The Chief Information and Digital Officer of New Jersey Transit has seen first-hand how bold changes, innovation, and reinvention are the keys to resiliency and continuity.

Over the past two and a half years, businesses have faced what seems like constant uncertainty. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and rising cybersecurity threats, organizations have been forced to adapt to new circumstances and implement novel technologies, processes, and problem-solving approaches. As we all reflect on this new era, it is important to ask what it takes for organizations to weather a storm and what actions we can take to be resilient in the face of current and future challenges.

Continuity and innovation can seem to be in opposition to one another. Changes to an organization’s standard operating procedures can sometimes be a shock to the system, rousing worries about risk and disruption of work. Despite these fears, which are valid, the pandemic and its associated challenges have shown us how important it is to be prepared to develop innovative solutions to keep businesses running.

Deploying Technology to Keep Essential Workers in Motion

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, New Jersey healthcare providers, grocery store employees, and other essential personnel who were unable to work from home relied on NJ TRANSIT to facilitate their commute.

As the Chief Information and Digital Officer of NJ TRANSIT, my team and I felt a responsibility to utilize technology to protect both transit employees and customers, and make them feel safe during their essential commute. We were able to implement a contactless ticketing system, reducing the risk of surface transmission and eliminating contact between customers and operators. We also began offering a new feature on our app, which shows customers how full each train and bus is, allowing them to choose an emptier vehicle in accordance with their comfort level.

These changes were all made possible because of the infrastructure we had invested in prior to the pandemic. Our team’s initiative and innovation allowed us to gracefully adapt to the new needs of our customers, with minimal difficulty and risk.

 

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Creating a Culture of Innovation

The importance of developing bold new solutions and processes cannot be overstated. While this is but one example, innovation allowed NJ TRANSIT to be resilient in the face of the pandemic and continue serving our customers and meeting their transit needs while keeping them safe and healthy. Implementing change before it is needed can help all organizations more smoothly adapt to changing circumstances and continue offering their services when the unexpected happens.

Innovation moves your business forward, offering new benefits and features to your customers and increasing operational efficiency. We have also seen how vital innovation is to resilience and continuity plans in the event of a disaster. Despite these advantages, it can be difficult to create a culture in which new ideas are encouraged and enthusiastically adopted. Especially in older organizations, a culture of risk aversion can be deeply entrenched, resulting in an overpowering push to maintain the status quo and avoid any type of disruption. While this perspective can be important, an organization that is reluctant to innovate will struggle when faced with unexpected challenges.

As a leader, you can help to encourage, reward, and implement innovative ideas that have the power to make your organization more resilient and more successful overall. Here are just a few ways that you can help ensure continuity, no matter what circumstances arise.

1. Make Innovation Part of Your Continuity Plan

Innovative ideas are often pitched as a way to offer bold, new features to customers or to dramatically improve internal processes. While this is certainly an important aspect of innovation, it is also important to highlight how your innovation will ensure future continuity. Showing how change can help your organization be resilient is especially important when communicating with colleagues who are concerned about disrupting the status quo.

2. Create Buy-In Across Departments

Creating buy-in for any kind of change can be difficult, especially in large organizations with deeply entrenched processes and culture, but it is vital to find stakeholders who will champion your innovation. Exploring the ways that your project will benefit other departments and sharing these points with leaders across the organization can help you to find support and resources to make your idea a reality.

3. Prioritize Diversity During the Hiring Process

A team composed of individuals with a diversity of backgrounds, skill sets, and perspectives will be much better equipped to consider and implement innovative solutions than a homogenous team with similar experiences and knowledge. A diverse team will have more collective experience and will be able to approach any problem that arises from a more thorough set of perspectives. This kind of diversity is essential for innovating and adapting to challenges.

4. Recognize and Appreciate Innovative Ideas

It is essential to recognize and appreciate members of your team for their courage, hard work, and innovative spirit. Higher-level, formal leaders are often the ones who receive praise for great business results, but these accomplishments are often an equal collaboration between the leader and team members. It is vital to recognize and appreciate individuals for their contributions, whether that looks like thanking them personally, nominating them for professional awards, or encouraging them to seek promotion in the organization.

Get Innovating!

It is often said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and in this case, preparation and innovation before a disruption can be much more beneficial than problem-solving afterward. Through adapting to the circumstances of the past few years, we have begun to see how bold changes, innovation, and reinvention are the keys to resilience and continuity.

As a leader in your organization, there are many ways that you can work to create a culture of innovation that will allow your team to adapt to any challenge. These tips are a starting place for making innovation a key part of your organization’s continuity plan, allowing you to continue serving your customers even through uncertainty. Face the challenge before it comes — you’ll be grateful you did.

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