The #SpiritofSalford is more than a hashtag and a mantra, it’s a way of being and doing that is powering the civic borough of the City of Salford spearheaded by Salford City Council. It’s been my pleasure to work with Samantha Betts (Assistant Director for HR & OD) there since 2018.

Sam is sat near the left of the top of the heart with the pink scarf and specs.

Being a local government office in responding to the Coronavirus is going to be some hard yards many of us can barely imagine; and what that means to take their work from ‘essential services’ into more ‘saving lives and protecting people’.

Sam has, for some time now, spearheaded a movement within the council to use a more responsive, agile and creative way of working which is where we met as supplier and client at the end of 2017. Working with Director of Transformation (Debbie Brown — sat next to Sam in this picture) a vision was cast to solve problems and capitalise on opportunities to deliver change and improvement to the council through a workforce that was more engaged, included and epitomised the phrase ‘leave your badge at the door’.

What we did together in early 2018 has not only borne fruit in that year and following, according to Sam it’s enabled them to revolutionise that response she is now actively working within. A response to a pandemic no-one could have predicted.

First the amazing state of now.

Sam told me about the instant support for key workers. The delivery of home working tech that was delivered in a record 48 hours turnaround. The establishment of a drive-through COVID-19 testing station at the AJ Bell Stadium again, within 48 hours. And the creation of a remote working app with one-click access to Salford City Council’s own Digital Eagles who know more about their use of desktop and mobile tech within 48 hours. Not weeks, 2 working days.

All within 48 hours and all through agile, self-directed people who volunteered into work on these things. With a degree of ‘prior permission’ to do this work without the need for slowing down through decisions.

And a Mayor and a CEO who believed in their people enough to let them do their best work at times like this.

Values led; heroic endeavours; rallying around each other and the mission at hand.

So this phenomenal response was rooted in the ‘movement’ to that #spiritofsalford; a sense of inclusion and innovation; and that there was a need for a method to facilitate and deliver that shift from the deeply ingrained processes and mindsets, to the reinvention of ‘this is how we do things around here now’.

Sam highlighted their strength of willingness and commitment, application and action are matched by their self-care; communication and engagement and sharing and connection. CEO Jim has taken to authentic, in the moment comms to share his thoughts and reactions to what he’s experiencing and seeing people deliver and do. It’s been galvanizing to a team effort that was seeded in that earlier commitment to working in an Agile way and using the Spotify-coined Squad working.

In 2018, Sam and the teams of willing, experimental and committed people like Claire, Dawn, Frank, Kathy, Miranda, Steve and so many others came together to help lift their aspirations for internal and external services and products to an achievable series of projects.

And so from a stuttering series of projects to winning Digital Council of the year in 2018 was proof this was working.

And so no longer do I talk about Spotify, instead, I talk about Salford City Council.

And in this crisis, the work done in this way has allowed the people and teams at Salford to mobilise not only rapidly, but effectively.

As I spoke to Sam on an MS Teams call, a shout out for volunteers to help arrange and coordinate testing for the vital care workers across the city. And within 9 minutes she had enough to assemble a team to cover the whole of the Easter bank holiday weekend.

OK, it’s a crisis, but this over and above and rapid assembly, was something that Sam recognises was born in the adoption and the meaning associated with the #SpiritOfSalford.

Overall, Sam described how proud she was as a public servant to the people of Salford; but right now, she had never felt prouder of what she was part of.

The energy, commitment and creativity being shown was magnificent.

For Sam, that now was full of responsive and capable people stepping up, in and for each other and people in a range of roles.

The next for Sam was the learning from this crisis response.

How we do learn from this? How can we use the effective behavioural change we’re seeing during this crisis response and use all the positive behaviours being shown to create a different way to work, be and do?

Sam felt that empowered, trusted people clear on outcomes were always capable of great things but it was somewhat stifled, masked or even choked by things like systems, decisions, habits and those attitudes we seem to have held onto. This crisis — and our responses to it— was proving how things could be done with trust, autonomy and clarity. Things that have become Salford City Council’s modus operandi since 2018.

Sam also saw the responses to COVID-19 as a marathon and not the archetypal sprint used in Agile. How sustainability — and particularly care and well being of people — was now uppermost in their mind. So their next 48 hours sprint is an app that helps Salford City Council employees with a series of well-being related activities and insight.

Leading remote teams was easier at Salford City Council because they had already mastered the accountable, agile ways of working where people were used to being given direction and then left to get on with the working. This may become more prevalent and form part of a new ‘social contract’ so that caring, home-life and working flexibly will optimise what people do and replace any form of presenteeism that has been the way prior to working in more agile and now dispersed ways.

Sam’s currently looking to make sure leaders are acting on their own self-care and looking out for their people in a similar fashion. Self-direction and awareness to ensure there is a focus on helping self AND helping others.

Overall, after hearing Sam describe in an enthusiastic, practical and somewhat awestruck way, I couldn’t help but define that the now —togetherness, agility and commitment — would easily become Salford City Council’s next.

What is being enacted now is the future of how a civic borough responds, supports and works with the people it is there to serve.

With a pumping heart, a tearful eye and a super-size sense of pride, it was a strong reminder that it is people like Sam and all who look after other people that are emerging as the heroes, champions and spirited activists in creating a new, better, world order.