Civic innovator Nick Kittle shares the three lessons of building more adaptive teams and systems. You’ll also uncover tips and strategies to steer your community toward sustainability and resilience.
As a government technology leader, you’ve been adapting hard for nearly two months now. A metaphorical COVID-19 boulder has rolled into your community pond, and your systems, strategies, and staff have been put to the test.
Maybe this a moment you prepared for over and over in your head or tested in continuity of operations planning exercises. Or, perhaps it’s been an opportunity for you to rise to the challenge. Either way, you’ve got this. You have to—and that’s a powerful responsibility.
You’re mobilizing a workforce that likely isn’t used to working remotely, guiding a broad spectrum of users with differing proficiencies, meeting unprecedented needs to secure yet amplify your networks, and quickly establishing systems to meet rising or shrinking demands. All while tracking and sharing critical data to keep your community informed and request future federal reimbursement.
You’ve got a lot on your plate, but hopefully, one thing you can take away from this pandemic is that you can roll with the punches and make the changes you need to happen. Whether you see it or not, you are adapting in the face of incredible pressure and uncertainty, and knowing that should give you confidence the next time you face a similar threat or challenge.
The truth is, we’re likely not done yet. Philosopher George Santayana pointed out, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” With history as our teacher, this is just the first wave. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, there was a second wave of infections that began roughly six weeks after the initial wave of infections, with about four months between the peaks of the first and second waves. This trend means you will very likely need to scale down services and then scale up in response to the coronavirus again. You’ll need to prove your adaptiveness again and build resilience for your employees and your community.
Two months into COVID-19 response, and you know what you’re capable of. You can pinpoint where you’re ready and where you need to improve your systems, strategies, staff and, of course, self. Now’s the time to start becoming a more resilient individual and building more adaptive teams and systems. Here are three key lessons that can help you on that journey:
LESSON ONE: HABIT BUILDS CONFIDENCE
As a civic innovator and life-long entrepreneur, I know that adaptability is all about building resilience. As an individual, we become better innovators when we are mentally resilient. In crisis, systems that are resilient face far less dire consequences. So, governmental entities that regularly push the boundaries by innovating are forming a habit that helps them be more resilient in a crisis. It is the doing that builds that habit and the confidence to handle change.
If you regularly innovated before this crisis, chances are you had confidence in your ability to adapt and were able to make the changes needed. If you rarely innovated, you were probably nervous. But now, you know you can—because you had to. You’ve adapted and survived and now you can turn that adaptiveness into a habit. If you make it a habit to make yourself a little uncomfortable, you’ll have the confidence when its time to adapt again. Because it’s what will come naturally.
As I said, we’re not done yet. To build resilience, we need to prepare the troops for more radical change by clearly communicating the facts of the situation and the vision of what happens next. Now is an excellent time to overcommunicate what you know to get everyone on the same page. Be candid, and be sure you’re letting everyone know the facts as they unfold. Even if those facts are uncomfortable.
This requires deep empathy. The hard facts must be laid out candidly and compassionately. Each person is having a very individual and powerful experience that they will never forget. This means that it will take an exceptional leader to stay on top of the emotional state of their team as this unfolds. By overcommunicating and laying out the facts directly and empathetically, it will shorten the time it takes your team to adapt.
No matter what type of boulder lands in your community pond, you must be prepared and proactive. To get out ahead of a crisis, you can’t just react to what’s in front of you. You need to become an expert in spotting and planning for the ripples headed your way. Here’s how it works:
There you have it. Simple, yet incredibly effective. This practice of “rippling” helps us focus on the nexus of what’s important and what we can do to influence it—hopefully getting ahead of the next crisis or building on the next opportunity so we can help steer the outcome. Here’s a simple example I’m sure will resonate:
Wondering how your team can get started with rippling? What strategies can you use today to help steer your community towards sustainability and resilience? Here are a few ideas to get you started (if you haven’t already):
The opportunity is there for you to embrace the silver lining in all this chaos by improving your team’s resilience, identifying the ripples ahead, planning preventative measures, redefining risk, and prioritizing what’s next. Right now, you have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore and build trust in government. Communities that embrace this moment and do what’s necessary to protect and empower their residents compassionately will build more trust than 1,000 town halls could ever do. If you got into government to make a difference, this is your moment! You may not have wanted it like this, but your moment is here if you want it. Right now. And, you’ve got this.
About the Author
Best-selling author of “Sustainovation: Building Sustainable Innovation in Government, One Wildly Creative Idea at a Time,” Nick Kittle mentors and empowers public servants as Cartegraph’s government performance and innovation coach. He has managed 17 government divisions, served as a chief innovation officer, implemented more than 65 first-of-its-kind pilot projects, and has written extensively about government innovation. For more information, visit www.sustainovation.us. Connect with Nick on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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