There has been a lot of talk recently about the value of resilience, an attribute that Angela Lee Duckworth described as "grit" in a well-known TED Talk. Duckworth believes that people who demonstrate resilience can handle any changes that come their way. In business, work teams that are resilient, or "gritty," can roll with changes, such as a competitor launching a market-changing product or a new regulatory mandate, that might otherwise impede or even prevent future success.
Lynn Christensen, senior vice president, of product development at Workday, views resilience as not only the ability to overcome adversity, but to adapt to and rise above change. "That quality is extremely important in today’s business environment, in which change is a constant," she notes. "Multiple forces -- political and economic uncertainties, digital disruption and talent shortages -- are impacting organizations, and survival depends on the ability to navigate these turbulent waters and evolve with the times."
Christensen says she frequently draws upon grit to succeed at her job. "Being responsible for multiple teams and managing aspects, from product development to tech, customer expectations and quality sometimes feels like conducting an entire orchestra," she says. "I’ve learned to focus on setting goals, and thrive on reaching them, no matter how challenging the journey." Staying motivated is essential, Christensen says. "As long as you have purpose and passion, and put hard work into it, you can overcome any obstacle," she states.
Getting a work team, such as a group of software developers or a particular business unit, to build resilience requires all members to embrace the notion of "failing fast." "On its face, that term sounds negative," Christensen says. "But if you really think about it, it’s all about failing, learning from the failure and moving on to succeed."
According to Christensen, everyone in an organization must be given the opportunity to fail fast—to try new things and then learn from the successes as well as failures. "Companies that are stuck in the days of the dev-queue simply can't do this," she notes. "A request comes in and must go through layer upon layer of approvals to the point where the app or feature that was requested isn’t really relevant when it’s finally completed," she says. The DevOps model, on the other hand, allows teams to essentially shrug off a failure and move forward. "In this model, business, IT and development pros are working in concert to constantly develop and update products that meet customers’ and the market’s changing needs," Christensen says.
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When building workforce resiliency, particularly within developer groups, organizations must provide the tools necessary to help teams reach their planned goals. "In addition to support from the highest levels to take chances and try new things, developers need to have the right technology," Christensen says. "Resilience can be tough to achieve for companies that don’t have the right technology in place." Just as a house's foundation enables it to weather harsh conditions, a strong technology base allows a business to withstand uncertainty and change.
Building a resilient workforce requires both advance planning and constant reexamination "I’m always thinking about the endgame," Christensen says. "There are a million little things you could focus on, but picking the three most important [elements] and weeding out the rest will best help us reach our goal." This approach becomes even more important--and valuable--when collaborating with other departments. "By having a shared vision, we can be aligned and overcome challenges together," she notes.
Christensen believes that the cloud is vital to getting started in business resiliency. "No matter what issues companies are dealing with -- be it good problems to have, such as exponential growth, or bad problems, such as a lack of IT resources -- the cloud provides the kind of flexibility, manageability and scalability companies require to bounce back from whatever comes their way," she says. "Having a cloud delivery model -- platforms built from the ground up in the cloud, a unified architecture and transactions and analytics in one place -- all help make it easier and faster for companies to effectively move forward."
Building on resiliency, big changes also often demands the ability to quickly and effectively modify workflows or core business processes. "Companies that can’t easily define new business processes — and tie them directly to organizational structures and role-based security — will be hard-pressed to deal with change or bounce back from adversity. To put it simply, stakeholders from across the organization won’t be on the same page," Christensen says.
Enjoying benefits, avoiding pitfalls
Christensen believes that becoming a resilient organization clears the way for many long-term benefits. "Consider, as an example, a company that's growing via mergers and acquisitions," she says. "M&A is one of those good problems to have, but a problem nonetheless." A typical M&A can take months or even years to complete and, in the meantime, companies spend significant time and resources on complex workarounds and manual efforts aimed at achieving system interoperability, all subject to error and auditing scrutiny. "Companies that have resilience, via the architectural flexibility to easily and quickly set up or integrate new entities, move people and hierarchies, and streamline or change business processes, will see return on investment much more quickly," Christensen says.
Yet organizations striving to achieve resiliency must also be aware of the pitfalls they are likely to encounter along the way. "The biggest pitfall is giving permission for people to fail fast without giving them the tools to recover from failure, including the means and opportunity for people across the organization to communicate and collaborate effectively," Christensen says. "All employees must be empowered -- with technology and a supportive company culture -- to try new things."
"Another challenge teams commonly face is working across multiple systems. "We call these 'system silos' ", Christensen says. "Whenever possible, break down the technology silos that isolate information and prevent meaningful alignment and analysis of real-time data."
Organizations that are satisfied to continue business as usual and are skeptical of fresh business approaches, such as resiliency, need to keep one inescapable fact in mind, Christensen says. "Across today’s business landscape, constant change has become the new normal," she states. "The idea of resilience is something that should be a part of the conversation at every level of the company."
John Edwards is a veteran business technology journalist. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and numerous business and technology publications, including Computerworld, CFO Magazine, IBM Data Management Magazine, RFID Journal, and Electronic ... View Full Bio