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Digital Transformation - Focus on your core values

Roy Varghese, Director, CIO, NOAA Fisheries
Roy Varghese, Director, CIO, NOAA Fisheries

Roy Varghese, Director, CIO, NOAA Fisheries

When I joined NOAA Fisheries, the organization operated under a “Failure is not an option” motto that, although unwritten, was etched firmly in everyone. The core IT services provided to the 4,200 staff, including scientists, policy managers, and enforcement officers located across the country at our regional offices, science centers, labs, and national headquarters, were of high quality, consistent, and reliable. However, empowering and enabling the staff to digitize and transform leveraging new advances in technology required a different mindset.

Mark Fields, the former CEO of Ford once said, “You can have the best plan in the world, and if the culture isn’t going to let it happen, it’s going to die on the vine.” Leading a digital transformation effort has to start with changing the culture of the organization. Our digital transformation journey started with a firm commitment to the core values that our organization aspired to live daily. We defined our core values to be mutual respect, accountability, transparency and continuous improvement. These values have continued to serve as the guiding light for our people and resulted in dramatically changing the culture of the organization.

Mutual Respect: We strive to demonstrate respect for ourselves, our partners and teammates by trying to live the golden rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Making this value come to life in your organization requires the leaders to recognize and publicly affirm that everyone in the organization, no matter the level or rank, has something valuable to offer and that those contributions are important to the overall success of the organization. The pursuit of digital transformation requires cognitive diversity and open dialogue to imagine a world of possibilities. Open and respectful debate over ideas should be modeled by leaders so that it liberates staff and business partners alike to share ideas and criticisms without fear of retribution or ridicule.

Accountability: Practicing accountability as a core value requires leadership to set performance expectations, provide feedback, and make rewards and consequences clear. The best way to nurture accountability in your organization is by holding yourself, as the leader, accountable for the commitments you make to your team. One of the techniques we follow to engrain accountability as a core value is to push decision making authority to the lowest management level. Provide your staff the freedom and flexibility to make decisions for themselves by delegating authority to them. This type of intentional empowerment breeds a culture of increased engagement and commitment while unleashing employee creativity to achieve goals.

Transparency: A transparent organization consistently shares information - good and bad - openly, with the objective of using the information to achieve goals and objectives rather than to assign blame. Transparency promotes a culture where business value and outcome becomes the focus and authentic relationships can flourish among team members. The digital transformation journey across new technologies, cybersecurity threats, organizational changes, and more, requires you to have partners that you can trust. Use transparency to shift from a “contract-centric” transactional relationship to a “trust-centric” strategic partnership. Trust built through transparency and goal clarity will help you navigate the challenges and roadblocks along the way. Once the business value and outcome is clear, you can embark on a journey to transform the digital landscape.

Continuous Improvement: Digital transformation requires being open to new ideas from across the spectrum. The best ideas can come from anywhere - regardless of pedigree or pecking order. Our willingness to be a learning and growing organization is embodied in our commitment to continuous improvement. As an organization, we share our successes and failures; listen and learn from others, and change our processes and practices to meet the emerging mission needs.

The NOAA Fisheries digital transformation journey is focused not only on technology advances but also in building a culture of creativity and accountability. Together with our partners, we are focused on rapidly delivering innovative and transformative products and services that advance data-driven science, improve regulatory efficiencies and promote organizational excellence.

Transformative initiatives at Fisheries are coming from every part of the organization across the country, becoming embedded in our culture and the way we work. More than ever, Fisheries IT practitioners are partnering with scientists and regulators to ideate and innovate. Our challenge is to keep fueling this innovation by focusing on our values, delivering on our core operations, and build lasting and scalable partnerships with a clear vision of the future.

By focusing on our core values, we have become an organization that not only takes pride in service quality and reliability but also innovation and creativity. Our digital products have been recognized by the industry and our peers for many awards. But more importantly, our core mission areas view us as partners to solve some of the most challenging problems facing the organization.

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