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Time to get on board the bus? How our recruitment is evolving...

I’m Mike, one of the 15 Development Team (DT) members in Sussex Cohousing, and this is my first blogpost. The specialism I bring to the team is around contemporary human resource / organisational development practices. I guess that’s the main ‘professional lens’ through which I see our budding community.

I wanted to reflect something I’ve been noticing about the evolving nature of our recruitment practice, and why this suggests to me that if you are seriously interested in becoming part of our community, you’re better applying to join our DT sooner rather than later…

Recruitment Waves 1 to 3 - ‘the Visionaries’

So I’m a relatively ‘new’ recruit to the development team. I started coming to the regular Sussex Cohousing socials about four years ago, gradually got lured in more and more by the various social community dangling carrots, and successfully applied to join the DT about two years ago.

I haven’t spent much time researching the groups history prior to my involvement because, to be honest, there’s more than enough to do to keep the thing moving forward. The next couple of paras are therefore more ‘Mike’s interpretation of what might have happened’ rather than something more factually accurate.

In our longevity parlance, I’m a mere ‘Wave 4’ whippersnapper. The sage and god-like Julian is the only remaining Wave 1 survivor, he’s been involved at the helm of Sussex Cohousing since about the time that the Romans decided Hadrian’s Wall was a good idea. Before I saw the light, subsequent Waves led to Wendy and Rich (Wave 2) then Marci and Jenny (Wave 3) joining the team. Others have come and gone along the way, as is the nature of any project like this, but these five lovely people have stayed the course, and are the human bedrock on which Sussex Cohousing stands.

Now I don’t know the history behind their joining process as yet, but my guess would be that theirs was an emergent coalescence of like-minded visionaries who saw the possibilities of the idea and started committing their time to make it happen together. Growth and expansion was gradual and largely individual.

Recruitment Wave 4 - ‘Supporter bloc-mining, based on shared values’

My arrival, alongside other Wave 4 newbies Adam, Lisa and Tricia, was the result of the projects first targeted outward campaign to grow in numbers. The sense I had of the recruitment ethos at that point in time was a relatively wide-angled machine gun approach of ‘we feel ready to expand in size considerably for the first time, so let’s see who else we know is interested’. For sure, the recruitment process was considered and thorough, it wasn’t just a case of ‘we’ll accept anyone’ (and they didn’t). But it was primarily based around similarity of values and alignment to the vision, rather than anything more specific.

As a result, the development team doubled in size, and subsequently spent a couple of years bedding us in, becoming more focused and organised, and assimilating a greater workload. This led to sufficient progress that we reached another recruitment tipping point of ‘oooh look, there’s now too much work for the nine of us to do, and we know we ultimately want to be part of a community of 30-40 people, so why don’t we try increasing our development team size again?’

Recruitment Wave 5 - ‘As 4 above, but now with the added bonus of skill matching’

Consequently, we completed Wave 5 of recruitment last December, and have been delighted to welcome another six new faces to our development team - Caroline, Sally, Sarah, Simon, Tammy and Tom (tip - you can see their pics and blogs on our website).

For Wave 5 though, not only had the project evolved, but so had our recruitment process. It was still targeted primarily at those we already knew and had had some involvement with us - mostly as paying supporters of our project who had been coming to our socials for some time. But this time we were more organised in terms of really considering the skill set of applicants, and offering them places in the most suitable of our three ‘Task Circles’ accordingly. We’d identified that this was where we needed the extra capacity, so this is what we pro-actively considered. For example, Sarah and Simon offered us backgrounds and experience in marketing and communications respectively, so we offered them places in our Community Circle, where these skills would be most suited. It’s much easier to keep people focused and engaged when they are doing more of what they are generally good at anyway.

Originally, Wave 5 had seven, not six, successful applicants. Unfortunately for us though, our seventh DT place offer was both accepted and then soon after declined, as it turned out the applicant got a better offer elsewhere. Sad for us, but we were delighted for them. And that brings you pretty much up-to-date.

