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5 Ways to Boost the Strength and Flexibility of Your Organization

As someone who arrived in an Engineering VP role through the business side, rather than the traditional engineering track, I’ve worked in many different kinds of organizations. From nonprofit through enterprise, my experience has allowed me to operationalize the movement of digital transformation over the past 20 years. Early in my tech career, it was literally moving from paper to digital—translating a physical brochure to a web presence. And then from desktop to more responsive experiences, and now onto a cloud-based world that is evolving at what can feel like breakneck speed. 

The biggest constant during my career so far has been change. And my main goal has remained the same—to help my colleagues and my customers (and myself!) understand and embrace the change on the horizon. 

Big changes—in business or life—require you to be simultaneously strong and flexible.  In business, being emotionally elastic and antifragile, from the individual contributor to those in the executive suite, sets you up for success. It allows you the strength and space to bend, without breaking. There are plenty of unknowns, challenges and setbacks, and change is often uncomfortable. Finding ways to embrace that discomfort, and helping your teams feel safe with it, is the fast path to solutions and growth. 

Building Teams and Tackling Goals

We see a goal on the horizon, whatever it might be, and we aim for it. We want to get there, and we want to get there quickly. We work out a timeline and plan. Sometimes, we look across the landscape and can see change coming, but we don’t yet know how it will impact our people and our technology. 

Regardless of whether you are in a leadership role or not, clearly and realistically visualizing your goal—and everything that stands in the way—is what helps you get there. Repositioning and rethinking, changing up the vantage point—this flexibility is what allows us to drive outcomes and define organizational structures to support our goals. 

Positive outcomes demand personal, professional and organizational agility - as individuals and as a team.  There are myriad definitions of team. How do you define yours? Who are the people you support and vice versa? If you’re in a power position, it’s your job to create space for people to shine and excel, to empower them with as much information as possible—about the larger picture, the direction, the strategy, the timeline. This process helps people find personal success, and a better understanding of their place in the success of the organization as a whole.  It’s critical that you know your business, its opportunities and its (and your) limitations. You need to know when you don’t know. 

Many leaders talk about failing fast. I say, go that next step. Fail fast, and publicly. A willingness to admit shortcomings—to my peers, my superiors and those I support—creates resiliency in the team, encourages psychological safety, models operating as a full human and ultimately creates an organizational structure that can scale. 

Learning and Changing Through Growth

As we continue to evolve here at Fairwinds, we are always thinking about creating opportunities for people to step into bigger positions, to test out their leadership skills and drive individual programs—to kick the tires on their own experience. These steps not only help us create scaffolding where people move forward in the organization, but they also work to codify an antifragility attitude, where knowledge and change occur through real growth. 

Customers are a big part of what we do at Fairwinds. There’s a saying in the business: “Show me your budget, and I’ll show you your strategy.” In other words, the way you spend money informs the reality of your organizational strategy. How are you including your customer’s perspective in the structure of your organization? How do you ensure your customer approach remains adaptive and responsive? 

In some environments, customers need a bespoke experience; they need a lot of individualized attention and consistency in order to extract value from the product or service. In other situations, customers can interact with a variety of folks and are successful and happy with a help desk experience. The question is, does your budget support the right goals for your business?  If not, what needs to change? 

At Fairwinds, we rely on rapid responses to help our customers (and each other) find success. We embrace change and organize our budget accordingly. But what does that really mean?

Here are five concrete tips we rely on to embrace the unknown:

  1. Stay calm. The more stress you take on, the more reactionary you become. Stress and knee-jerk actions only lead to rigidity, fear, and more stress. Assume good intentions in other people and their actions. When assessing the various impacts of change, assume the baseline of decision-making comes from positive intent. 
  2. Give grace. No matter how much you assume good intent, people (including you!) sometimes mess things up. Give both yourself and others grace through a willingness to fail publicly. To lessen this blow, “fail fast” by admitting your error, being clear about how it will inform your path forward, and then moving on. 
  3. Communicate effectively. Your intent matters less than how your message lands in someone’s ear. If people can’t hear what you are trying to say, regardless of what it is, you need to change the way you’re communicating. From talking in person to providing materials for people to review in their own time, communication happens in a lot of ways. Don’t get stuck on just one. Be willing to ask the question no one else will, out loud and without fear—and then listen. 
  4. Conduct experiments. Try new things! Fail fast, stop, reassess… and no matter what, learn and keep going. Don’t make the same old decisions—but rather, interrogate yourself and your team to understand why you do what you do; why you use the tools you do, and why you interact in certain ways. Small experiments on a rolling basis will build flexibility to the core. 
  5. Pivot. Some of those experiments mentioned above will be a great success, and frankly, some of them won’t. You’ll need to pivot accordingly. Put your energy and resources into the successful elements but always be ready to follow new paths of opportunity. Don’t chase ideas because you are attached to them. Sunk costs are just that. Be flexible enough to fail fast and then pivot away toward future success elsewhere. 

Perfect is the Enemy of Done

Being helpful is my version of success. My team works hard to continually turn fear of the unknown into curiosity about what could be. And we also remember, “perfect” doesn’t exist. Perfection is just rigidity in a nutshell. Sure, be rigorous and face important challenges—but be transparent and flexible in your efforts. Once you do, you just might find you’ve already nailed one of the biggest goals of all—steady and strong innovation.

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