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5 minutes

Agility begins with simplicity

by Julie Perkins

Agility without simplicity can be like a firework show; short bursts of instant gratification, igniting moments of hope for better times, the effect soon to fizzle and disappear leaving the same view as before.

The need for agility in organisations to weather the storm of COVID-19 has been a highly written about topic. In fact, in some cases, the agility of organisations has created an even stronger company as they pivoted and reinvented their business models for a greater convenience of care, to focus on health, supporting emergency services or in general to be doing the right thing.

In 2020, business owners have had to adapt a more agile approach. The successful have grown an even stronger relationship with their customer, maybe adapting back to the “start up mentality” to create the right new opportunities at the speed being demanded by the turbulent changes, responding quickly to evolving customer needs.

As I look with the entrepreneurs I work with, towards 2021, I can see how the need for agility remains key, however, there is an important balance to this equation that is needed. 

Without simplicity you lack the strength to master agility

Agility becomes only truly effective if you have a strong platform to be agile from, otherwise it becomes a question of “agile from what?” This platform should represent a core purpose and your values otherwise there’s a risk of developing complex messages that are too hard to understand, creating confusion for leaders, teams and the customer. In turn, this can result in a loss of momentum to go forwards, limiting the impact of what your business was set up to change for the better.

This is why at Wyseminds we have been working with entrepreneurs to focus on building back a stronger resilience, an unbreakable red thread that runs through their organisation grounded in your purpose and values. This thread collects together the strength of 2020 to support and drive growth, and runs through from the founder to the customer and onwards into the community. A simplicity that is easily understood, a connection that is easily made by everyone.

Creating this backbone has to be the initial focus, ready to be agile from.

Simplicity does not mean making it simple or easy. It refers to the alignment of the right things, creating a path without the potholes of non productive activities, product and processes to create a more seamless growth journey, at least compared to 2020.

One of Steve Jobs’ mantras, “focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Well, it’s hard to argue with that.

I think sometimes it’s only the true stories that can demonstrate the power that a purpose-led company can bring. Like Apple, simplicity is required to create an unbreakable unity and loyalty to being a part of the journey to make things better. This stands between founder, leaders, teams, the customer and the community they serve.

Of course there are so many stories that we can learn from with the correct balance of simplicity and agility, just like Apple’s. Sometimes these stories don’t come from the business strategy shelf. This story is about how being committed to simplicity changed the life of an island community, moving mountains along the way. 

As a Guernsey girl, now living in Amsterdam, I followed with sheer pride Guernsey’s 2020 journey when COVID-19 arrived into the island and have enjoyed using it as a case study when discussing the importance of resilience. 

Imagine, 48 km west of Normandy, France, sits a small group of islands, the Bailiwick of Guernsey, an island that COVID-19 forgot, 65,000 people moving around, living without constraints, bars and restaurants open, concert halls and events, the moving parts shaping any small community. It seemed like a fantasy to the world outside and perhaps inside it felt a little “Truman Show” as if the rest of the world were looking in.

Suddenly after 10 months of freedom, COVID-19 appeared back in the community, which couldn’t be sourced. That was the news at 9.00 am on Saturday 23rd January. By noon, Guernsey had gone into full lockdown (only leaving your household for essential food shopping). There were high levels of individual frustrations and fear, we are human, however, no protest, no bulk buying, no rule breaking, no debate, in 4 hours.

Seamlessly.

Led by Dr Nicola Brink, now a Guernsey legend, alongside the leader of the States of Guernsey, Gavin St Pier, with a strong leadership team moved 65,000 people from full lockdown on March 24th to freedom on May 27th as well as leaving a community with a greater connection to their island, a richer love for where they live and unified to face an economic recovery when this is all over.

And now, with a sudden arrival back of Covid, 10 months on, with no notice period, 65,000 people moved back into hard lockdown with seamless grace and a sense of togetherness. 

A case study of simplicity and agility and the power it brings

Simplicity is key, whether we are creating a solution for an organisation or for a community, it starts here with the alignment of 4 pillars. Once these 4 pillars are aligned, it ensures everyone knows and understands their role and its importance. It sounds too easy to be true, but as with anything, getting there is easy, staying there is the hard bit and even harder is using it to drive momentum forward. 

Looking at these 4 pillars, the leadership team in Guernsey created an alignment that was able to power them through the challenges that laid ahead. This was their Powerball and what they led with and how they proceeded can be an example to all entrepreneurial organisations.

