Port of Leith Housing Association

Port of Leith Housing Association

Recognised for Excellence 4 star



Port of Leith Housing Association is a medium sized registered social landlord.Our ambition is “to make Leith the best place to be”.  Our mission is to continue to grow and develop excellent services for people to achieve the ambition we have.

We have plans in place to create a range of quality homes within neighbourhoods that are great places in which to live.  Since 1975 we have invested over £200m in the ongoing regeneration of Leith and North Edinburgh. Now owning and managing over 2,700 affordable homes we are focused on supporting individuals to live independently and promoting the overall wellbeing of the community.  Over the past 10 years our Training Opportunities in Lothian (TOiL) Programme has supported over 500 young people into employment or further education. We have worked alongside a wide range of locally based agencies to obtain and use grant funding of nearly £3m to benefit the wider community.

A key strategic goal set out in our 2015 – 2020 Strategic Plan is for the Association to “make the organisation and its service delivery great”. To achieve this we implemented our own PoLHA Excellence Programme which has been running for 4 years. This has focussed on creating cultural change, up-skilling in leadership and management competence and improvements to systems and processes across the whole organisation. We had a desire to aim for excellence because we wanted to, rather than approaching excellence from the perspective of ‘what do we need to win an award?’


Why the EFQM Excellence Model?

We researched several quality models to help us understand what “excellence” might look like and chose the EFQM model as the most all-encompassing framework as it complemented work we were already engaged in using the Investors In People Standard.

To introduce our Excellence Programme, we initially focussed on looking at ourselves from the customers’ perspective and what excellent service looks like to them.  We began to challenge what metrics we were using to understand our performance as well as involving people in discussions about what would make the Association a place to work they would recommend to others.  To help get staff as well as senior management on board, we sought to avoid management speak. Developing both great leadership and management skills were considered to be key in any journey towards being an excellent organisation. 

We were aware that when a couple of key milestones were achieved in 2014, obtaining a Committed to Excellence Award and moving the organisation from a Bronze to Gold level IIP Award, people started to get more curious about what else they could to do to continue this success.


The Recognised for Excellence Process:

We continued to focus on the processes required to make Port of Leith Housing Association great.  Other than the project leaders, the rest of the staff weren’t aware of the award requirements.  We wanted staff to come to the conclusion that it’s fantastic to have data available to show how we’re doing and for them to feel that they could challenge traditional ways of doing things if they had a better idea and that these would be implemented.  We were looking at embedding the idea of continuous improvement in everything we do rather than just to fulfil an award requirement. Today, managers are using the data to focus on areas where improvements are needed and are identifying their data needs.

The process started with a rigorous self-assessment. Key staff undertook Quality Scotland training on the EFQM excellence model, including three trained up to the level of accredited assessors. They carried out the internal self-assessment, which helped to identify enablers which were later used to inform the Recognised for Excellence (R4E) Award submission document.  Results identified during the self-assessment process were highlighted to senior managers to confirm the areas that would be focussed on in the R4E Award submission.

Once we had the assessment reports, the extensive list of areas of improvement identified were categorised using a range of headings e.g. Internal Communication, Leader/Manager Competence, Organisational Development, etc to enable an understanding of what elements of the business operations we needed to focus on moving forward in our journey towards being an excellent organisation.

Port of Leith HA has a 5 year strategic plan, which is reviewed annually, with the EFQM business improvement plan embedded into this. All suggestions from EFQM, IIP and staff surveys are fed into the business plan. However no changes are made specifically to win an award.

To maintain our continuous improvement journey, we focus on key results areas for the business given the resources available e.g. we focussed on customer satisfaction within society and people results. Our staff engagement survey is qualitative rather than quantitative and gives us the information our business needs.

 “We are always aware that we are constantly on a journey and it is a long term, steady, determined and persistent journey that you have to go on.” Mike Beniston


We will will continue to focus on developing a positive culture rather than making interventions themselves in systems and processes, as it has been recognised that moving from ‘Good’ to ‘Great’ can only be done by engaging those delivering the work in continuous improvement. 

Our focus going forward from this position will be on staff empowerment directed at keeping everyone on board and thinking about what they need to do to make things better.  The development of culture has to involve everyone from Board members to front line staff and we will be investing in methods to achieve this.

To provide us with externally recognised evaluation of our progress, Port of Leith HA will continue using the EFQM framework and the Investors in People Standards. We are also planning to use The Times 100 Best Companies Awards.  We will, however, continue to do what we think is the right thing “to make the organisation and its service delivery great” rather than doing things to score points against externally established standards to win awards.  Excellence first – awards follow!!!

The Benefits

  • A key benefit we hadn’t anticipated was the positive impact achieving the award had on people in relation to their feelings of pride about what we all do and the motivation to push on to higher levels.
  • Having obtained the 4 Star level award, this provides a good benchmark for where we are against other organisations. We are now working with Quality Scotland to benchmark with members across different sectors to learn how we can improve ourselves further.
  • The EFQM Excellence Model has given us confirmation that all areas in the way we do business are important and we should focus on all the aspects laid out in the EFQM framework, not just the obvious processes that enable us to get services delivered to ex
  • Using the framework to identify areas we needed to address and then looking at ‘how are we doing in those areas?’ helped us to identify that new and different streams of management information were needed to help us move towards being a great organisatio
  • We have observed that staff engagement levels have further improved, with barriers to involvement coming down as a result of the assessment process in which staff were able to reflect on and recognise their achievements.

Hints & Tips

After highlighting all the issues, identify a limited set of categories under which all the issues sit. We had 92 individual issues under internal communications.

Our self-assessment involved ten staff, but only one was a manager. In future, we will include key people for key enablers to ensure we are getting the most from the self assessment.  For example Managers and Senior Managers should be present when discussing the Leadership criteria as they will have more to say on the subject and have more knowledge.

Confirm with Quality Scotland exactly what is expected from you during the assessment week and book all the relevant people in with a clear brief so they can explain and sell your organisation and give the assessors everything they need.

Timescales between submission and assessment mean that you need to start preparing all staff straight away and book in exact interview timings for key people far enough in advance.

We benefitted from hiring someone who had been through the assessment process before. Enabling us to clarify the process and highlight what information was required.

Make sure you celebrate the award properly. We took the entire assessment team to the Scottish Awards for Business Excellence awards ceremony, representing all departments so they could go back and tell their team about the event. We also awarded everyone a half day off to recognise the work involved and get a celebratory message out to all staff. It has made front line staff ask the question ‘what next?’

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