David Bray says the world is experiencing more turbulence, and he isn’t talking about a rough airplane ride or a nasty nor’easter.
Bray, senior executive and chief information officer for the Federal Communications Commission, says the turbulence is a result of the “increasing velocity” of worldwide transactions.
Despite such unsettled times, Bray believes there are exciting opportunities ahead for the more agile companies – while others may suffer.
He points out that while traditional top-down hierarchies are efficient and focused when dealing with a known or predictable environment, they are “very bad at being resilient and adaptive when an environment is rapidly changing or unpredictable.”
That’s why Bray says that the organizations that embrace and support change agents within their organizations “will gain agility and resilience.”
“There is no textbook for where our organizations or societies are going next with the rapid, exponential changes in technology and services possible as a result,” he says. “The next seven years will see more change than the last 20 years combined in terms of network devices, data on the planet and computational capabilities.”
But that scenario doesn’t panic Bray, a co-chair for an IEEE committee focused on artificial intelligence and innovative policies for the future.
“To me, this presents a degree of excitement,” he says. “How do we maintain those things we want to hold true to as individuals, as organizations, as a nation, and as a world and also adapt to such rapid change?”
One way that leaders can confront the challenges now and in the future is by tapping into diverse teams who can bring different tools and experiences to the table. Still, such groups will only work if they’re focused on the same goal or they may “splinter into factions and in-fighting,” he cautions.
“Effective change agents as leaders will listen, learn and help craft shared goals and shared narratives to bring diverse groups of people together,” he says.
Bray says that the best leaders provide change agents with:
“I do tell change agents that I’ll be their flak jacket. If change agents make a risk-based decision and it fails, I’ll take the fall. This support, combined with autonomy, measurable progress, and worthy cause help change agents succeed in transforming organizations in our exponential era,” says Bray, who is also a visiting executive in residence at Harvard University.
In addition, Bray says that anyone can be a change agent and believes they are leaders who “illuminate the way.”
“If all we do is meet expectations and the status quo, then we will fall behind as organizations, as teams and as societies,” he says.
He points out, however, that bucking the status quo still means you must have a plan.
“You will need to have a strategy for how you will manage the friction associated with stepping out of expectations because a lot of folks don't like it when you do it. This partly is why reinvigorating existing organizations or teams can be so difficult, and yet so necessary,” he says.
As organizations seek to be more agile and innovative, they’re turning to citizen developers to make necessary changes more quickly and to respond to an ever-evolving marketplace. But that transition has brought about some nervousness by IT.
Of course, someone in Bray’s position often hears of these concerns, but he believes there are ways to handle them to everyone’s satisfaction.
He suggests thinking of a highway, a car, and a driver.
The “highway folks” in this analogy are those who use cloud-based services from different vendors and set up the boundaries for the road, the direction for flow and necessary signage, he explains. The “car folks” help others choose the right vehicle that will get them where they want to go. That means they tailor platforms and data to meet specific needs while avoiding too many customizations or custom code that will be expensive to maintain in the future.
Finally, the teams with citizen developers can then be the drivers using the car and the highway provided.
“Within the interface of the cloud solution, if they want to design new reports, change the UI, or create new forms they can do so. Some cloud-based services are a firm-fixed price and others are consumption-based,” he says. “The drivers can have the equivalent of a ‘gas card’ that’s linked to their budget. They can drive wherever they want using the integrated cloud solution provided to them.”
To learn more about the value of citizen development and considerations before implementing a citizen development program in your organization, download the free eBook: An Introduction to Citizen Development: Bringing Shadow IT into the Light.
Still, not every organization is fostering the right kind of environment for citizen developers to thrive, a situation that Bray believes can be remedied.
“I'd suggest first and foremost such organizations need to be focused on empowering the edge,” he says. “That means that recognizing that the best mission context for a specific issue is often observed at the direct edge versus the top of your organization's hierarchy.”
He says while those at the top may “see more across the organization,” they’re out of sync with the edges of the organization that are “closer to the changing dynamics to include shifts in consumer, market, or global opportunities and challenges.”
Further, information that flows from the bottom can be critical when an organization is operating in a rapidly changing or unpredictable environment, which is why it is important to “encourage bottom-up insights.”
Without that flow of information, “it is highly probable that the top could lose relevancy despite larger scope,” he says.
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