Five Minutes with Claire Griffiths, Chief Executive of Cobalt.

5 mins
Tom Neely

By Tom Neely

In our new edition ‘Five minutes with…’ interview, Founder and Director of Neemar Search, Tom Neely spoke with Claire Griffiths, Chief Executive at Cobalt Housing. Claire joined Cobalt in August 2022 as a first-time Chief Executive. Since then, Claire has taken Cobalt through a significant change programme. As we partner with Claire and the team at Cobalt on the recruitment of a new Executive Director of Corporate Services, we sat down with her to discuss this journey along the organisation’s plans for the future and the type of leader she is looking to bring into her executive team. 

You joined Cobalt in August 2022 and have since led substantial change within the organisation. What were the key priorities and where has this led?

We crafted a new Corporate Plan in 2023 with some ambitious targets to improve and grow. We’ve learnt an awful lot in our first year and made some really good progress on our 2 big change projects around ICT and repairs.   We are now reflecting  and using our learning and listening, alongside some operational changes, to adjust our journeymap and priorities, but our core priorities remain the same.

From a cultural perspective, how have you driven this positive change across the organisation? 

My style is very much ‘we do what we say we’ll do’ but with a recognition that it takes time to build trust and change perceptions and behaviours.   I like to demonstrate that ‘this is happening’ with certain boundaries and givens around what we absolutely need to be doing, but my style is to listen and learn, and build consensus along the way, and to demonstrate by doing.  There is a clear need for agility and pragmatism and I’m always happy to change reflect and adapt.  

As you move the organisation forward, what are some of the key strategic priorities for Cobalt?

Our four key Corporate priorities are around improving customer service, investing in our existing and new homes, growing our community offer, encouraging talent and people development, and taking our place as an important local and regional community based organisation.  We are deeply committed to being a locally community based organisation, however that doesn’t mean we wont be growing outside of our existing estates and also diversifying into new intermediate products including shared ownership and rent to buy.

As we move forward into the next financial year, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for the sector to embrace?

I think the potential to start showing we are listening and really being able to demonstrate changes that customers and stakeholders can see and feel, but still being humble enough to recognise some things are going to take time, and that we are beholden to some economic and societal headwinds that we can only do our best to navigate around whilst still remaining true to our objectives.  We have a real opportunity to demonstrate to a potential new government at we are ideally placed to be a key delivery partner for them, the need for good quality affordable housing is now a clear national emergency and our role more pivotal than ever. 

And with this being said, what do you see as the key challenges for the sector and how are you addressing these?

Prioritisation of needs and investment requirements is really drawing out some strains and challenges across the sector, but to be honest, whilst not underplaying the significant choices that have to be made, it does give us the opportunity to be more focussed on the job to do, and to use engagement with customers, partners and colleagues to more meaningful affect, it has to make a difference to the cultural journey we are on, in a positive way.

We are partnered with you to recruit your new Executive Director of Corporate Services – could you explain in more detail the scope of the role?

The role will work as part of the Senior Management Team and report to me, overseeing key corporate functions around governance, performance, assurance, people and communications.  

How will this role play a part in the key strategic priorities for the organisation?

The role will be key in ensuring that the range of activities we are delivering as part of our Corporate Plan, are cognisant with, and deliver measurable and intended improvements, whilst ensuring that the wheels stay on and we remain a really well run and open and accountable organisation.   The role will also focus on the implementation of our People Strategy, delivering and engaging with colleagues, developing talent, defining values and behaviours, which we see as important as anything else in our corporate journey.

What are the key traits you are looking for in your new Executive Director of Corporate Services? 

We are looking for someone who wants to make their mark on an ambitious organisation, who will work as part of one team, who recognises this will be a busy and challenging role, and that we will work in a mutually supportive way.  We want someone with a proven track record in two or more of the key areas of responsibility, with a hunger and energy to put their skills and experience into practice to make a real difference.

Do you have any advice for candidates interested in applying for this role with Cobalt?

Think of the potential this role gives, it really is a brilliant opportunity for the right candidate to develop their careers or make their next move.  Happy to talk to anyone informally about the role if that would help.

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