No Match Found
Hannah Fry: Hello, I'm Hannah Fry, and welcome to PwC's Human-led, Tech-powered series. In this episode we're going to look at trust and transformation. We're going to discuss how organisations are combining brilliant ideas and powerful technologies to change the way that we live, work, and do business. But I'm also going to ask our panel of experts what it takes to deliver change in a way that we can believe in, and outcomes that we can trust. Well, transformation is a word that gets thrown around quite a lot, but I think it's probably good for us to start off by deciding what we actually mean.
Rachel Gilley: When I think of transformation, it's more of transformational impact. The work that we do is working with clients to make sure that they're delivering on a key objective, and that's usually impact-led. And we see that transformation in the industries, in the sectors, in the verticals that they're operating in. We work with start-ups, scale-ups, big enterprise businesses, and they need to see impact, and then progress. So, progress as opposed to change. And that's hugely driven by technology. The changes in the technology sectors that we're seeing are vast, from AI, which is hugely exciting, Web3, the metaverse, there are so many of these coming forward.
Hannah Fry: So, it's not just change, it's the knock-on effects of change?
Rachel Gilley: I think yes, progress, when we talk to our clients. Because change can sound scary, lots of our clients get nervous about their internal employees. These businesses, some that we are working with, are growing so quickly. The amount of investment they're getting, and the technologies they're producing, they're measuring this progress in days, and weeks, and months, not years.
Antony Cook: So, for me, transformation is where an organisation has to do something beyond the incremental, or beyond the ordinary, where it takes a shared endeavour of more people, more functions, whatever, to do something that's different, be it to reduce cost, or for a growth opportunity. But it probably has to feel uncomfortable, and it is to get them to a different place for their business to be relevant, or survive, or successful.
Hannah Fry: And I guess all of these changes mean that there's a change in the skills that are required, Anne-Marie?
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yes. It is about skills, it's about people having the right tools in order to contribute to the transformation, it's about people being able to be developed as a part of transformation. But I think it's also about, you know, making sure that they're listening, making sure in a new world like this people have data skills, which is very, very important. Have design skills, which is incredibly important, but also collaboration and communication skills. I think it's important that folks recognise not just the technical skills, but the core skills.
Hannah Fry: What do you mean by 'listening'?
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Listening meaning that you're hearing, and you're reading, and you're analysing what is being said, not just to say something back, but to unpick what the implications are. To really, truly say, 'Okay, cool, what's the detail in what you said? What are the motivations? Let's go 360 around what you've just said.' And I think listening is something that's really, really underrated actually, as a skill, in transformation, and in business, and in technology itself.
Antony Cook: I love that listening point, actually. I think that is so fundamental. You still occasionally see organisations, probably driven maybe by a need to change a platform, where they're like, 'Right, we're just going to do this upgrade,' and then it always gets more complicated. And I think there's always an opportunity to enhance it, but I think it does require more thought.
Rachel Gilley: That's something quite similar, as an agency we are growing to match the needs of our clients on a global basis, so we do that through quite a lot of acquisitions. And that obviously involves change, both for the existing team, but then the teams that you're bringing in, and listening has been a huge part of that. I think spending time with individuals-, and I think that's obviously difficult the bigger the organisation, and we're growing, and so we're trying to work out how do you make sure that that's still involved? That the trust factor-, that you want your people to trust that you're making the right decisions for the long-term benefit of both the business and for our clients, but also for the trust of the businesses you're bringing in.
Hannah Fry: I mean, all of this starts with change, as you've said, but is it that the change is happening to us, or is it that we're driving the change, Antony?
Antony Cook: In most organisations, yes, you have to be both accepting of change, and the recipient of it, because these things are complex and you have multiple roles at the same time to play, probably. Even for leaders, they are probably going to have to think about how they do something different, and be accepting that that means that the way that they organise their own functions will change as well. But also, they need to bring confidence to the people that are working for them to do things differently.
Hannah Fry: Thinking about that same question from the, sort of, tech perspective, as it were, is what we're seeing at the moment a result of tech success stories, or is it a tech response to a changing world?
Rachel Gilley: Again, I'd say that there's, sort of, a bit of both. I think we've got very smart people who have got great ideas, and then that doesn't necessarily always translate then into a fantastic company built on a technology platform, and vice versa. But I do think there's so much happening within the world of tech which is, sort of, leaps and bounds happening within organisations, that I don't always know that those individuals themselves when they're building these companies know where it's going to get.
Antony Cook: And I think this point around bringing humanity into an organisation has to be as important as the technology enablement of that.
Hannah Fry: And do you think that that's a mistake that some people are making?
