Think about any automation or optimization process your organization uses: They all begin with people. People conceived the idea, built the solution, and put it into practice.
Reflect on that for a moment. Then ask yourself why, when organizations talk about “modernizing” or “digitally transforming,” they neglect people, the most critical piece of the transformational puzzle?
That’s what Aniza Brown and I discussed during our debut episode of Building an Agile Future: A Modern Digital Leaders Interview Series.
Aniza’s been working in technology for nearly 15 years, and, in that time, she’s built an impressive resume. She’s taken on several leadership roles, acting as a design and automation engineer, director of corporate transformation, and, most recently, executive director of technology and innovation.
She served Raytheon Missile Systems, the Department of Defense, Hill Air Force Base (where she was an F-16 flight director and director of corporate transformation), Northrop Grumman, and now the Ogden, Utah-based Catalyst Campus for Technology and Innovation, where she’s executive director.
Aniza is also a dedicated committee and board member for several organizations, including the Wasatch Front Economic Development District, Silicon Slopes, the Ogden Airport Advisory Board, and more.
During our half-hour discussion, we covered a lot of ground—everything from how she defines “innovation,” what she’s learned about collaboration, and why employee empowerment may be the single most important factor determining your organization’s success.
Here’s what Aniza had to say.
BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT TRANSFORMING COMPANIES
Aniza is a longstanding Women Tech Council board member, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit that empowers K–12 women through mentorship, networking, and technology programs. “I want to show girls they have no limits—that they can be anything they want to be,” says Aniza. “I want them to know that technology is just as much for them as it is for men.”
Considering Anizas experience, I was curious: How do women transform organizations?
“Speak your mind. If I’ve learned anything in my decade and a half of working in tech, that’s it,” says Aniza. While it’s universal advice, it’s especially relevant for women aspiring toward a male-dominated industry.
“Transformation doesn’t happen by staying silent,” says Aniza, “and I try to impart that lesson. If you know a better way of doing business, speak up. Your ideas may not be popular, and getting others to adopt them may be hard.”
Yet, according to Aniza, inspiring change should be challenging. “I’ve never looked back and said, ‘Dang, that was too hard. It just wasn’t worth all the effort.’”
If it isn’t difficult, it probably wasn’t worth pursuing. That’s how Aniza sees it.
HOW ANIZA DEFINES INNOVATION AND MODERNIZATION
Organizations have a habit of using “innovation” and “modernization” interchangeably, but Aniza argues that they’re really distinct concepts.
When organizations “innovate,” they’re moving beyond competitors, says Aniza. In a way, they’re transcending the norm and designing new ways of doing business.
“Modernization” is the act of simply replacing a legacy system to increase efficiency and reduce stress.
BIGGEST IMPACT ON DIGITAL INNOVATION FOR THE NEXT 10 YEARS
When I asked Aniza what will ensure organizations stay relevant in the next decade, she had a three-part answer: resources and support for employees, collaboration, and open dialogue.
Resources and support for employees
Throughout her career, Aniza’s met hundreds of team members, many of whom are recent college graduates. She’s noticed an unsettling trend. “When they start, they’re impact-oriented—they want to do something massive.”
Unfortunately, over time, Aniza has watched that enthusiasm “get grilled out of employees to the point that they become complacent.”
“Organizations may give employees the authority to make decisions,” she says. “The trouble is, they don’t give them enough resources, people, or support—and that sets employees up for failure. When that happens, enthusiasm dies, and “suddenly, you look around and see a whole lot of complacency.”
If organizations want to succeed, they must embrace collaboration. “Change doesn’t happen because you’re the smartest person in the room,” she says. “Organizations thrive when they seek out people doing it better than they are.”
You’ve probably heard the adage, “Go fast, go alone. Go far, go together.” That’s Aniza’s mantra.
No surprise, Aniza loves technology. But it’s people, not technology, driving her forward.
“There’s nothing like sitting in a room with people who bring diverse views,” she says. “Sometimes, I just sit back, listen, and watch the sparks fly. It is amazing to watch people hit gold simply because they have the space to share their ideas.”
To facilitate these interactions, Aniza tries to foster what she calls a “collision space”—that is, an environment where everyone has a voice. When you do that, you empower people. Taking talented, visionary people and empowering them is a deadly combination.
COMPANIES TO WATCH: WHO’S EMBRACING DIGITAL INNOVATION?
When I asked Aniza about some of the key players in the digital innovation movement, her answer surprised me.
Aniza has worked with the Department of Defense, Hill Air Force, Northrop Grumman, and others, so I anticipated that she’d mention companies in the aerospace and defense industry. Not even close.
The beauty of her position with the Women Tech Council is that Aniza has ongoing conversations with women in vastly different industries.
“I recently had a conversation with a leader at Zions Bank,” she says. “Before that conversation, I probably wouldn’t have associated a bank with technology and innovation.” I wouldn’t have either, but Aniza makes a compelling case.
Zions Bank was founded in 1873 by Brigham Young. Since then, it has grown to 415 branches spread across 11 western states with total assets exceeding $65 billion. Impressive, sure, but is the bank really “spearheading the modernization movement,” as Aniza suggests?
When COVID hit, Zions moved their 9,900-person workforce to a fully-remote model in less than 72 hours. At the same time, the bank also took final steps to roll out the BaNCS commercial lending platform and invested in Salesforce, an API platform, and robotics process automation.
That’s just scratching the surface.
“Zions Bank is just one example of an organization that’s ‘quietly’ innovating,” she says. “I could name a bunch of off-the-radar companies doing the same thing—yet no one’s talking about them.”
FINAL THOUGHTS: WHAT IS ANIZA’S PHILOSOPHY
I wanted to know Aniza’s life and work philosophies. Here’s what she said.
Do what’s right, not what’s easy
“If I could put one thing on a billboard, it’d be, ‘Do what’s right. Not what’s easy,’” she says. Collaboration and innovation are difficult to achieve, but for Aniza, that makes them worth pursuing.
“It doesn’t matter what I’m doing,” says Aniza. “I’m determined to do it the right way. I want to make it easy for the next person. And while that may make things harder on me in the short-term, I’m setting someone else up for success.” For Aniza, there’s no other way.
There are no limits, no boundaries
“I was brought up to believe that there are no limits. While my parents never fooled me into believing it would be easy, they refused to set boundaries,” she says.
Aniza grew up, but she never outgrew that mentality. “I have a background in electrical engineering and computer science—both male-dominated careers,” she says. “That didn’t stop me. In fact, it only made me more determined. So this is just a long way of me urging women to reject limits.”
Thank you, Aniza, for a compelling conversation!
To listen to the entire episode, click here.