Walking the Assurity talk with Oxfam

Explore Assurity 30 April 2014 Simon Anderson

Assurity Soak Testers: back (from l-r): Shona, Connie, Anni, Noel, Amy, Tina, Andrew, Simon and Garth. Front (l-r): Naomi and Sumu.

Soak Testers soak it up at the finish

Great photo isn’t it? It’s the Assurity Soak Testers team at the finish of the Oxfam Trailwalker New Zealand, a 100km walk which took place on 5-6 April at Lake Taupō. Part of an international series, teams of four walk the distance in under 36 hours to raise money for Oxfam.

Our team was made up of 11 people – the walkers being those sporting the numbers – and the rest our supporters who cooked, massaged, drove and indulged our grumpy behaviour. We couldn’t have made it without them. And we did make it in an official time of 27 hours and 34 minutes.

For those who don’t know me, I’m the walker on the far right. I look quite grumpy in the photo but actually that’s how I look when I’m desperately trying not to cry… because this meant a lot to me. Let me explain. The previous paragraphs include lots of numbers and it’s always been important to me that a job is about more than numbers. Like the number of hours left in the week, the numbers that make up my salary etc. Finishing this walk was empirical proof to me that my job is about more than numbers.

It’s about shared values. All companies have values, as do people. Values are important. For a company to finish its business plan template or reorganisation, it needs a value statement. We put them up in a prominent place where us and our clients can see them. But does the company and its employees enact them? Are they shared? I’m about to cry as I know for this team and this event, the answer is ‘yes’.  

And what are these values? And how did these people and Assurity enact them? 

We challenge

“Our future is about challenging the status quo. It starts inside the business by persistently questioning what we think, what we know and how we act. We can only deliver better outcomes by becoming better ourselves and sharing our learnings with our stakeholders.”

It all started in early January when I received an email from Oxfam that said “Challenge Yourself. Challenge Poverty”. Now if you’re not up for a challenge in January, when will you be? “Could I walk 100km?” I asked myself. I decided to try as completing it would be a great achievement.

Doing this as a company team seemed natural. I’ve always supported such endeavours at Assurity and so the call went out. It seemed I was not the only one up for a challenge – not just walkers but supporters were putting their hands up as well. We had a team.

We value people with potential over practical skills

“When we think of talent, we start by thinking of potential and the positive contribution people can make to our team. We know that we can only do great work by doing it together. If you work for Assurity, you're naturally thinking 'us' not 'me'.”

None of us had done this before, but there was potential. We were a team of open ocean sailors, runners, dancers and hikers. We were people who had coached children’s sport and organised conferences.

One of the things I love about Assurity is how quickly we return to the value of potential and take comfort from it. This is natural for a company that has grown quickly from small beginnings as potential is all we had at the start. The hard thing is not to lose it when you grow. When the initial team came together, I was very pleased with those who wanted to walk as each one (me included) was in a role where our potential was valued over our practical skills. I knew these people were also thinking ‘us’ not ‘me’.


“We expect to lead, not follow. We want to set a direction for the market by understanding what's happening, challenging the status quo and then innovating and adapting in clever and appropriate ways. Leadership is not just about the transfer of knowledge. It's about the transfer of confidence that convinces others to engage.”

While too many chefs spoil the broth (as almost happened with Garth and Anni’s Moroccan soup), the same cannot be said for leaders. One of my early epiphanies about leadership was that it did not need to be done from the front. Leaders see opportunities, develop them and then enable others to come to the front… a little like a cycling pursuit team. This was true of our team too. Assurity people want to lead, take responsibilities. They feed off each other’s commitment.

We care

“We are naturally mindful of our people, our customers and our community. We put care to work by valuing compassion, humility, transparency, honesty and a sharing, generous spirit.”

I look at the photo above and I know I care for everyone in it. And they all cared for me during those 100km. In fact, now I wish I had cried as it would have shown everyone how much I did care.

Our colleagues, friends and family also cared. They opened their wallets to the tune of nearly $6,000 (to date) for a marvellous organisation like Oxfam. They texted messages of support and called to remind us to put one foot in front of another. They followed us on Twitter and retweeted our tweets. (Special thanks to Sophie and Sonya for being our training walkers).  

Our supporters cared. Sumu organised messages of support from our colleagues that we received at each checkpoint. (Many thanks Sumu and everybody who wrote them). Andrew and Naomi gave up a weekend to wear silly costumes to entertain us and keep Tina and Amy placing one foot in front of the other. Shona, whose caring spirit kept Noel going when he was struggling and hallucinating about coffee carts. Connie (aka ‘the nightwalker’) who spent her Saturday night as the support walker, trekking 20km and keeping our spirits up. Let me indulge once again in the magical powers of retrospective… Tina was right, Connie. We wouldn’t have made it without you. Garth and Anni, the first couple of Assurity. I breathed a might sigh of relief when you agreed to organise the support and what a sterling job you did.   

The walkers cared. Amy, Noel and Tina, I thank you. We had a mantra from the beginning: “Four in, four out”. We were to give each what was needed so we could all finish. From the first leg, we saw some teams split, the quick and the slow, the one in the middle and the one on the outer, we heard them snip and snipe. I’m so proud we walked together. We were kind to each other and we finished together.

Now when I pass these people in the office, I enjoy a special smile that reminds me of the intimacy we now share. Hard earned from the training and the trial, the pain and pleasure of finishing.

In closing

So let me now close with a challenge for you when you return from your Christmas holidays with January fever. Will you be the next Assurity Oxfam Trailwalker? Or will you make your job more than just numbers in some other way? Will you live out our values? Maybe you do already and, if so, I congratulate you as those 40 hours or so spent at work each week can be as slow or as special as you make them.

You can still donate to Assurity Soak Testers – any amount will be greatly valued.