To be honest, that departure left us in a bit of a capacity pickle; the person’s skill set meant we had assigned them to the Task Circle where we currently most needed more hands on deck - Legal & Finance. Consequently, we’ve taken the opportunity to evolve our recruitment strategy once more, and this has led to…

Recruitment Wave 6 - ‘Pro-actively targeting specific skill sets’

Gone are the days of mass recruitment, with small posses of us all throwing our hat into the ring at the same time. We’ve gotten more organised and mature in our approach to recruitment, and are thus now targeting accordingly. We know where our gap is, so that’s what we are trying to recruit to.

Our first port of call is still our ‘paying supporter base’ - they’re the folk who’ve already put their money where their mouth is, so they’re the guys we’re always likely to look to first. In one sense, we see our supporter base as our ‘Cohousing community kindergarten’ - full of great people that we want to get more involved with the project. So if you are reading this and thinking ‘how do I jump on board?’, this is the thing to do. Join our supporter base and come to some of our socials. Get a feel for whether you like the cut of our jib, and let us experience and get to know you too. This two-way dance is informal recruitment at its best.

Hence our recent call-out email asking for expressions of interest in joining our Legal & Finance Circle. Now we know the type of capabilities the project needs at this point in time, so that’s what we’re targeting.

‘Where next?’ you might wonder. If you gaze into our crystal ball, this is what you might see….

Recruitment Wave 7 - ‘Pro-actively targeting diversity, to create a sustainable community’

We’ve always said that involvement in the project, at whatever level, is no guarantee of a place in the community when it finally gets built. People will continue to come and go, hopefully enjoying the journey while they are on board, and then heading off in different directions. That’s simply the nature of projects like ours. Stability and natural turnover are two sides of the same coin, both essential for a community to sustain itself and renew. There will likely always be opportunities for new members to join and live in Sussex Co-housing.

Underneath this though, there is also a tougher message. It’s this - the more organised and sociocratic we become, and the closer we get to the reality of our co-housing community - the harder it will become to get on board our bus.

There are two factors that lead me to this conclusion. The first is a simple arithmetic one. There are currently 15 of us in the DT and our plan is to create a Cohousing community of about 35 dwellings, give or take. So the more people who join the team, the fewer the places likely to be available to non-DT members.

Moreover though, we are a considered, intentional bunch, and we are clear in our aim to create a sustainable, inter-generational community. We have our own Diversity statement (readily available on our website) to reflect this.

Recently, we completed our first in-depth survey of the demographic make-up of our current development team and supporter base. We are about to embark on an exercise we call ‘community visioning’ - where we take our Diversity statement and use it to determine the ‘ideal’ demographic makeup of our future community. We’ll probably do some of the work involved at one of our future social events (keep an eye on our website for details).

Once we’ve nailed that, we’ll then do a ‘gap analysis’ to understand the difference between who is presently involved in the project, and who we’d ideally like to be involved. This doesn’t mean that if we find we have far too many white, middle class, forty-something Crystal Palace season ticket holders in our midst that we are going to purge any of them (although personally speaking, I do think that would be an excellent idea) - but it does mean that our future recruitment practice is likely to evolve in the direction of ‘positive discrimination’.

For example, we have no-one under 30 in our development team at present. In truth, this isn’t a great surprise - at that age, accommodation is generally more of an immediate concern, and our culture tends to promote more exciting, visceral, hedonistic, ‘here and now’ activities for young people to spend their time on. Two Sunday mornings a month discussing things like common house functionality and pet quotas hardly fits the bill.

But as our project nears fruition, accommodation immediacy will become a distinct possibility, and we would hope to attract a younger demographic element to become part of our community then. And we will need to proactively get out there and engage with this target audience - via social media, talks at local colleges / universities and so on. Similarly with young families, another demographic that we know we are very light on just now.

Recruitment Wave 8?

We don’t know exactly what will come out of this ‘community visioning / gap analysis’ yet, but what is clear is that as we grow and evolve towards becoming a real, tangible, cohousing community, our recruitment practices will continue to evolve in sophistication and focus alongside us, in order to create the kind of vibrant and sustainable social environment we all crave.

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