People – not process – are the drivers of transformation, according to business leaders from Microsoft and Accenture

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Historically, business transformation has been a top-down endeavor largely focused on technology, process, and operations. As savvy leaders know, there’s another essential component to successful reinvention: People. By empowering their employees to be catalysts for change, and inviting them to help reshape their organizations from the bottom up, today’s business leaders are finding that culture and purpose are key.

As head of global employee, leader & culture communications at Microsoft, Letty Cherry’s primary goal is to keep employees informed, engaged, and proud of their association with the company. With Microsoft currently employing more than 160,000 people worldwide, this is a significant task. Cherry and her team have managed to increase engagement and invite outside perspective via activities like employee town halls, company hackathons, and “Outside in,” a cross-company learning event wherein business leaders on book tours stop by the company to talk business philosophy, creativity, mindfulness, and more.

Reaching this point required that Microsoft get a drum beat on its mission.”The mission of the company is everywhere,” Cherry says. “It’s printed on our employee badges. We talk about it a lot in terms of empowering every person and every organization on the planet. But the culture needs to ladder up to it.”

Company culture needs to evolve over time as you see gaps or as circumstances change, Cherry explains. As such, a central team monitors Microsoft’s cultural attributes, ensures employees are familiar with them, and makes sure leaders are exhibiting them. Microsoft prioritizes diversity and inclusion, and works to teach its people how they can be “good allies to each other,” Cherry says. Providing employees with channels for different topics of conversation is critical, too, even if they don’t always agree with each other.

Abiding by the company’s values, which include respect, integrity, and accountability, helps employees in a number of ways; it creates a sense of security so they can be free to maximize their potential, but it also “clears away the clutter” so they can innovate. But Cherry notes that in order for companies to effectively convey these rules, their managers must learn to embrace them.”

Making culture and purpose real

You can roll out whatever you want on culture. If the manager of your individual team isn’t living by that culture, it causes problems,” she says. Her advice to business leaders unsure of how to activate their workforce? “Check your bias at the door.” Empathy, vulnerability, and promoting two-way dialogue are all critical to removing barriers so you can develop both your talent and your brand.

At Accenture, Amy Fuller, chief marketing and communications officer, takes a similar approach. She manages everything from how the company markets to how it communicates to its talent brand, but the latter is increasingly important. As Fuller puts it, “For anything to work at a professional services company, it really needs to work with the people because they are the brand.”

There’s a lot of focus on the concept of purpose at Accenture, which Fuller calls “the topic of the moment.” For purpose to endure, she says, it has to embody the value of your business: who you are, and what you do.

“In the past couple of years, purpose has almost become a marketing cliché,” Fuller says, adding that “The value of a cliché is that everyone hears about it.” Still, when the company surveyed its workforce of 500,000 global employees to find out how they defined Accenture’s purpose, not everyone was on the same page. Some employees were unable to communicate it, while others defaulted to citing the company’s advertising tagline. “It was an open door for us to articulate something that was important,” Fuller says.

“Technology plus people”

Naturally, being purposeful as a business requires the help of your employees. “What we hear from our clients is that it’s all about people and technology. Not just one of those components – it’s actually both,” Fuller says. “That is the moment we’re in, in the world. It’s technology, plus people, and how they coexist.”

As Fuller notes, one thing many CEOs concern themselves with when it comes to their people is assessing how they collaborate. “How our people operate is actually the core of Accenture,” Fuller says. “[They] are not simply those who work at Accenture; they are literally the product and our distribution channel, all at once.”

In theory, that should make the task of empowering Accenture’s people to help grow the company feel monumental, but Fuller has cracked the code. It’s all about living those coveted values from the inside-out.

“For our purpose to become real,” Fuller says, “the number one thing is that it cannot just be words. When we’ve done additional research to ask people, clients, and our talent what would make this notion real, (the answer is), “I need to see it in my daily life. I need to see my leaders actually be using it to guide decisions. It needs to be extremely relevant.”

Encouraging your leaders to embody your company’s culture and demonstrate the optimal mindset, while also giving people – your most valuable asset – a voice, can transform businesses for the better. As Cherry puts it, “We look at our employees as a force for change.”

