Innovating the Organization

By Ms. Alyssa Rodriguez P.E., PTOE posted 03-06-2021 03:43 PM

A colleague and I recently completed a webinar for city supervisors focused on innovation. The City of Henderson, NV, USA has been working to document employees’ efforts during the pandemic, capture successes and lessons learned, and maintain momentum. Necessity prompted a lot of change, not only to adopt technology, but to revamp processes. Possible parallels exist to ITE as an organization, as well as similar potential for innovative transformations. As the world emerges from the pandemic, organizations will not be returning to pre-COVID status quo, and it is possible to harness the crisis-mandated energy and flexibility.

Virtual is likely here to stay. Audiences broaden through digital means to include rural and geographically dispersed members. Time commitments also shrink when no travel is required, and a meeting can be squeezed in between other commitments and deadlines. Each ITE District, Section, and Chapter (D-S-C) adapts the technology to its needs, and can document data on the best platforms, practices, and engagement tools. The challenge will be balancing virtual options with the interpersonal benefits of in-person events.

In addition to mixing virtual and in-person meetings, novel variety can be derived through choice of times, days of the week, location, topic, and format. Each iteration may appeal to different participants possibly attracting members from non-traditional fields beyond engineering and planning. Further, variety adds excitement. Each member brings their whole self to the organization, and experiences outside of ITE may contribute to new and unique event features. My alumni association conducted etiquette training, not to learn manners, but to learn how to make your guests feel comfortable and welcome, and that has contributed to my perspective on inclusion. A colleague applies her experiences as a young mother to conference planning for her District.

With members beyond the leadership developing ideas, it is critical to empower them and delegate. In many D-S-Cs, a single leader is assigned the task of developing the technical program. It may be useful to assign the task to a variety of groups, particularly if they have an idea for a function that has never been tried. Ownership of an event can create affiliation with the organization. As a possibility, a local Student Chapter may plan and facilitate an activity for the professionals.

Documenting lessons learned can improve iteration and facilitate sharing among D-S-Cs. A caution is needed here, though. We shouldn’t assume that because an event wasn’t successful in the past, that it may not be possible in the future. Malcolm Gladwell offered the following wisdom in his Revisionist History podcast—“Principles are a product of past  experience.” As such, they cannot be unquestioningly applied to future situations.

The first goal under the membership section of the strategic plan states: To be the preferred choice for members from all disciplines and at all stages of their careers. The first task is to develop creative and innovative ways to recruit and retain members, particularly during global events such as COVID-19. I would posit that the potential exists during the pandemic recovery and needs to be harnessed.