Take a moment to reflect on what a typical weekday looked like for you as a CIO back in February.
Maybe you were wrapping up your annual planning or preparing a retreat to motivate and inspire your teams for the year ahead. You might have been determining which vendor meetings to make time for or planning which conferences to attend.
You may have been arming yourself for more internal battles about the imperative for change – culture change, technology adoption, reorganization for innovation and more … Wondering what more you could do to move the needle on your much-needed digital transformation.
Then, in an instant, everything changed. We now all have our IT battle stories about how we shifted gears overnight to move our workforce and operations remote because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At Waters Corporation, that meant supporting thousands of in-office employees to do their jobs in home offices.
Several months have passed, and the only thing that is certain is we’re not going back to our old ways of working. Too much has happened too fast, and CIOs who are embracing this opportunity to lead are going to see change happen in their organizations at a pace they could have only dreamed of before.
Here are six ways to ensure you’re embracing the new opportunities and challenges in a way that will have a positive, lasting impact on your organization.
1. Think like a platform owner
We are now fully immersed in a world where we must be customer obsessed. We must go beyond thinking about products and projects. CIOs must start thinking like a platform owner. What do platform-oriented businesses do exceptionally well? They constantly, iteratively deliver value to customers to help them solve problems in small, incremental doses.
Why is that more important now than ever before?
Under these new circumstances, CIOs must be working to deliver value to customers as fast as possible, both internally and externally. Platform companies are always reviewing customer utilization of their products and enhancing the experience, adding enhancements by chipping away at a backlog of features. In this day and age, CIOs must be adopting that same mindset for their customers. We must be reviewing and utilizing data to determine how we can drive more change that leads to better outcomes for our customers faster.
At Waters, we’re addressing this by looking at utilization of our tools and offering more user adoption training and communication. As we reacted to COVID-19 with the massive shift to working from home, we monitored our utilization of our employees around the world and made shifts to ensure they always have access to the information they need at the right time.
[ Want answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs? Get our Digital transformation cheat sheet. ]
2. Embrace speed
The speed of innovation is never going to be slower than it is today. It’s not practical to expect life will go back to “normal” at some point. Health experts are predicting a second wave of COVID-19 infections in the months ahead. Going forward, CIOs must embrace this new pace brought on by the pandemic and use it to accelerate digital adoption and transformation in their organizations. The opportunity here is to constantly add value in a rapid and continuous manner for your customers.
3. Organize IT differently
I used to be a big proponent of the two-in-the-box model, where IT and a partner from the business work closely together on their respective projects or products.
Those days are gone.
To move at an accelerated pace, we now need a holistic, end-to-end team. We can’t wait for legal to update privacy policies or for finance to price a program once it’s ready to go live. We need everyone on an end-to-end team now to work out these details as we are building new solutions. As long as we’re addressing customer issues at this pace, IT and the entire value chain needs to work together to solve customer problems. In the past, there was time to bring in product, HR, legal, finance or manufacturing further down the line, but moving at an accelerated pace requires bringing all parties together earlier to reduce friction and deliver results more quickly.
4. Let go of the linear path
You have to accept, and even be proud of the fact, that right now there is likely no linear path to get where you want to go. Anyone who wrote a digital strategy before the pandemic is having to do a reboot – and that’s OK.
In February, I set out a plan for a program that had five teams and all the details you’d expect on what they were working on and what they would accomplish. When we got to March, those five teams had completely different mandates and could no longer focus on the original program. We rebooted our plan so that a core squad of six to eight people could focus on the original program. Everyone else is focusing on efforts that weren’t part of the original plan – and I’m proud of that.
If you’re still encountering people in your organization holding you to what you said in February, remind them of what happened in March. Your plans should not stay stagnant. Be proud to reboot. Be brave. You don’t often have a chance to deliver a new strategy.
5. Help your teams avoid burnout
The rules around work are being rewritten. As CIOs, we have the opportunity to encourage behavior change that will ultimately help our teams stay engaged. It can be as small as loosening up your own wardrobe choices to signify to your teams that getting work done is more important than donning a collared shirt, or as big as encouraging your teams to end work early on a Friday to enjoy some recharge time.
As different parts of the country and world re-open, remember that it doesn’t necessarily mean your colleagues are sending their children back to school or summer camp. Don’t expect background noise from children, pets, and family to begin disappearing just because we’re further removed from the onset of this new everyone-is-working-from-home experience. Your teams are more likely to experience burnout if they feel like they can’t prioritize their families and their own mental health.
6. Keep your teams connected socially
When we all first made the shift to remote working back in March, many of us also shifted how we started our virtual meetings. We spent the first five minutes (at least) of every meeting connecting with everyone, asking questions about their lives, how they were holding up, etc. I call it the “Covid-Five.” Those five minutes are still important, and we shouldn’t let the complacency with the new normal take those moments of connection away from us.
Prior to this change, my IT organization didn’t have a big happy hour culture. But now we are consistently creating opportunities to virtually connect with each other in unstructured ways. I used to do Lean Coffees with my teams. Now I’m leading Lean Lunches. Another leader on my team is leading “Lean Whiskeys” for social engagement.
We won’t see the same levels of success if our teams are not socially connected and appreciating one another. Try to avoid letting your version of the “Covid-Five” disappear in the weeks and months ahead.
Embracing opportunity and challenges
In recent months, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the way businesses operate. The rules of engagement have changed almost overnight. Organizations everywhere are facing an urgent need to meet their customer demands as quickly as possible. CIOs are in a unique position to accelerate this change.
By embracing these new opportunities and challenges, we are priming our organizations to not only survive through this change, but hopefully thrive in it and be strengthened to take on the inevitable changes to come.
[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Keep up with the latest advice and insights from CIOs and IT leaders.