Resilience is key to Australian tech chiefs surviving a prolonged crisis

Leading CIOs are restructuring in the context of a new and agreed business model with their CEOs to build organisational resilience.

businessman on a rock in a stormy ocean

Australian CIOs accept that a prolonged pandemic crisis will be around and impacting businesses for quite some time. Technology stability is needed to operate in a hybrid work model, yet they’re challenged by the focus of CEOs on being more flexible with technology.

The overwhelming majority of recent discussions I’ve had with Gartner clients have shifted from generic digital conversations to practical ideas on how to be more flexible. The pursuit of flexibility has weaved itself into all aspects of the CIO’s environment, from organisational structures, operating models, cost management, vendor partners to business systems. The ability to flex is the new pillar behind every decision.

These discussions have highlighted concerns about the consequences of constant change that flexibility brings to the table. In particular, whether organisations are resilient enough to work through constant change as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

Australian business has been relatively smooth sailing for so long, even throughout the global financial crisis when other countries were severely impacted. There hasn’t been the need to really debate resilience in recent years and what it means for businesses here. The topic has been masked by cost management, operating models, flexibility and other terms.

In this context, resilience isn’t the typical business psychology discussion. Instead, it’s about what CIOs are doing at a practical level to build organisational and delivery resilience. As a local health insurance CIO recently said to me: “We need to keep running the crisis marathon knowing that the organisation is starting to get tired.”

How are leading CIOs building resilience?

Leading CIOs in Australia are restructuring in the context of a new and agreed business model with their CEOs to build organisational resilience, while others are restructuring without either a known or an agreed new business model.

Restructuring towards a new business model is a foundational component to resilience, as it progresses and makes sense of organisational change. People know what the new reality looks like and that they are working towards a new outcome. This clear understanding empowers them to pivot towards new ways of working and deal with any tough changes. It also fast tracks better integration between technology and business departments.

The opposite of this scenario weighs heavily on people’s resilience as they try to figure out how the change is solving the future, as well as if they’re directionally correct for the business and their jobs to survive. As this lag continues, any effort to shift the business through the crisis is slow.

Mapping out two or three recovery models at a macro level (at a minimum) is core to understanding the new business model and building the foundations for resilience.

Harness discretionary effort

Everybody is worried about their jobs and when the next call of redundancies or decreased pay will come. As a result, most people are giving organisations discretionary effort – they’re willing to go above and beyond. Gartner data shows that the discretionary effort of Australian employees has been trending downwards, but picked up again in the first part of 2020.

The lost opportunity is when this discretionary effort is wasted or misdirected because people are working without a future business model. Resilience is further strengthened by correctly directing discretionary effort.

The multiplier effect of discretionary effort yields amazing business results when people know what they are working towards. In exemplary cases, people have suggested restructures or business changes before management executed changes, giving CEOs the bandwidth to focus on business outcomes rather than internal departmental and hygiene concerns.

One retailer, for example, prides itself on delivering a superior in-store experience by training staff to be micro influencers and product celebrities to give customers a product rather than a store experience. To survive the crisis, it shifted to providing a high quality online shopping experience, and as a result, they’ve been able to keep sales close to pre-crisis levels.

Increase buy-in to make change

Peeling back the next level of discretionary effort, you’ll find people who know and understand what they are working towards to self-empower higher performance. A number of Australian CIOs are exploring OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as an opportunity to harness and align performance to better business outcomes during the crisis.

We now understand that pre-crisis performance measures are no longer adequate. Using OKRs in context of people knowing the future business model and carefully harnessing discretionary effort, allows people to self-adjust their performance contributions towards the new world with minimal management intervention.

Let your people know what the new business model looks like, embrace their discretionary effort and let them self-drive performance management within given business outcome guardrails.

Brian Ferreira is a VP and managing executive partner at Gartner. He advises C-Suite clients across Australia and New Zealand on shifting to a digital strategy to achieve new business outcomes and how best to approach technology, risk, governance, digital and agile investment for CFOs.


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