Pat Caine, CIO of Virginia Farm Bureau, has started to understand why his organization—and his rock band—have emerged from recent crises better than they were before.
I have played drums in a local rock band for many years. A while back, my band experienced an unexpected shock. Our front man—the performer who was our voice and most prominent personality—departed! Everything about who we were, how we did things, and whether we would survive changed in an instant.
I’m sure this is similar to the feelings many of us had one year ago at the start of the pandemic. We realized that the way we worked, how we operated, and so many of the things we took for granted were going to change in a big way.
When we lost our lead singer, my instincts were that we need to fix this and we need to do it fast! I started trying to find our next front man right away. But some of my bandmates saw it differently, and I’m glad they did. This wasn’t something that was fixable overnight. And, perhaps, it didn’t even need to be fixed.
Could this change us in a positive way? If we were patient and we challenged ourselves, might we find a way to improve on what was already a good thing?
Resisting the Urge to Fix it Fast
The pandemic has forced all of us leaders to pause and think about how we are going to do things. At work I’m constantly being asked, “What is the ‘new normal’ going to be?” I learned from my prior band experience that when there is a sudden drastic change, rushing to fix it ASAP may not be the right thing to do.
Our organization had planned for business continuity events, and I knew we were prepared. Of course, we never imagined a pandemic quite like this and exactly what it might mean. I knew we had the ability to work remotely, as well as the leadership and company culture to be able to adjust, but I didn’t fully understand the long-term impact. Eventually I realized that the pandemic was going to change how we look at operations, and that we’d continue to learn a lot along the way. It was going to be a slow evolution rather than a big “A-ha!”
In the band, some interesting things started happening after we lost our front man. My bandmates started finding new ways of doing things. We stretched ourselves to become better vocalists, the dynamics changed, hidden talents were discovered, and we bought some new gear! (Sometimes, new tools make all the difference.) Over time we morphed into something new—our new normal. Are we a better band now? We think so. Has it been fun? Absolutely!
Take Your IT Team from Ordinary to Extraordinary
Amazing things started happening in our business as we shifted to remote work. We had no choice but to find new ways to communicate internally and with our customers. We leveraged our tools, technology, and processes and did some tweaking and upgrading. Unified Communications, VPN, Remote Desktop, Agile, video conferencing, and more suddenly came to the forefront, and our business leaders were discovering their value even more. Most importantly, it created an opportunity for them to do things differently. And they liked it! They figured out how to use these new tools and the results have been even better than if the tools had been “forced” on them by IT. Our business leaders’ discovering how to leverage the tools has been game-changing and they have generated far better results than expected. The changes will be transformational and lasting. Just like my band, we are “better now” than we were before.
Our ability and desire to collaborate across the organization had always been there, but now collaboration has taken on a new face, literally. Since there are no more “face-to-face” meetings, no more hallway or cafeteria impromptu conversations, communication must be planned and purposeful.
So how are we working differently?
- Remote meetings with video conferencing are no longer an anomaly. They're required.
- Allowing our customers to interact with us digitally is no longer at our discretion. It’s expected.
- Servicing our customers can no longer be constrained by office hours or geographic locations.
- The concept of 'paperless' is finally becoming a reality, and it is accepted.
Physical Separation Improved Collaboration
Business and IT are realizing the benefits of true collaboration. Sharing the same goals and exploring possibilities have become easier. We have had to integrate with our business units and tear down the walls that have traditionally separated IT from the business. And ironically, separation from each other physically, due to the pandemic, is forcing us to work together even more effectively than before.
As leaders, we’ve been forced to learn the importance of agile communication and collaboration. Finding new ways to communicate has opened our eyes to new possibilities. Technology is just the enabler. Good leaders find ways to execute around barriers, leveraging what is available. Business leaders appreciate the technology more and are finding new ways to collaborate with each other. The improved communication and leveraging of technologies are driving transformation and innovation more firmly into our company culture.
Our band doesn’t sound the same and our offices won’t look the same in the new normal. But we survived because of competent leadership during tough times, and we are better now.
My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and the many businesses that could not survive. We are grateful that some businesses have endured and will prosper but we also know many lives have been changed, and that the restaurant, healthcare, entertainment, and travel industries have been forever impacted. I look forward to helping people who have been affected find new ways to exist and prosper. And without a doubt, our band looks forward to displaying our new talents and helping venues and event planners get back on their feet.