IT leaders have experienced and witnessed some incredible flexibility, adaptability, and downright heroism since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – among their team members, across their organizations, within themselves. As the pressure on technology teams has persisted, however, many have turned their attention to identifying and preventing burnout on their teams – learning how to toe the line between building healthy resilience within themselves and their teams and demanding too much change of their organizations.
One way to ease the impact of uncertainty and volatility on people is to build more resiliency into processes.
“This past eighteen months has shown us how quickly our normal can change, and we’re still dealing with things that will challenge our processes some time into our future including supply chain and labor shortages,” says Janele Lynn, owner of the Lynn Leadership Group, which helps leaders build trusting relationships through emotional intelligence. “We’ll need to focus our attention on not only what matters most to our organizations but also changes that will allow our organizations the most opportunity to flex if needed.”
People are only as good (or as flexible or as resilient) as the processes they are a part of, says Noelle Akins, leadership coach and founder of Akins & Associates. “While we build personal and team resilience, let’s also look at how our processes either build or drain resilience,” Akins advises. “As Edward Deming said, ‘A bad system will beat a good performer every time.’ It takes a systemic approach for resilience to be sustainable.”
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How to build resilience into processes
Taking an emotionally intelligent approach to building processes that are efficient and effective is key, advises David R. Caruso, Ph.D., author of A Leader’s Guide to Solving Challenges with Emotional Intelligence. There are a number of other actions IT leaders can take to ensure that processes are not only resilient themselves, but also ease teams through times of significant change.
1. Measure how your team feels about existing processes
“IT leaders must build in human feedback loops throughout, responding to or taking action on what you learn when given actionable feedback,” Akins says. “You will get some great ideas to improve outcomes while strengthening trust and communication.”
One way to do this is to conduct after action reviews to discover how attitudes and feelings changed over the course of a particular project or processes, advises Caruso. Ask how people felt about a project or process on a 0 to 10 scale, for example. Anticipate overenthusiastic responses, but also push further and ask how the situation could be improved.
2. Root out bottlenecks
Look for potential single point of contact failures and overloads during major projects, Akins advises. ‘[They] drain the bandwidth of the person who is the bottleneck and frustrates others [who are] stopped.”
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3. Adopt known best practices
“The past year and a half have shown us the importance of robust, nimble and resilient processes and IT systems that can both withstand sudden change and adapt to many concurrent modes of operation,” says Chelsea Barnes, a leader in Kalypso’s organizational change management and digital practices.
4. Embrace sprints
Working in an agile fashion is, by design, a more flexible way to accommodate the unexpected. It’s also important to celebrate small wins and progress.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom, when initiating a new behavior change that challenges team members, it is more effective to shrink the size of the change by celebrating small wins rather than setting a high bar,” says Akins. Planning work in sprints creates a natural cadence for this.
5. Build systems and structures that reinforce desired outcomes
One of the key roles of a leader is to cultivate the emotional climate necessary for a given task. The goal should be to match the emotional tone to the requirements of a certain process or desired outcome.
“When building out processes, consider how different emotions can facilitate different kinds of problem solving,” says Caruso. “While effective IT leaders should create a climate where – on the whole – people experience pleasant emotions , there are times when tactically other emotions can be more effective.” Feelings of contentment, for example, can be good facilitators for reaching agreement and happiness can fuel creative planning.
On the other hand, a certain amount of anxiety can motivate employees or foster critical analysis. It’s important to match the emotional tone to the process – within reason. “Remember, though, that leaders who create more pleasant cultures are likely to have teams which are more productive and which retain top talent.” This is not an excuse for IT leaders to behave badly, Caruso says.
6. Create clear decision making routes – and avoid backtracking
Second guessing and rethinking are resilience killers. “Rare cases may need to be revisited, but typically you can avoid falling into this trap by documenting a clear path for decision making and how and when decisions should be escalated to a different level of decision makers,” says Akins.
“When you have a clear process, the right people at the table from the start and a solid rationale for the decision, you will seldom need to spend time and resources on revisiting decisions.”
7. Educate and prepare the workforce for more resilient processes
“In building resilient, future-proof organizations, IT leaders should think equally about the stability of their technical ecosystems as the flexibility of their processes and the preparedness of their people,” says Barnes.
Processes, after all, are performed by people. “Without designing and planning initiatives with end users in mind, you’re bound to create gaps and weaknesses in the new solution you’re standing up,” Barnes says. “Just as a small vulnerability in an IT security can break a whole system, confusion or resistance amongst your people can threaten the durability of your new processes.”
8. Build boundaries into processes
It’s critical to formalize the protection of your team’s energy. “Plan for hard stops during black out periods and cut off dates,” says Akins. “Period.”
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