The process of cultural evolution is not without its challenges. It’s easy to get stuck in the place of having an established culture and become disinclined to engage with transformation. So how do you do it? 

How do you identify a need for the evolution of your organisation?

  • Declining engagement from your target market/members/donors/historic user or customer base
  • Growing discontent or apathy in your team/employees/volunteers
  • Finding that your product/service/offering seems to not be meeting your audience expectations
  • Where your historic drivers are becoming irrelevant
  • When processes and systems are not enabling efficiencies but rather hindering progress
  • Where making change can alleviate pressure points such as financial overheads
  • When the need to adopt new ways of doing overtakes the risk of change and fear of the unknown

Steve Harriott, Chief Executive of The Dispute Scheme has some valuable insight into being the instigator of a cultural evolution through innovation in the property lettings industry.

The Housing Act 2004 requires landlords and letting agents to protect deposits on assured shorthold tenancies in a scheme such as The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). TDS is a government approved tenancy deposit protection scheme in England and Wales operated by The Dispute Service Ltd providing insurance backed tenancy deposit protection. Part of their service is the provision of free, impartial dispute resolution for when disagreements arise over how the money should be divided at the end of a tenancy.

Why evolve?

Identifying internal process and data issues around the processing of disputes, management account reporting, managing customer data and the administration of hundred's of thousands of tenancies Steve knew that an evolution of the organisation was needed. Part of the evolution of TDS was underpinned by the innovation of a new system to manage tenancy deposits and disputes.

"Landlords and tenants can fall out over the condition of a property at the end of a tenancy. Moving the repayment bidding process online has worked really well in diffusing the emotion involved and getting more rational communication between the parties." 

"We’ve been able to use the platform to nudge parties to negotiate and reach a self-resolution. In itself this has significantly decreased the amount of dispute resolutions TDS have to adjudicate and intervene in. The platform delivers a much more effective and auditable end of tenancy process."

What is the impact of your evolution and innovation?

"The process we’ve put in place has forced the rental industry to evolve, modify its behaviour and keep certain standards." Steve commented.

"By designing the evidence submission process like an exam paper for landlords it forces landlords and agents to;

  • have proper tenancy agreements
  • provide proper invoices and statements
  • evidence the condition of the property at the beginning and end of a tenancy and
  • keep accurate records regarding check in inventories and those undertaken on check out

They know that if they can’t evidence these things then their chance of claiming against a tenants deposit is compromised.

On the flip side, tenants can’t get into a ‘their word against mine’ scenario and also benefit from knowing that where TDS protect their deposit their interests are protected in the case of a dispute with everything being done ‘by the book’ ‘fair and square’.

In itself, this has shifted the focus of tenants and landlords and TDS see fewer disputes which is a cost saving for everybody."

What are the benefits of innovating?

As an organisation the innovation of the new online system has benefitted TDS through minimising previously manually heavy tasks and therefore reducing overheads. Cost savings have been achieved in;

  • not needing to process sack-loads of mail on a daily basis, opening post, sending relevant documents for scanning and filing prior to processing
  • not needing to revert to those submitting evidence, as correct documents are submitted in full online with the process clearly outlining the necessary uploads
  • adjudicators time is now focussed and more efficiently spent, requiring less staff to manage cases
  • with the system able to automatically issue payments upon dispute resolution, less personnel are required to handle finances

Once you start you can't stop!

"It’s important to realise that organisations, culture and technology (and how it’s used) are constantly evolving.

We've realised that we need to continually evolve our online interface to deliver the functionality people expect in the way they want to experience it.

With the benefit of hindsight, we recognise that we designed the platform around the functions we needed it to fulfil rather than around how people wanted to use it.

We’ve discovered lots of different customer journeys that we hadn’t considered, and we're now in the process of improving the user experience, taking into account things like language and literacy barriers to make the system more accessible. We have a program underway to improve how we communicate with our service users and keep on improving the efficiencies and performance of the TDS service."