Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute

Victoria Hills, Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute

Tell us about your role?

I’m the Chief Executive of the Royal Town Planning Institute, which effectively means that I’m the senior responsible officer.

We’re a charity and so we are regulated by the charity commissioner but ultimately the buck stops with myself and the Chair of the Board of Trustees. In terms of responsibilities, I look after the organisation, the staff, and all operational matters.

My role has always been much more focused on the member services and what we do with our members, but what’s changed with the immediate move to home working was a much more operational focus in the day to day. I was having to transform an organisation to a digital operation.

Our charity is 106 years old so we’re quite traditional and weren’t necessarily geared up for home working, and we didn’t have everything that we needed immediately. With that in mind, my role is very operationally focused and very centred on health and safety. As an organisation we always were about that factor but much more so in light of recent circumstances.

My role at the moment is about maintaining our relevance for members during this period of uncertainty. Because we’re a membership body, members pay to be chartered with us, and if we don’t remain relevant for them in this period of economic downturn, which the government has confirmed is the worst recession ever, there’s a real risk to us around our members going forward if we’re not there for them.

But also, we now need to realign or pivot what we’re doing by doing it in a different way whether that’s with our training, our events etc. Everything has had to go digital. It’s been a real challenging period over the last five months. It’s been a rollercoaster, but at the same time a fantastic opportunity to develop and move the organisation forward into the 21st century.

What was your key motivation for taking part in the AMOC leadership case study?

It’s been such a period of change in that everything that we thought we’d be doing this year is now very different, and I thought that having the opportunity to reflect on that and having the time and space to do it was so valuable.

But on the other hand, being able to share my experience, and then learn from others is so appealing. It’s such a unique period in time and hopefully the only pandemic that we’re ever going to live through in our lives and careers. To capture what it's like to actually run an organisation through this time felt monumental from a legacy perspective. To get those experiences locked down while they were fresh and to be able to share those with others felt like too good of an opportunity not to get involved. Even though I was incredibly busy I told myself that I had to capture all of this now while I could, so what AMOC are doing really did excite me.

How did you find out about the project?

AMOC contacted me via LinkedIn, where I have over 5,000 followers and promote a lot of the work that I do. My LinkedIn network goes beyond just the sector that I’m in, which is town planning - It’s a great tool for reaching out more broadly.

What are AMOC doing that’s different?

As people they speak with authenticity because they’ve lived it and breathed it themselves in industry and in different roles. They’ve been there. They’ve been the senior leader and they genuinely know what that’s like.

They’re doing this amazing developmental work to capture all of this stuff that’s going on during the pandemic which is incredibly unique. I’m not aware of anyone else that’s doing that. Not to capture this process would be missed opportunity and so it was a standout project in my eyes.

Karen and Lesley saw an opportunity to capture those challenges and responses and take learnings from it to support women as they come out of the pandemic and want to progress their careers.

They spotted early on that women are in fact going to be quite badly hit by this pandemic. The research is out there now to show that women are more likely to be furloughed, more likely to pick up extra responsibilities in the home and more likely to lose their job. Things are tough for women anyway in terms of breaking through those barriers in their career, but it just got a whole lot harder. I think that’s something that really attracted me to AMOC as I could resonate with their way of thinking when it comes to dealing with these issues.

Would you recommend the case study project?

I would recommend the leadership case study project with AMOC because it is hard to carve out the time to undertake a project like this, but the only way that we’re going to help women progress in their careers is by sharing that knowledge and those experiences that we have gained through thought leadership.

It’s a way to inspire women but also give them practical tips so I would encourage leaders to do this, leaders from all sorts of fields and walks of life. It’s such a great opportunity to be involved in something that encourages that cross industry collaboration.

What is it about the work that AMOC are doing that appeals to women specifically?

Their approach focusses on the very reality of what’s happening in the here and now; so, they’re having conversations with people that are leaders in this moment.

It’s not just some theoretical project or book; this is actually much more practical which I think is important. It’s relevant and it’s very of the moment which I think is very appealing to people, particularly to women who are perhaps considering undertaking an AMOC programme later down the line.

Lesley and Karen’s communication skills are very personable. Yes, they’ve been senior leaders, but they don’t come across in an ‘I know it all’ way at all. They come across as very authentic which appealing.

How has the leadership case study project helped you to reflect on the last few months?

It has helped me to frame my thoughts and put them in order amid this challenging situation. The conversations I’ve had have helped me realise that this situation has provided an opportunity to change things for the better in terms of how we do things as an organisation.

It’s been a real challenge to find the financial savings but we’ve had to, and in doing so that’s provided an opportunity to incorporate those changes for many years to come and actually come out of the pandemic as a better organisation than when we went in.

I would’ve reached that understanding myself in time, but having the support of AMOC and the project, including the reflective practices and conversations, has helped me refine that further in my mind. This pandemic has been an opportunity as well as a huge challenge and has meant that we’ve all had to fast track business transformation.