Better at better. Eating our own lunch

Explore Assurity 31 August 2014 Tina Burn

If you’re trying to get clients to do things better, you have to have a good answer to the question: “What are you doing to be better?”. That’s the question we asked ourselves in 2013.

At the time, our business was growing rapidly. We were already putting in place some of the bigger structural things to accommodate that growth – better systems and processes, bigger offices and the like – but the real focus had to be about our people. How were we going to help them be better, for the benefit of our clients, our business, and, of course, themselves? Over the last year, we’ve launched a number of ‘Better at Better’ initiatives to meet that challenge.

Scorecards measure progress

We started with a balanced scorecard to measure the things we felt to be important and to make sure we can see improvements happening. Each team has their own scorecard that contributes to the company’s scorecard.

Circles make ideas go round

We created a new internal team structure called ‘Circles’. These are physical and virtual hangouts which people join and contribute to. We have over 20 Circles at Assurity focused on people over process. The Circles are melting pots for ideas, innovation, research, problem solving and, of course, team building. 

Circles are cross-functional and support the idea of ‘specialising generalists’. This way Circles and Circle members benefit from wider ‘cross-service’ thinking and can understand their impact on the whole SDLC. 

Circle Leads direct activity in the Circle, for the team as a whole and the individual member. Our Circles are beginning to really spin now and many of the innovative ideas that we are taking to clients have come out of Circles.

Professional development plans for everyone

We’ve also focused directly on every individual in the business. Over the last year, we’ve designed, developed and launched a new training initiative for all our team. Everyone has a professional development plan that’s designed to help them upskill and improve their contribution. 

Training plans are designed to develop ‘T-shaped people’ – people who have a deep core capability, plus capability in closely related areas. And individual training courses each target improvements in either client delivery, contribution to our business or contribution to their Circle. Naturally, they’re getting great career development too. 

Overseas hires keep us fresh

We’re constantly looking to bring in talent from overseas – and not just because there’s a skills shortage in New Zealand. We’re looking for people who have a different perspective and experience – and who can grow our skill set. Our overseas talent loves working in New Zealand. They enjoy more freedom to challenge and promote change and the impact they are making is more visible to them. They also make a great contribution to our own culture. 

Growing confidence, contributing to community

It’s been great to see our team grow as people as a result of these initiatives. They’re not just getting better at delivery, they’re also building in confidence and ‘getting out there’. Many of our team now present at overseas conferences, talk at local meet-ups, write blog posts and get involved with good sector causes like charity IT hackathons. We even now have our own staff charity to focus our efforts to support the community.

This growing contribution to our community was a key driver in taking on our biggest initiative yet – AgileNZ Conference 2014. We want to spread the idea of ‘Better at Better’ right across the community and AgileNZ Conference is the perfect forum to do that, a forum where we can all learn from each other. We’ve convinced some great overseas keynote speakers to make the journey and found the best local speakers to support them. Response has been fantastic and the event is already fully booked. Over 250 delegates will be there and we can’t wait to report back.

So ‘Better at Better’ started as a set of internal initiatives, but has now found its way outside. We’re sure that everyone will benefit. We’re sure about this too: ‘Better at Better’ can never stop. And it means we’re constantly thinking about what’s next!