Video transcript: Creating a culture to transform


Marco Amitrano: We talk a lot about transformation, don’t we? Everyone's talking about transformation. It's the imperative. What does it actually take to transform? What are the major ingredients of transformation?

Zahra Bahrololoumi: Well, that is the million dollar question, isn't it? Everybody wants to know that. And there is no silver bullet for transformation. But what has been a common theme is the need for the right talent and the rotation of skills to be able to fuel and get the value from that transformation.

If you focus on something like analytics. Everyone wanted to pursue the the analytic utopia and two out of three investments I think failed. It was not the technology, it was actually were the right processes in place? Did the organisations have the right talent? Do you have the right sponsorship and governance?

Have you got a plan to build the skills needed to get the value from the platform and there has to be someone that really cares.

Marco: Okay.

Zahra: I'm really curious about what you find. Do you find a Chief Transformation Officer that drives it and is an absence of a Chief Transformation Officer a recipe for disaster?

Marco: The advent, if you like, of the Chief Transformation Officer at the moment I’d describe as varied, varied in terms of where they do and don't exist. You know, not everyone has one. And that's not just about size of company. It's a lot more complicated than that and reflective probably of the culture of an organisation and the recognition of how things actually get done. I think what's not a great job to put your hand up for as Chief Transformation Officer is if you know that that role will fail because of the way things get done.

Zahra: What does that look like?

Marco: There are fundamentals, I think it's fair to say, that you would look for. Who’s involved? If this is really not something that a Chief Executive is anywhere near, that would be a strong sign.

Zahra: Red flag.

Marco: Yeah. Red flag. Right. If there is no clear articulation of a strategy that involves transforming. That doesn't sound like it has change fundamentally at the heart of it, aspiration to evolve. Red flag.

Marco: And something you said earlier Zahra, the absence of real plans.

Zahra: Yeah. And I love a plan.

Marco: I don't think plans at the outset have to be so detailed. In fact, maintaining a level of agility that means you can find things out and move is fine. But the absence of something that has milestones in it or a sense of partial achievement along the way, things that will encourage and motivate, create gravity towards that outcome.

Zahra: An absence of a plan should make someone panic. and honestly I would go so far as to say I've seen many organisations and teams use the term Agile as an excuse for an absence of a plan. It drives me absolutely bananas.

Marco: I am never going to say Agile in your presence again.

Zahra: No, I love Agile. We are Agile. But it’s really fascinating. And then all of a sudden you don't get the outcomes you want. Why? Because you didn't spend the time defining it upfront, where are you heading and at what point you were going to get to where you needed to be. And I don't care what your methodology is or how you're going to deliver it, you still need to know where you are and where you need to get to.

Marco: What I also find interesting in the advent of that role with the sources of previous job, that end up in Chief Transformation Officer.

So you know, distinctly, clearly someone who was a CIO or similar before. Guess what? The transformation looks heavily weighted to technology.

Someone who was a COO before. Guess what? The transformation looks heavily weighted to cost reduction and productivity improvement.

Zahra: How much AI are you seeing or hearing about in the context of transformation on your travels?

Marco: Aspiration more than understanding. A sense that something went suddenly a lot more quickly with generative AI. Partly because the user friendliness shifted didn’t it? You know, actually AI has been around for a long time, as you know, but actually AI really was in the gift of data scientists and people like that to understand and use.

Zahra: It’s way more accessible.

Marco: I think this takes us to a very different, very different place to innovation and where we're going to see innovation come from.

Zahra: I ask that because I see it everywhere. Every CEO I speak to, it’s their number one priority.

Marco: With clarity or just curiosity?

Zahra: With curiosity and a sense of urgency to have a plan and asking for help with that plan. And what's really interesting about this, I actually think it's a watershed moment. This is more profound than the e-commerce revolution or the dotcom boom and bust.

But what's really interesting about this one is, this is also driven by board activity. So boards are asking CEOs, what's your plan? Where are we headed? How are we going to take advantage of this? How are we going to get the benefits? Because everyone can see the benefits, but there's fear. There's a lack of trust.

Marco: What I'm seeing right now is all of what you've said, but perhaps some hesitation around what is the real business case for this stuff. And therefore a shift for sure. Most notably in investment prioritisation or budget reallocation. So back to your observation about risk, trust, which I’d agree with, there needs to be some sort of control, there needs to be perhaps regulation. The checks and balances have to come in somewhere.

So those are human, those checks and balances, are they?

Zahra: Yeah.

Marco: So let’s talk about that then. Let's talk about that. So innovation, experimentation. Forever that's involved making mistakes.

Zahra: Yes.

Marco: Things not going quite right. Building on those mistakes.

Zahra: Yes.

Marco: Can we afford that with AI?

Zahra: We get the AI we deserve. AI will exacerbate and propagate poor data, bias, toxicity, lack of data control. If left unchecked and unguarded. Right?

So absolutely we need checks. Technology can also provide some of that. We've got a trust layer that provides a level of filtering and protection and preserves, you know, customer data. And doesn't send off stuff to large language models outside the ecosystem.

But everything that's generated has to be validated by humans in case something slips through the net, so the fact that you've got to assume bias will exist.

And you have to set the conditions. Have I got diverse teams? Am I using a representative set of data? Have I got the right principles? Have I got the right guardrails? And have I got the ability to investigate if something goes wrong?

Marco: Now, I've heard many people from your industry talk about the importance of letting employees lead the way, whether it's AI or what's come before it, put the technology in the hands of the people and let them tell you what they need.

To a lot of chief executives and a lot of organisations, that may have been around a long time, that can feel quite scary. What do you say?

Zahra: Putting technology in the hands of people and letting them tell you what they need. Even in my organisation where we value that and we do encourage experimentation, but even then, it never comes at the cost of a vision and a direction.

If I think about our employee activism and the culture that we've created is all grounded in our values, we are really very values driven. All our decisions, everything we do is all determined and underpinned by our core values. And some of the best things that we've taken to market have been as a consequence of what our employees have pushed us to do.

So a really good example is our net zero cloud, you know, our capability that models the carbon footprint and allows kind of carbon trading. That was not something we were ever going to come to market with. We did it for ourselves to accelerate our carbon reporting. And one of our employee resource groups called Earth Force really pushed us to help other organisations accelerate their path to net zero. We’re a net zero organisation now.

And none of that would have happened had it not been for them.

And so the point about culture and if you try and lock it down too much you're not going to get some of that innovation and growth.

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Kevin Ellis CBE

Kevin Ellis CBE

Alliance Senior Partner, UK & Middle East, PwC United Kingdom

Marco Amitrano ACA MCMI ChMC

Marco Amitrano ACA MCMI ChMC

Alliance Senior Partner elect - PwC UK and Middle East I Managing Partner & Head of Clients and Markets, PwC United Kingdom

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