July 14, 2020 • By Sydney Charles
How do you build business resiliency during the COVID-19 pandemic? This was the first topic that the Center for Digital Transformation (CDT) at the Merage School explored during the first episode of their Digital Leadership Virtual Series. Moderated by Center Director and Professor of Information Systems and Computer Science Vijay Gurbaxani, the conversation featured CIO and Senior Vice President of Information Technology & Data Analytics at the Boeing Company, Susan Doniz.
Doniz started her role at Boeing in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Boeing transitioned from 15,000 employees working from home to over 90,000 almost overnight.
One of the challenges Doniz has faced is creating an opportunity to connect with those she can only meet virtually due to the pandemic.
“How do you build rapport with people, and how do they feel connected to me as a new leader and I to them?” she asked. “You look at the anxiety of COVID, and the anxiety of a stressed industry in terms of travel, and then you look at a new leader coming in where people naturally will feel anxious about it.”
1) Find new ways to communicate
Doniz’s strategy consists of transparent communications and the establishment of good management practices. This can include anything from writing a blog post to simply picking up the phone and calling team members.
“The wonderful thing about Boeing is that people will reach out to you, and I made sure that I personally responded to every single one of them. I didn’t have a ghostwriter; I responded to them. It was a two-way street, and it was one way for me to have radical transparency, but it was also a way for them to understand what was on my mind,” she explained. “Finding ways to connect is really, really critical.”
2. Stay agile and focus on rapid impact
Doniz advocates for a strategy where businesses prioritize projects that get “big results early.”
“You put in these little things quickly, and that helps you fund some of the other things you want to do long-term. I think there’s a lot more focus on what agile really should have been and really is now in this COVID situation.”
Doniz and Gurbaxani discussed the relationship between business resiliency and agility.
“Sometimes it’s not about the programming language that you’re using, the cloud technology that you’re using or the security. Sometimes it’s about these capabilities that underlie it, so this capability to learn new things,” she said.
Gurbaxani added, “Agile has long been seen as a software development approach. But recently I think we’re finding out that this works well throughout the company. We should be thinking about agile decision making, agile projects, whether in technology or not.”
3. Architect for elasticity
Doniz explains that companies need the right infrastructure for elasticity.
She said: “There’s the front facing capabilities—like AI, predictions and all the different technologies and the robotics—but there’s also underlying edge [technologies], which you also need to look at to be able to deliver this with speed. I really believe being able to pivot and do things quickly is the key to unlocking the capability in the uncertain future.”
Doniz also emphasized the importance of constant reinvention:
“I think of resilience as one of the key capabilities and tools of success in the 21st century,” she said. “As a technology profession, I think that we are the function that is most prepared for resilience because we constantly have to reinvent ourselves as professionals and to keep on top of things to be able to know and perform in our function.”
You can catch the entire interview with Gurbaxani and Doniz here.