  • The purpose: Keep the community well and prevent non-isolated Covid within it. To give this a measure that people could truly focus on was the picture of the only 4 beds in ICU, in a small community where everybody has an elderly relative or someone with health issues that they could think “what happens if they are number 5?” This created an immediate connection above themselves. Everyday results were circulated – an honest summary of what was happening.

Clear, tangible and emotionally connected to a measure of success that everybody could contribute towards achieving.

  • The team: 

The ripple effect of trust: A team is never about an individual of course, however, having a balanced leadership team was key, nobody pretending to know what they were not qualified knowing was an important step. Somebody who has worldly information, qualified to take a decision nobody else can take. The unique elements of the Guernsey leadership team is they let Dr Brink lead her subject, trust could be formed and this worldly feeling made the community believe Guernsey had something nobody else had. From this, respect was created with a ripple effect that ran through the team; unified, non-political, a unity of fact and honesty.

A leadership team that represented all stakeholders within the populations of the Bailiwick of Guernsey was formed, visually present and introduced by their role towards achieving the purpose measure. Every week, or more often if required, the whole team was on live stream, taking questions from the community, press and they even ran one especially for the kids!

Key workers: Police, health workers and ambulance services introduced themselves on videos talking about their role and how everybody could keep them safe and what their role would be in doing that. For example, how the behaviours/values would be policed.

Media: They were involved, they reported their story on facts as this was the directive from the leadership team. Social Media dominated and the leadership team created the community communication so it was the lead in information and stories, not other media.

65,000 residents were considered part of one team, all knowing their contribution to the purpose as it was clearly understood after being announced in a live stream and press releases. Thousands joined the Facebook live streams every week for the duration of lockdown and received their “appraisal”, the good and the bad.

Create worldly trust in the leadership team, make it feel unique with an equal voice. The leadership team as with all stakeholders should know their contribution, feeling responsible for it with everyone making a unified stand. 

  • The way we work to succeed and keep alignment: each stakeholder had known responsibilities and their contribution was clear, your role was defined whether you were a resident, in education, cared for the vulnerable, media, police, and the government themselves. Everybody knew how to behave, what was expected of them and what good looked like

Simplification: a clear path out of lockdown was devised and divided into phases to keep everyone’s focus, with any untruthful rumours being addressed by the leadership team on Facebook within 24 hours. There was a project plan and each phase had a measure to achieve an earned privilege towards release, one step closer to the purpose.

Honesty: only facts were delivered, if it was delayed or something had gone wrong it was said and if the community wasn’t playing to their role it was said! It was a community in it together, and everybody was reviewed with a weekly dashboard publishing cases, tests carried out, fines given, numbers recovered and unfortunately, deaths. Fines and rules were reviewed.

Freedom: this approach created a feeling of self-responsibility to each other connected by stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the community and measured by the beds in use at the ICU. Although there were fines and monitoring, there was a feel that things would happen even without them.

  • The customer: The avatar was the whole community with the measure being the ICU staying operational and protecting the health workers. They showed the making of the ICU ward, live streamed a tour, celebrated the new facility, yet warned (visually) there were only 4 beds. You could touch it, see it and visualise the effect of 4 units after seeing pictures of other places in the world. 

Knowing the difference you could make, beyond your company and yourself, feeling unified that everything you do mattered in making this happen, in keeping those 4 beds free.

The outcome: a united force, measurable, self-responsible and able to absorb the challenges ahead of them and play their part for the cause.

As with any lockdown, especially the 2nd time around, it’s going to be far from easy. As I walked this morning as part of my allocated exercise, talking to people from a distance, the sentiment was one of disappointment that Guernsey was here again after the joy of freedom which had been protected for so long, supported very quickly with “We know exactly what to do, Dr Brink and team are on this, We’ve got this.”

Leonardo da Vinci supposedly said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

True alignment to purpose gave Guernsey the simplicity in what the journey was, so that 65,000 people could work together in the way that reflects and is powered by the true definition of sophistication itself: with grace and seamlessly stepping forward with a founded confidence that only trusted worldly knowledge can bring.

Yes, Guernsey, you’ve got this. 

 

Wondering how aligned your 4 pillars are within your business? To get your personalised guide dedicated to your company and its alignment, take our Wyseway questionnaire