Discovering the Power of Agility, Collaboration, and Employee Engagement

Workday CIO Sheri Rhodes reflects on a year that was challenging but not without silver linings—including a greater understanding of how to adapt to rapid and unexpected change.

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2020 presented leaders with many surprises—lots of challenges, and opportunities—forcing them to think differently and evolve their roles and organizations. Whether it was supporting employees through the shift to remote work due to COVID-19, ensuring seamless business continuity, communicating authentically, maintaining employee engagement, or operating with agility, it was a hard year, but not without silver linings.

Being part of the team to help lead Workday through 2020 has taught me so much both personally and professionally, and as I reflect on what I’ve learned, there are key lessons worth sharing that I’ll carry into this year.

Rising to Change 

Embracing agility and innovation is critical in today’s ever-changing world. Our Workday products became even more critical as companies across the globe needed innovative ways to support their employees and effectively operate their businesses from their living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. I have the pleasure of leading our Workday on Workday team, which is the team that drives the use of our own products for Workday employees. I know first hand how much we relied on our own products internally through a historic year. 

For the first time ever, we closed our quarter virtually using Workday Financial Management and constantly leveraged the iterative finance modeling of Workday Adaptive Planning. We utilized Workday People Experience to keep our employees informed about COVID-19. Throughout the year, we kept security at the forefront of all that we do, helping ensure our employees, and those of our customers, could continue to do their jobs securely in remote environments. 

Once it was clear we could ensure productivity for employees, we focused on driving key cross-functional initiatives. In some ways, given restrictions like no travel, leaders across Workday (and across the industry) were more accessible, making it easier to collaborate and drive immediate progress. We also used the rise in external collaboration to crowdsource best practices and share knowledge on how companies were working through their response.  

Last year gave me a great opportunity to connect with other CIOs to understand how they activated and iterated their plans, and which investments continue to take priority (including those specific to the pandemic such as contact tracing). The flow of information has been endless—I’ve never seen collaboration on such a frequent and recurring basis. When we talk about new norms, I would love to see this continue.

I have an even deeper appreciation for being at a forward-thinking company that values agility and continues to invest where it matters most for our customers.

Lessons Learned for the Road Ahead

The ongoing interactions within my team and among other business leaders have taught me that the frequency and clarity of communications will be just as important when we return to the office. Businesses all over the world have shown they can be successful, whether work gets done from home or in the office, and employees are just as committed to getting the job done, often surpassing expectations. This brings me to some of the key lessons from last year:

Employee engagement should remain a top priority. Despite all that’s happened, we’ve stayed intentionally focused on engaging with our employees and trying to weave in fun. We’ve hosted virtual experiences and fun online events to keep our teams connected and engaged like virtual escape rooms, international cooking classes, themed bingo, family game nights, and even chocolate tasting to keep things sweet! And for our new hires—imagine starting at a new company and never meeting your peers or leaders in person! I give a lot of credit to our employees around the globe for not missing a beat. It’s more important than ever to stay committed to having fun, operating with integrity, and driving innovation through everything you do. 

Your technology is only as agile as your people. Culture is as important as any piece of technology or product you build. In fact, our latest Organizational Agility research found that culture is the biggest barrier to most transformation efforts. Training is critical to ensure everyone is up to date with the skill sets they need to keep up with the speed of change. Change will fail without communication—among teams, and to end users and customers.

Keep strengthening relationships. Collaboration is critical for the next challenge we may face. CIOs need to continue strengthening relationships and aligning on strategies that will build opportunities against the backdrop of a post-crisis world. My best advice would be to think like a general manager (across customers, employees, and shareholders), understand the business context, be ready to offer options (striving for good, not perfect), and be ready to share with others how you’ve overcome obstacles.

I’ve never seen collaboration on such a frequent and recurring basis. When we talk about new norms, I would love to see this continue.

Every challenge has silver linings. Even though we worked from our homes all over the world, Workday employees creatively came together in ways like never before to preserve our culture, look out for each other, and take care of our customers. My children may have missed graduation ceremonies, proms, and other big milestone celebrations, but as I reflect on 2020, I’m most grateful that we had more time together as a family than ever before, and we have our health to be thankful for. I sometimes think their generation will be especially resilient, and more grateful for the “little things,” like going to a movie, or restaurant, or grandma’s house. 

I‘m also grateful for a team that rallied to the remote demands, a company that found new ways to embrace its culture, and customers and partners who trusted us. I have an even deeper appreciation for being at a forward-thinking company that values agility and continues to invest where it matters most for our customers.

Let’s move forward together, toward health, safety, and a brighter work day for all.

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