5 Considerations for Resilience at Your Agency

Government resilience anticipates the unknown.

From the federal layer down, agencies face nearly limitless obstacles.

Internally, the shocks can range from power outages to abrupt leadership changes. Externally, everything from flooding to violent crime can jolt agencies out of functioning smoothly. With much of the public sector online, the hiccups are no longer merely physical. Nowadays, cybersecurity mishaps can cause as much upheaval at agencies as traditional stumbling blocks.

But anticipating the unknown is not the only quality resilient agencies have. Resilient agencies also have people, processes and technology that strengthen their overall durability. Agility and flexibility link these three categories. Agencies with nimbler employees, tools and workflows are more capable of adapting to unforeseen circumstances.

For instance, resilient employees feel empowered to swiftly address any fiasco, even if it means switching gears on their daily duties. Furthermore, these workers are prepared for the circumstances facing them, having brainstormed and practiced the response and recovery steps they take. Crucially, these people do not believe they are weighed down by leadership, technology or workflows when encountering setbacks.

Subsequently, government resilience hinges on imagination and responsiveness.

The above is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide, “Bouncing Back: How Your Agency Can Handle Disruption and Embrace Resilience,” which features tips and stories on resilience in the public sector. Mark Hensch, Senior Staff Writer for GovLoop, wrote the guide.

Wednesday, on GovLoop’s fireside chat, government and industry experts shared a little more guidance on what you can do to boost resilience at your agency. From overarching philosophies to specific solutions, these tips tap into the imagination and responsiveness required for agile, durable public service. Below are their thoughts and takeaways.

Barbara Morton, Acting Chief Veterans Experience Officer, Veterans Affairs Department

Resilience is a battle that can be won or lost well before crisis hits. Peoples’ responses are dictated by their experiences and by their freedom to communicate openly and honestly.

“Experience has to lead the way. It has to be a part of resilience in planning or in action,” Morton said.

During the pandemic, Morton’s team at the VA had a 10-minute check-in when staff could open up about their own lives, helping to build trust within the team. Morton chose to showcase her artwork.

Nelson Moe, Chief Innovation Officer, Commonwealth of Virginia

Leadership in turbulent situations must be guided by personal experience, Moe has found. When he worked for the U.S. House of Representatives in IT, Moe quickly discovered the many unexpected ripples caused when a disruptive event shatters the surface. Following 9/11, when he and others were forced to work outside of the Capitol for weeks on end, the absence of paper and printers delayed bills being signed.

Taking from that experience, Moe applied what he learned to direct his team’s pandemic response. That’s why he recommends taking inventory of processes and supplies and taking time to understand the truly critical, indispensable features of operation.

“It boils down to leadership and personal experiences,” Moe said.

Tim Brown, Vice President of Security and Chief Information Security Officer, SolarWinds

“We do have pockets of resilience but not a tied-all-together resilient posture,” Brown said.

Government agencies have departments and department heads of all types, but many agencies lack a resilience coordinator or a chief resilience officer. That leads to a situation where it’s someone’s responsibility on the side – at best – or each department runs their own scattered efforts – at worst. Instead of disjointedness, bring operations together to consider resilience on a larger level, and do it before you need to rely on it.

Drew Jaehnig, Industry Practice Leader, Bizagi

“Train like you fight,” goes a common military mantra. The expression extols preparedness, much like how coaches yell at teams to “practice how you play.” But those same principles aren’t often applied in-house when it comes to disaster readiness.

“I would argue we’ve not been trained like we fight,” Jaehnig said.

To be more resilient, agencies need to be more proactive. Doing so requires continuity of operations plans and workforce training. For employees who are struggling to get the message across to supervisors, Jaehnig suggested framing a lack of resilience as a risk.

Mike Bahniuk, Sr. Director of Sales, Federal Display Division, Samsung

“For better or worse, everything today seems to be connected,” Bahniuk said.

What’s true in a smart house – where a phone can operate appliances and home features – is also true for oil pipelines and critical systems. When one system goes down, everything else is impacted as well.

This means resilience expands beyond any agency’s walls or any person’s immediate purview. Whether you’re an IT specialist or an HR representative, resilience is your job.

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