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Businesses need to reassess their workplace culture and technology as workers prepare to return to the office

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There’s no question that 2020 turned the workplace on its head. The start of the pandemic led companies to reconsider everything from their office layout to how they can foster a sense of community when a majority of team members are working from home.

Tom Vecchione, Principal at architecture and interior design firm Vocon, believes the pandemic has only made the concept of the office and what it represents to employees more powerful. Of the executives he works with, Vecchione says, “What they miss the most is the level of ambition the office created for their teams and their staff. It’s very much part of the emotional, inspirational aspect of what an office gives us and your teams.”

To get back that missing spark, and to address the larger question of the office and its role overall, companies are starting to reassess their relationship with urban real estate.

What’s influencing them? “Everyone’s waiting for three factors,” Vecchione says. “What’s my peer doing, which is a very big influencer; what does science tell us we can do; and what do government agencies say we should do. This waiting game is creating uncertainty and volatility in the real estate market.”

The way Vecchione sees it, three tiers of employee engagement will emerge within the workforce: mission-critical onsite employees who must be onsite to do their jobs; hybrid employees who can split their time between onsite and offsite; and offsite workers who can effectively do their jobs without ever using the office as a permanent home. In order to gauge the demand for workspaces moving forward, Vocon is analyzing companies’ post-pandemic needs. “Executives aren’t sure why people really need to go back — if it’s for mentorship, culture, learning.” Vecchione adds that the purpose of the workspace isn’t just to facilitate the work itself, but to create knowledge, inspire culture, build a career path, and bring clients and talent “into the fold.”

There’s more to the workspace of the future than socially-distanced desks, sound barriers, and outdoor meeting rooms, and many employees find their job performance suffers when they lack access to a communal office. According to a 2020 survey conducted by enterprise platform Smartsheet in conjunction with 451 Research, 82% of workers feel less productive at work since going remote.

As companies start to consider the slow or staggered transition back to the office environment, they’re also thinking about something else: technology, and the key role it plays in the culture of collaboration.

“What I find fascinating is that we’ve all owned this technology and never really operated in this way,” says Anna Griffin, Chief Marketing Officer of Smartsheet. “(Companies) know that we’re going into a hybrid world, and they’re going into the new year in build mode.”

Smartsheet is seeing “a lot of enthusiasm for working this way,” along with signs of recovery and greater investments in technology, Griffin says. All of this signals that leaders are on board with modifying their business strategies.

Traditionally, changes like these have come straight from the top. Insider’s Human Impact of Business Transformation study, a project designed to gauge perspectives on business transformation as they relate to brand purpose, mental resilience, and more, shows that among 68% of respondents, it’s the leadership teams that drive such efforts.

But this model may not last. Employees are taking a larger role in the technology they use, and the workplace experience overall. Instead of the old approach, where management implements processes and expects teams to follow suit by using the tools they provide, Griffin is seeing employees driving these decisions. “The way you work, and the way people are able to participate more, is truly becoming democratized. And so there’s this shift in power. You’re doing something collectively together,” she says.

Ricardo Vargas, former Executive Director of Brightline Initiative, a coalition designed to help companies bridge the gap between strategy and execution, is seeing a similar trend as businesses prioritize employee satisfaction. The companies that succeed at transforming their business, Vargas says, also ensure their leaders are just as immersed in the company culture as their teams.

“In the more traditional organizations, the leadership lives in a castle on the top floor that nobody gets access to. You don’t talk to them.” Rather, Vargas says, leadership should be approachable and accessible, wherever they are.

Organizations now face an opportunity. The pandemic has highlighted weak spots in corporate culture, and leaders are starting to address those proactively. “We need to learn how to lead in permanent disruption because we are living in a permanent state of transformation,” Vargas says.

When it comes to designing the new workplace, Vecchione believes the physical work environment will never go away. Its purpose, however, may well be reinvented. Employees will one day find themselves in shared spaces again — and when they do, they’re likely to discover that a change was long overdue.

Read the original article on Business Insider