Launching A Vision for Change – February 2014 – December 2014
Although Bray was enthusiastic about empowering his staff, he also knew that he would have to make sure that they felt comfortable and were excited about actively participating in the change process. This was in part because the IT division’s previous culture had discouraged open dialogue. It also stemmed from the fact that many IT personnel initially seemed pessimistic about the viability of his vision. Bray recalled:
When I first arrived, about every four or five months, I would ask people how we are doing. The first time I did it about 15 percent were excited. Another 45 or 50 percent were on the edge and…were honest enough to say, ‘We don’t know if you’re going to be here in a year or not.’ The remaining group wanted to go backwards to the way things were in the late 1990s.
Bray therefore made a point of encouraging staff to participate in the change process. He started holding semi-weekly “boardwalk” meetings where the IT division gathered in the center of the office, and staff announced their priorities. Bray describes these boardwalk meetings as:
20-minute meetings where all members of the IT team are invited and we stand as we go through a quick list of the projects rated the highest IT priorities for the enterprise. We intentionally keep them to just 20 minutes. At the end, team members then circulate thank-you gifts to recognize above-and-beyond performers from the previous week. For example: a jacket from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency robotics competition that folks can sign. We also have a Thank-o-saurus Rex that a team member can receive for the week. It’s these little things, the shared rituals that we do as a community, that bring the team together.
These short, stand-up team meetings created accountability (people said what they were going to accomplish and when), facilitated rapid troubleshooting (staff could ask for help and connect), and served as a venue to celebrate successes. More broadly, Bray emphasized to team members who were willing to step outside of expectations and lead a reform that he would support and protect them. “When you mobilize your team,” Bray explained, “you need to tell them that you’re going to be their flak jacket for them.”
This approach paid dividends when a technician Bray had recruited from Silicon Valley proposed a plan to re-launch the FCC’s aging Consumer Help Desk. External contractors had recommended doing this on-site, but the change agent felt that they could undertake the effort off-premise at 1/6 the price and faster than the contractors had projected. The staff-member warned that other FCC personnel might object because they were accustomed to the traditional format; however, they could mitigate that resistance to change by presenting the information the same way it used to look, even though it would be stored differently. He also warned that other team members, accustomed to having the data on site, might object to it being moved off-site. Bray told the change agent to build the prototype rapidly and that he would speak to staff that expressed frustration. The project succeeded on time and on budget, providing an early win that contributed to a sense that impactful change was possible.
Scaling the Vision – January 2015 – September 2015
While Bray was pleased with this progress, he knew that the agency would have to undertake more ambitious efforts to realize his vision. Thus, in early 2015, he and his staff began working on a set of more far-reaching changes. This included initiating an effort to re-launch the FCC website; moving the FCC’s Office 365 software to the cloud; and, most ambitiously, Operation Server Lift, which would transfer the FCC’s servers to a data center located hundreds of miles away.
The server transfer was risky in part because the FCC would have to take some services off-line, load equipment and data into trucks, and then reassemble it at the remote commercial service provider. “It’s always interesting,” Bray later mused, “when you turn off everything at the FCC, and it literally goes dark.” In addition, Bray was spending his political capital with senior FCC leadership, whom Bray had briefed on the initiative and with whom he had weighed the risks before they decided to move forward with the plan. At some point, as Bray’s Senior Strategic Advisor Tony Summerlin summarized: “You just have to go for it.”
Nonetheless, as the date for the move (which was scheduled for Labor Day weekend) approached, Bray’s team exuded determination and enthusiasm, often staying late to make sure they were ready. And they stayed calm during the move when a map for reconnecting a server proved inaccurate. Rather than panic, the team—which encompassed contractors and full-time staff, two groups that had often existed in conflict in the past—worked together to reconnect the server. “They weren’t fighting amongst each other,” Bray later marveled, “they just got it done.”
The move was a major victory for Bray and his team, which through completing Operation Server Lift and other reforms, had achieved its goals: they had made the FCC more agile (the consumer help desk was a hit), more resilient (the move to Office 365 reduced security loopholes), and more efficient (the portion of the budget spent on operations and maintenance had dropped below 50 percent). What’s more, when Bray again asked his team how they felt about the reform process, more than 80 percent expressed enthusiasm. Bray’s team had surged past the “tipping point.”
Sustaining and Renewing – October 2015 – Present
Bray and his team have continued pursuing, communicating about, and planning for change. They recently completed a Beta (i.e., test version) for the re-launch of the FCC website, a subject Bray blogged about on FCC.Gov. That type of communication is emblematic of how Bray—who has an active, widely followed Twitter account—has attempted to communicate extensively with the public about his priorities. While Bray does not have any plans to leave in the short-term, he does recognize that succession planning is an important part of any C-suite executive role. Bray has been encouraging his deputies to step-up to new leadership roles and learn what style of encouragement and motivation works best for them to continue the reform effort.
Thus, Bray has not just transformed the FCC; he has also positioned it, internally and externally, to succeed moving forward in an extremely uncertain world. Nonetheless, when asked to identify the most significant part of the effort, he is quick to highlight the impact of the people around him. “It’s the team story,” Bray said. “I find it a huge honor to be inspired and working alongside change agents.”