Antony Cook: Yes. Well, historically, when there was a budget issue, people would cut the change management. We're a little bit better than that, but there is still a bit of a challenge around is it a nice-to-have, or is it essential?
Hannah Fry: At the other end of the spectrum though, when it does come to tight budget, what is the last thing to get cut? What are the things that are the top of the priority list for companies at the moment?
Antony Cook: I think we are seeing a move, some of it forced by technological change, that there is needing to be increased and sustained investment in platforms, new technology platforms, and re-platforming, because that has been put off. Those are really expensive things to do, and at some point you have to do them. It may be because software is coming out of support.
Hannah Fry: No more Windows XP, is that what we're saying?
Antony Cook: I think there are still some organisations on green screen mainframes, so, yes, we're going back another twenty years behind that. But I also think where that leads you to in terms of we're still nascent, really, but automation and the ability of software robotics to do things that people used to do. You know, we're still talking about it a little bit in too many places probably around the opportunity that allows to free people up to do the things that are more value-added that people ought to be doing.
Hannah Fry: I just want to pick up, actually, on one point that you made a moment ago, about that, sort of, change management, and making sure that people are going with you. Because the thing is, Anne-Marie, that change can often make people feel quite uncomfortable. How do you make people feel less uncomfortable about changing technology, and make sure that they go with you?
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: So, there are lots of different tools and mechanisms that we have for allowing people to feel comfortable with change. I think, you know, if they feel and then they know, not just feeling, right, that they're part of that change, part of the decision-making process, they've got some agency and some control in what happens next, I think that's a really big tool. It's something we talk quite a lot about with automation, and you end up talking-, you know, I'm a trustee at the Institute for the Future of Work, and there are all these big headlines, right? 'The robots are going to come and take your jobs,' but I think that idea of allowing people to, you know, inform that automation, to create that automation, to be a part of driving where that automation fits into their processes that they know really well, where automation engineers might not know as well, I think things like that really help. I think the other thing there is, re-skilling and up-skilling as change happens, we see it time and time and time again that, you know, if that robot or that bit of it was automatable, because it's parts of jobs, not entire jobs that are disappearing, what else can you do? What should you be doing? What's around it? Is there a cobot type scenario that we want to end up in? That you're working with the robot, and again, your productivity is up, and maybe your happiness is up.
Hannah Fry: Making it feel more like a collaboration than something that's happening to you.
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Yes, exactly.
Rachel Gilley: That's it, it involves a whole cultural shift within an-, you can't underestimate how much time that takes. I always say it's a year before these things actually bed in, even if you've had great success in your first 90 days.
Antony Cook: I've just, earlier this year, finished a programme with a client that had been ongoing through a couple of phases for four years. So, we're not even talking a year for some of these things. And in that time there were changes in leadership on both sides for really good reasons, because four years is a long time in a career, and the skill set needed to change a bit. But also, beneath that, to make that work, the resilience, the organisational memory of why you made decisions 3.5 years ago, these are really critical factors.
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: I think it's that iterative approach, which I know, you know, agile is our big thing, right? We've all transitioned successfully into agile. But I think it is that idea of being iterative over time, and it means that then four years doesn't have to feel like four years because it's the cycles that you're in, and it is those opportunities and those junctures to say, 'Okay, cool, we're going to move it in this direction. We're going to take that feedback on, we're going to learn from that. We're going to iterate, and we're also going to be able to mitigate risks as we go because we're reflecting back,' which I think is the other thing that can help humans, right? And with a culture where we're allowed to say, 'There were mistakes that were made,' or, 'There were things that maybe have been sub-par, and we're going to take from that, we're going to learn from that, and we're going to build better as a result of us all reflecting back.' Which I think also is super important, actually, for bringing people along.
Hannah Fry: But that learning is a reflective process, presumably there's a lot that has to be done in advance? I mean, if you are going to transform towards a new technology, a new platform, whatever it might be, there has to be a really deep understanding that you are actually making the right choice, right?
Rachel Gilley: You know, as much prep as you possibly can have, absolutely. And I would certainly say on the cultural side I think that's probably the most important bit. The rest of the business tends to find its way, but if you get the cultural bit wrong and you don't spend enough time on that, then that does come back to bite.
Hannah Fry: Yes. But then, I mean, so, we've been talking about trust from the perspective of individuals, and then trust from the perspective of society, I wonder whether there are different layers between this, because you have to build a team that engenders trust. So, what does that team look like?
