By Jim Rose, CEO, CircleCI, finalist of the Best Product for Web or App Development category at The SaaS Awards 2022

Change is constant in technology, especially in software. Building a team that’s well-equipped to pivot quickly when necessary, embrace change as it comes, and keep going, is the key to becoming resilient. 

It’s the nature of the industry and it’s one of the reasons I love it. The unknowns are intimidating but they’re also exciting. As a leader in the tech industry, I believe the best strategy for weathering the unknowns is to become really good at embracing change and learning to adapt. Building a team that’s well-equipped to pivot quickly when necessary, embrace change as it comes, and keep going, is the key to becoming resilient. 

This is how I lead today. We’ve endured a lot of change over the past few years — whether it was the pandemic, dramatic economic swings, over-inflation of the tech market, or shifts in priorities, and it’s required us to become experts at embracing change. It hasn’t been easy, but the way we got here is by leaning on four key strategies

Practice humility and pragmatism: admit when you’re wrong

All of us are wrong sometimes; there’s no use in pretending otherwise. If you assume you’re going to be wrong because of complexity, incomplete information, or changing environments, you’re working from the assumption that failure isn’t something to be avoided, but rather managed, welcomed, and worked through over time

While working on one of our recent feature launches, our product and data teams were stumped as to why we weren’t seeing more signups. I was meeting with them daily to try and understand what was happening. Eventually, they figured out that in fact, we were getting signups, many of them, but they hadn’t been visible to us due to the type of data we were receiving. 

This required the teams to quickly learn what was broken and implement changes so we could still make our deadline. They were able to do it because we learned what was happening, adapted, and iterated. We had to pivot fast and move forward. Because of this mentality, we made our deadline. 

In technology, especially in today’s market, we’re constantly faced with changes. Everyone will need to recalibrate and that’s okay. Acknowledge change and failure openly, find the solution, and move forward together. If your team can practice the art of facing the unexpected head-on, they’ll be able to embody the type of resiliency and efficiency required to stay afloat.

Create a blameless culture

It’s not easy to create a sense of normalcy around accepting and managing failure as a state. As humans, our natural instinct is to protect ourselves for survival. But if you want to solve problems quickly, you need to give your employees room to fail, and the way to do that is by creating a blameless culture. 

My executive team and I have prioritized a blameless culture for many years. When something goes wrong, our first step is to identify the flaw in the system that needs to be fixed, not the person to blame. After big projects are complete or difficult issues are resolved, we have blameless postmortems where, again, our goal is to identify any failures within our systems and processes themselves, and how they can be improved, not which person or team caused them. If you make the processes and systems better, people will succeed.

This creates a safe space for employees to be open and honest with leadership, which not only creates a healthy culture but is good for business too. You can find the source of problems and resolve them much faster if your team isn’t afraid to admit their failures. 

Give your employees time to learn new skills

We move so fast in technology and usually for good reason. If you don’t move fast enough, you can’t stay competitive. But it’s also crucial to ensure that each team in your organization is doing the work that is best matched to their skillset and to the company’s best interests. 

Earlier this year, we realized it had become crucially important to form an engineering team that was wholly responsible for our database reliability. It just so happened that the engineering team who had been in charge of our business intelligence data platform had the best skillset and the most bandwidth to take on this new challenge. However, it would require time for them to learn some new skills and processes, and naturally, there were hiccups and challenges along the way. Our engineering leaders and I didn’t want this team to suddenly be overworked and burnt out so we gave them more time to meet deadlines and fewer direct responsibilities as they ramped up. 

Today, the database reliability team is a well-oiled machine and as a company, we’re able to offer better service because of it. 

Be proactive instead of reactive

To keep everyone informed, we use a publish/subscribe (pub/sub) communication approach. By proactively publishing status updates about the product and the company via email and in meetings, each employee can stay up to date as things happen and use the information to best serve their needs. 

From a management perspective, there tends to be an over-indexing on autonomy. No one likes micro-managing but it is crucial to know that everyone is running in the same direction. In complex organizations, that alignment piece is hard. By broadcasting the information you have widely and often, the responsibility to stay updated turns to individual teams. Then, the management challenge becomes about alignment. Publishing regular status updates is the best way I’ve found to quickly get everyone on the same page. 

The art of embracing change

As leaders, we can’t anticipate every problem, challenge, or big change that will inevitably come our way. But if we can build teams who understand and accept that things will always change, we can create resilient organizations that excel at embracing change.