Barry Marlow writes:

Are you busy? Of course you are. But busy doing what, exactly?

You probably dare not answer otherwise. And you’ll certainly be well practised in telling people just how busy you are.

As FriendsCritical gets to visit various organisations, we always ask how things are. ‘Busy’ is the usual reply.

Taking as inspiration, Tony Crabbe’s excellent book ‘Busy – how to thrive in a world of too much’, we have looked at the world of ‘housingbusy’ and summarised it in a typical FriendsCritical way. Here’s what we make of it – and describes what we think B.U.S.Y. stands for:

B – Business or Busy-ness

What exactly are you doing? We challenge organisations to look objectively at what they are doing. We examine the process, the routine and the meaning. We are constantly surprised at the degree of process that has little or no impact on the customer despite being, allegedly, customer focused.

Tony Crabbe likens busy-ness to an addiction, trying to overcome something that has been embedded and then adding to it, squeezing time and energy. Process and habit are close relatives of one another. The brain is not built for constant busy-ness. And yet, people bog themselves down with busy procedures, despite knowing that much of it is ineffectual on the customer and frustrating for themselves.

It is the ‘business’ that suffers through busy-ness. People are not performing at their best. Little time to think and plan and assess. Constant pressure to achieve uncertain outcomes at the risk of poor performance.

Doing less, however, is riddled with guilt. But in our world of such busy-ness where do we find the time to think, create and improve?

Perhaps the answer lies in neither more, nor less. But different.

U – Understanding the nature of Busy

This simply means recognising when things get on top of you, the stress and frustration at what and how you work. This is the work of FriendsCritical – spotting the nature and direction of the work rather than the person trying to cope with it.

Is the process actually worth it? Is the audience different to what it used to be? Are expectations changing quicker than the ways the business can adapt?

People are often too close to notice. But the irony is that they are responsible to notice, especially if customers are not responding or engaging. Much of our work is about developing better relationships. But these relationships don’t mean more work, more hours and more process.

We argue for different approaches. Examining what is done, researching its value and suggesting that there might be other ways to get better results. As Tony Crabbe says “If you want to do something fresh, if you have turned off your autopilot, there is no map, you just have your values as a compass”.

S – Sustainable

At FriendsCritical we talk a lot about sustainability. In particular, we explore the importance of a sustainable business (one that maximises income to plough back into better, value for money services), and sustainable tenancies (ones that are profitable for the business and ones the customer can profit from).

But busy is also about the energy to continue being busy with little meaning. In one organisation we visited, half the income team spent 40% of its time making hopeful telephone calls to prospective customers. The success rate was poor. They’re not employed for that. Other organisations can achieve much higher levels of response on the telephone (like Housing Contact) because they are better at it than we are.

Those staff members were burned out. But not through doing what they were employed for. They are good at the customer relationship thing, talking, listening, negotiating and arranging.

They went home exhausted. They had achieved very little positive contact. But they were very busy.

Y – You

How brave are you? Tony Crabbe talks about self-efficacy, the belief we have in our ability to do things. Self-efficacy increases our likelihood of doing new things – difficult things.

We are working with an organisation that has dropped all traditional rent arrears letters. They worked out that their impact was minimal. The cost was high. Not value for money. Difficult decision that. They had been running that process for over 30 years.

It took someone with a degree of bravery and self-efficacy to make that decision. And then replace it with something different. You can do that.

Think about the things YOU do. Sign-ups? No-one likes them, no-one benefits from them. And yet they still take place. Why? Process? Addiction? Habit? Plenty of people are very busy doing them.

At FriendsCritical we feel that ideas and innovation in housing isn’t the problem. The biggest problem is letting go of the processes that have only heritage value and have become habitual rather than meaningful. There is less and less space to breathe when new ideas are developed. It’s all too busy.

So there we are. There YOU are. Because at the end of the day, when you’re back home with your glass of wine and feet in salted water watching Emmerdale, you’ll know you’ve had another busy day. Don’t worry. You’ll be just as busy tomorrow.

Surely you don’t want it spelt out for you?

FriendsCritical can be contacted at https://friendscritical.wordpress.com/

Acknowledgement: ‘Busy’ by Tony Crabbe.

Published by Piatkus. ISBN 978-0-349-40075-4

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