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Sian Morgan | CEO | Hafan Cymru

Sian Morgan: Having an Impact on People’s Lives

Saving lives is a costly venture. Whether providing healthcare or housing and support – everything requires money, and a lack of careful management would see both the support worker and the person seeking help without a solid ground to stand on. As the saying goes, put your own oxygen mask first!

When Sian Morgan arrived at Hafan Cymru as its Chief Executive Officer, she found an organization that had forgotten to look after itself. The company was suffering financially and culturally, nearing the point of no return. As soon as Sian took over, she implemented sound policies, took feedback from her employees, and successfully turned the company around within a year. Today, Hafan Cymru is in the process of rebranding and relaunching its business in the changed reflection of what it has become.

Sian is an accomplished executive with a track record of success in Business Development and Project Management while working for a variety of Government Bodies and private sector organizations. She has worked closely with local and national governments in a number of social and political arenas. Her specialization lies within people and business development, and she has an excellent understanding of the ‘Learning Culture’ and the various methodologies involved. Sian is passionate about organizational development/growth and relationship building, having worked for many years in this field with various businesses.

Hafan Cymru is a housing association with a charitable purpose, providing housing and support to women, children, and young people across Wales. Primarily working with those escaping domestic abuse helping them regain their independence by offering a complete package of support provisions and with a wide range of needs. These needs can often be as complex as physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, those recovering their mental health, ex-offenders, substance misusers, or care leavers.

In an exclusive interview with Insights Success, Sian Morgan shares the tale of saving Hafan Cymru and helping people in need.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Sian, please describe your professional journey up until now for our readers. What are the challenges that you faced along the way?

When I joined the business in January 2016, I did not expect to find a business that was failing due to a lack of leadership, financial controls, and complacency. It was clear to me that between the reality of the marketplace and the business’s ability to act within that reality, something fractured until it was nearly too late to fix.

It was a difficult time, particularly the first 12 months, as I experienced a number of barriers and blockages from within the business. However, I did successfully tackle the cash flow issues with the support of the Head of Finance, who, in my opinion, had not been allowed previously to implement much-needed financial controls in order to ensure there was tight cost management and transparency. Together we introduced new financial processes and procedures to tighten up the cost expenditure of the business as we were bleeding money!

My next approach was to review the organizational structure and reduce the high overheads that Head Office was carrying. I worked closely with the Board of Management to agree on an organizational structure that would ensure we had the right skills in the right place with the right processes and procedures. I involved the trade union to ensure they understood the drivers for change, notified the Welsh Government of the plan that had been developed to help turn around the financial situation and met with our Bank to ensure they were on board as we were facing severe cash flow issues and at real risk of going out of business.

Thankfully, we now have a business that thinks and behaves commercially; we won new contracts, achieved the investors in people standard, and received a glowing report from our external auditors and all within an 18-month period.

It was a very challenging 18 months but also exciting and incredibly fulfilling. It has been extremely rewarding to see a business that was almost dead keep going and one that continues to move in the right direction, going from strength to strength.

Tell us about Hafan Cymru, its mission, and the work that you have been doing for the betterment of society through your organization.

Hafan Cymru was formed in 1989 as a Registered Social landlord. The business grew out of an initiative of the Women’s Aid movement in Wales at a time when the refuge was the only form of accommodation or support for women living with domestic abuse. The business was and is one of the key leading providers of housing and support services across Wales for Women, Men, and children experiencing violence against women and domestic abuse, and our mission then was to work to prevent abuse and homelessness and to promote the independence of those they supported through a range of individually tailored support interventions.

Over the years, the business has needed to develop and expand from its original intent in order to respond to the changes in legislation and service needs. This has seen the business grow in terms of employees and contracts and the constitution changing to enable support services to be delivered to men facing domestic abuse.

The current scenario is giving rise to increasing social challenges; what approach is Hafan Cymru adopting to deal with them?

The business has had to respond to the needs of our client group and now has over 60 contracts across Wales, providing much-needed support services to men as well as women and children, and young people. We provide refuge, dispersed refuge, safe houses, and temporary supported accommodation for people in need. We also offer floating support to people and meet them in their own homes or in a convenient location; we work with men dealing with the feeling of isolation and facilitate them coming together, so they receive shoulder-to-shoulder support from other men.

We have the only government-funded project in Wales that raises awareness of healthy relationships in schools for children between the ages of 3 and 16. Also, we offer employability training to support people who are keen to become financially independent and look for work. Our commercial offer provides training on the traits of domestic abuse for the public and private sector in order to assist them in supporting their own employees and help them recognize when their people need support. Unfortunately, there has been a spike in domestic abuse due to people being locked down during the pandemic.

The business has also diversified and expanded our skill set, and we now deliver employability support to help people prepare themselves for the world of work – this also helps our clients who are ready to move on in life and live independently, and we have been building a range of skills in other areas such as mental health and specialist domestic abuse support.

Can you tell us about your leadership style and the methods you embrace to solve unforeseen challenges at the workplace?

When I first joined, I visited all our locations across Wales, listened to our teams, and then found quick wins following my visits which demonstrated I had taken their thoughts and views on board. Building an environment of trust was key, demonstrating that I not only listened but was able to take forward action. I encouraged reflection on the way we did things and found ways of improving and sharing best practices across teams, empowering staff to take forward ideas and look at new ways of doing things. I listen to clients/colleagues to enable decisions to be taken on a ‘right-first-time’ approach. Understanding the talent in the business was also key, and how we captured knowledge transfer to enable us to build for the future.

What do you think is the biggest impact that you have made in your career? What more do you want to do in the future?

Turning a failing business around and one that makes a difference in people’s lives.

How are you using technological solutions to enhance Hafan Cymru’s services and operations?

We use technology to enable us to work smarter and reduce travel while always ensuring we maintain face-to-face human contact when needed.

Being an experienced business leader, what are your goals for the future, and where do you see yourself in the long run?

I want to see the business continue to grow and develop into an employer of choice. To achieve this, we still have some work to undertake on embedding our culture and ensuring the voice of our employees and client group is heard as well as listened to.

What would you like to advise the aspirants who are thinking of venturing into social work?

Working in the support sector is a vocation, and you need to want to make a difference, as the work is very challenging but so rewarding.

How do you envision Hafan Cymru eventually, and how do you plan to enhance its operations and services concerning its future goals?

Recent years have seen many changes at Hafan Cymru, and evolutions, revisions, and new services have reshaped our organization dramatically – we are far from where we first began, and our DNA as a business has changed significantly. The way we tell our story is no longer fit for purpose and doesn’t accurately reflect the new DNA of the organization we have become.

In addition, we had no ‘brand voice,’ which tended to cause a lot of confusion internally and externally, leading to inconsistency in messaging and making us hard to recognize. Our Funders have told us that they feel our brand is holding us back and fails to reflect the progressive, professional organization we have become today. Currently, we are in the process of rebranding the business and relaunching who we are.