Rachel Gilley: It's a huge question, I think. I mean, it very much, I think, comes back to the leader, and the person who's leading the march. And I think, you know, there are trails littered with technology companies that have failed because actually that was lacking in the person that was doing it. With the organisations that we work with, they can grow and scale very quickly, they're twenty people one year, they're 350 people literally twelve months later. So, it's very much about building it for the right reasons. The job that we do as consultants from a communications perspective is make sure it remains authentic. And the biggest challenge we have is when we feel like we're veering slightly off the journey that we said we were going to go to. So, building that team, the team that you have at the beginning, it's not always the team that you end up having even twelve months later, you know, two years later after that. Because either they're not impressed with the journey, the direction the business is taking, the leader's potentially lost their way, and we spend a lot of time reminding them, 'We're your brand, sort of, ambassadors we're taking you out externally. We've got to remember what's important if you want to have these wonderful people both stay with you and join you.'
Antony Cook: The single biggest reason that transformations fail is because of the leadership challenge. So, it, sort of, doesn't matter probably what size an organisation, that has to work.
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Because it's about people, you know? Like, the tech doesn't build itself, people do. And I think we can't forget that, we can't forget that, you know, tech adoption, all the rest of it, is still in people, it's in their motivations, and, 'Will they use this platform? Will they use that, or will they just go back to what they were on before?' You know, I talk a lot about diversity, about equity, about inclusion, and I think there's also that, of valuing difference and how that can help with transformation, and how that can help show what could be next. But also, this is something I talk about as much as I can, periods. You know, every couple of years the tech industry rediscovers the period for the very first time. One massive, you know, fitness tracking company managed to build this feature that only tracked ten days of the period, and in that entire company, that entire team, that design process, implementation process, marketing process release, there wasn't a single person that had ever met anyone that had ever had a period. Or, they didn't trust the value that they brought to that conversation in order for them to genuinely do a tech transformation and really solve the problem.
Antony Cook: Or be heard even if they'd said it, maybe.
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Well, this is it. And so I think it's things like that that also that's where you get the magic, when you listen to people and you value who you have.
Antony Cook: And I think there is something here about are we all agreed on the outcomes that we're trying to achieve? And how are we not just going to get there with the milestones of a programme, but the outcomes, the value of-, different use of the word 'values', but the value of this effort and this cost is going to be there into the longer term. 'Will it work? Will it work in the way it was intended? Why are we doing it?' I think these are really big questions.
Rachel Gilley: Absolutely.
Hannah Fry: What is the big dream then? What is the, sort of, big vision of transformation?
Rachel Gilley: I'm looking at transformation in the technology industry, I mean, you can see it already. And I talk about AI a lot because I think AI is fascinating, probably because there are real-world examples today of where AI is making a difference. But I think if you're somebody young, and curious, and interested, and you want to get into industries where technology is at the heart of it, knowing that you could be working for an organisation where, you know, eighteen clinical drugs are currently on the market which weren't even two years ago because AI has given them the ability to do that. You can see it in navigation in your cars, you can see it in fraud detection. I think if you can show people that there are some very exciting developments happening today and they could be part of that journey and working for organisation that are doing it, I think that's incredibly exciting and grabbing them now.
Antony Cook: One of the things I talk to clients about is, 'Try and get your best people onto transformations,' because people joining the workforce now, stats tell us, are probably going to have seventeen different careers. I mean, it's astonishing, I can't quite understand it, but then I'm not a 22-year-old Gen Z-er. So, the opportunity for skills development or growth impact, actually, that you can have as an individual on these really interesting-, difficult, but interesting programmes, to develop yourself, and use that as stepping stones to, sort of, do the seventeen things that you might do. Maybe work until they're 80, I don't know. But I think there is something that really is quite compelling if you get the right people with the right, sort of, ambition and openness to learning, actually. I think that really drives the energy of a transformation programme team.
Hannah Fry: Are you optimistic about the future, Anne-Marie?
Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon: Most days, yes. I like to think I'm slightly realistic about it. You end up being a little bit halfway between optimistic and pessimistic. I think for me, the optimistic part of me, the excitement I have for transformation, working with the next generation-, working with the current generation I guess we should say, rather than 'older generation', I think the thing I'm most excited about is the capacity to solve problems, and solve more problems than we're creating in the work that we do. And for me, that's what good transformation looks like.
Hannah Fry: I think it's really telling that, you know, this is a conversation that started off being about technology, about different platforms, about different ways to transform your infrastructure, and actually, in the end it's all come round to being about people. It's about skills, it's about listening, it's about trust, and it's about putting all of those things together to get people to go with you.
Antony Cook: Yes.
Hannah Fry: Which is quite a nice thought, I think, to end on, perhaps. So, thank you very much to all of you for joining me. And you can catch up on the other episodes of Human-led, Tech-powered that are online now. Thank you.