Qlinker – Redefining the What

I’m lucky enough to work with the Disruptive Innovators Network (DIN), an amazing bunch of individuals who want to disrupt and innovate social housing, to make it better and easier for customers and their communities. Through DIN we hear from innovative and exciting customer focused companies both within and outside the housing sector. Earlier this week we were fortunate to spend an afternoon with qlinker, who are disrupting the way /social housing is delivered by being the first digital housing association.

qlinker which is Dutch for ‘Brick’, was established by Mitros a forward-thinking 30,000 property Housing Association in the Netherlands. Qlinker fondly refer to Mitros as their ‘Mother’ company. Mitros like a number of organisations are trying to disrupt themselves

It takes a confident leader to invest in a disruptive business as part of an existing one. A separate business with its own brand and value chain activities, that can create its own culture.

Disrupters work if they don’t play by the rules, they play a different game. They offer something different to customers, quite often to customers that don’t know they even need that product.  Successful disruption can take some time and investment and definitely a supportive leadership team to succeed. Nestle disrupted themselves with Nespresso very successfully, although it took them 20 years to begin to turn profit from their disruption.

qlinker was established in 2017. They are passionate about the tenant and is focused on delivering high customer satisfaction and low operating costs. It positioned the tenant front and centre and then began to build a digital housing association around them. qlinker have disrupted with agility, by rethinking its organisational design, in its quest for digital.

Professor Carlos Markides (London Business School) suggests there are three lessons to a successful disruption:

Lesson 1: Treat disruption as both an opportunity and a threat

If something is treated solely as threat, we tend to be short term orientated to focus on the urgency of the situation. Conversely when something is viewed as an opportunity, we can lack urgency and become long term orientated.

If something is seen as both, you can generate the best of both, focused on the need for action, but with a more proactive and strategic approach.

When the rise of the internet happened and Newspapers were disrupted, the ones that succeeded saw the internet as both a Threat and Opportunity, not just as one or the other. Yes, revenues may reduce down considerably, but the new markets that could be gained through the internet were also a great opportunity

Both qlinker and its Mother company see digital as a threat – being seen as too radical by tenants and the sector, but also a huge opportunity, to offer better customer satisfaction at a lower cost, but also the threat of employing less people

Lesson 2: Think like an entrepreneur

qlinker are thinking like a start up. Forgetting the way that their ‘Mother’ organisation works and finding the new, better way for their tenants.  Their question to answer was ‘what if Google set up a Housing Association?’ They are the first to admit that they sometimes have ‘big discussions’ to agree how things are done or not done, but the uniting test is that it has to be right for the tenant.

qlinker have not ignored everything from the ‘Mother’ organisation – as the values of the Mother company also run through qlinker.

Kodak when bankrupt following the rise of digital. Competitors allowed images to be stored digitally, but Kodak constrained itself by failing to adapt to a digital world, instead spending billions of dollars on a digital camera that still used film. Prof Markides says disrupters should not constrain themselves by relying on what the Mother organisation already has and is afraid to lose

Lesson 3: Get ready to defend and attack
Whilst this advice is primary based at commercial organisations, Prof Markides suggests having two strategies: one to protect the core business and another to exploit opportunities in the new markets led by the disrupters. By having two companies Qlinker and Mitros have competing strategies, one to develop a digital HA and one to continue to grow and deliver services in a more traditional way.

So great news for qlinker – not only are they disrupting social housing in the Netherlands, they want to help us disrupt social housing in the UK and in following these three lessons for successful disruption, it promises to deliver. Exciting times.