust will never stop. Earn and keep your trust. The foundation for our futures.
Deliver on promises – We do what we say we’re going to do, when we say we’re going to do it. We never mislead. We do the right thing.
Give respect – We treat people as they want to be treated. We value and actively encourage diversity and inclusion. We treasure the planet.
Be accountable – We do not hide from our responsibilities, as individuals or as a business. We acknowledge our mistakes – and fix them. We measure and report on our impact in open, relevant ways.
Show kindness – We take time to understand the person as well as the problem. We share in people’s happiness – and sadness. We care.
Best Companies to work for
In October 2019, to help understand and develop the new organisation and values, and to gauge and track colleagues’ experience of working for Catalyst, the organisation ran the ‘Best Companies’ survey. Organisations are judged on a variety of factors including workplace company culture and values.
In February 2020, Catalyst was subsequently named as one of the top 50 London employers following the Best Companies survey, and also listed in the top 100 of ‘The Sunday Times 100 Best Not-for-Profit Organisations to Work For’. Eighty-four per cent of colleagues said they were ‘engaged, enthused and proud’ to work for Catalyst and some of the comments, which were echoed in their post-conference colleague survey, included: ‘Good values – especially kindness. A simple thing but makes a lot of difference.’ ‘The work that Catalyst does makes a real difference to people’s lives. The last few months have demonstrated the care the organisation has for its people and customers.’
Lockdown and #Catalystkind
Shortly after launching their new values, the pandemic struck. During this challenge and uncertainty, Catalyst was immensely proud that colleagues were not only embracing the values, but going above and beyond for customers, communities and each other. When the first restrictions were announced, Catalyst mobilised, trained and empowered their community-based teams to make customer wellbeing calls. Colleagues made a staggering 45,000 calls including regular chats to reduce isolation, arranging grants to pay for food and taking flowers to bereaved customers. Customers have said: ‘A massive thank you for your support. When I received my first phone call I wasn’t in a very good place, feeling tearful and alone. Paul listened and talked to me. By the second and third calls I was in a much better place – thank you all and continue what you’re doing.’ ‘How kind, caring and professional Warren was with me today – his kindness truly lifted my day and spirits.’
To capture and share these moments of kindness, the company launched #Catalystkind, recognising its teams and reinforcing their ethos with stakeholders. Over 60 colleagues shared video thank you messages at the online summer conference last year for peers who’d gone the extra mile.
In March last year, the company set up a ‘Coronavirus Voluntary Sector Support Fund’ to help charities and voluntary sector organisations meet increased demand, adapt and continue to support communities. Catalyst awarded 23 grants of up to £2,000 to help neighbourhoods with financial, emotional and wellbeing support, foodbanks, cooked meals, befriending and skills training. In July, Catalyst announced it would be repaying the £280,000 government furlough money and making no further claims. As an ethical organisation, it regards it as essential to play their part as a responsible corporate citizen. This commitment to their social purpose received a commendation from stakeholders.
Creating the new vision, purpose and values has been an invaluable step for Catalyst to define their new organisation’s identity, integrity, ambition and strategic direction, both through the merger and through the pandemic. The vision is galvanising colleagues’ relationships with each other, with their customers and communities and with Catalyst. Catalyst is committed to building on this progress to make the organisation an employer of choice, a trusted landlord and developer and a partner of choice.