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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Transforming Business poll shows that talent is a driver, and a product, of innovation

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  • Talent recruitment was cited as a top priority for innovation investment among companies polled for the Transforming Business series.
  • Companies are assimilating new approaches to talent in the pandemic.
  • Focus on social injustice and racial inequity have driven new commitments to DEI.
  • Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Innovation depends on talent, and also attracts it. Business decision-makers polled by Insider report that talent is a top investment priority, and also that a major benefit of digital transformation is recruiting top talent.

Digital transformation has also made the talent picture in companies more complex. AI and other applications change the nature of some roles, and creates uncertainty in individuals unsure about how automation might impact them.

A new sense of urgency around DEI is also redefining priorities for many companies.

Culture of innovation

To drive transformation, business leaders have to source and keep the right talent, and to create a culture of innovation. The global pandemic changed, possibly for good, the way companies viewed remote work, and potential hires who might not be local. Chris Greenough, chief marketing officer at Everise, a Singapore-based company, said in an Insider interview that the pandemic had given the company access to a new range of talent.

“As work shifted to at-home, we were able to attract a different kind of worker,” he said. “We gained access to people who wanted a lifestyle change that didn’t involve office politics; older people who wanted a secondary income; people who wanted flexible hours; and disabled people who couldn’t commute and had previously been marginalized.”

A greater desier for flexibility has also driven hiring policy. “Talent, and in particular innovators, wants to shape their work environment around their life; offering a compelling place to work sometimes requires new strategies and added flexibility to respond to the needs of our employees,” said Karin Raguin, VP of talent management and corporate responsibility at LVMH. “This is what creates a genuine sense of safety and belonging where innovation and creativity can flourish.”

Raguin also says transformational talent needs to feel they can try new things without fearing dire consequences for failure. “Trial, testing, and sometimes failure are all key to developing innovative ideas,” she said, “so it must be clear to employees that they should aim for excellence, rather than perfection.”

Automation and upskilling

The global pandemic has increased the pace of automation, which creates uncertainty for some workers who might not see their skills translating to this new future. James Smith, UK managing director of AutoStore, a robotics company whose CEO, Karl Johan Lier was featured as a Transformer, told Insider that companies have a huge opportunity to upskill more traditional workers to keep the jobs, and maintain their company culture.

“Whether we like it or not, demand for businesses to be able to operate on multiple channels and platforms is increasing dramatically, and traditional ways of working and fulfilling demand can no longer keep up with this growth,” he said, adding that upskilling is central to this. “You can either follow the inevitable growth and evolution of technology or you risk becoming redundant as a business and as a professional.”

Increased urgency around DEI

The global focus on social justice and racial inequity has sparked a sense of increased urgency and focus around DEI practices and leadership. Kara Helander is the chief inclusion and diversity officer at the Carlyle Group, and one of this year’s Transformers, told Insider that the focus on these issues right now presents companies with an opportunity to drive meaningful change.

One of the initiatives rolled out by the Carlyle Group focuses on hwlping employees mitigage unconscous bias. “It’s not so much where you start, but are you taking concerted, tangible action to make change around it? That applies to us and it applies to the companies in our portfolio,” Helander said. “You don’t want people to not take action because they aren’t where they should be.”

With global vaccinations increasing, companies are beginning to look ahead and figure out their new normal, and ensure they have the right talent to drive growth in a changed world. “In the year ahead,” Ranguin said. “Whether businesses recover will be dependent on their talent and that talent’s ability to navigate uncertainty and drive innovation needed to rise beyond incremental challenges.”

This SurveyMonkey Audience poll targeted individuals who work in a management capacity at their company according to the Audience panel. They included respondents from Hong Kong (n=50), Singapore (n=50), The United States (n=207), Canada (n=104), France (n=52), the United Kingdom (n=51), Germany (n=50) and India (n=50), with local translations in Germany and France. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected total of 614 respondents March 3-4, 2021.

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Companies continue to prioritize AI and cloud for innovation investment, according to the latest Transforming Business poll

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Contactless payment with facial recognition technology.

  • Cloud and AI top the list of innovation investments by companies according to the latest Transforming Business poll.
  • Companies are still figuring out all the applications of these technologies.
  • Racial and gender biases in AI applications are issues no company can ignore.
  • Visit Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.

Companies continue to prioritize AI and cloud as key investment targets as they strive to innovate and drive growth into the future, according to the most recent Transforming Business poll.

Actionable data insights are a key outcome for these applications. “Many businesses are looking to streamline their operations and make them more efficient, as well as find new insights and connections in their data,” said Victoria Petrock, principal analyst at eMarketer. “They are turning to AI to help them achieve competitive advantage.”

While it might seem like AI and cloud are ubiquitous and widely utilized, companies are still figuring out all the ways it can change their business. Laura Urquizu, CEO of Red Points and one of the 100 People Transforming Business in Europe, wrote in an article for Insider that AI and machine learning had vastly improved customer experience by creating more personalized shopping experiences and increasing brand loyalty.

But the insights available via tools like AI and the cloud can do much more than some companies have figured out. “No matter how important customer experience is, however, it is a mistake to believe it is the only operational area that can (and should) be transformed using technologies like these,” Urquizu wrote. “The efficiency of your internal operations – your support team, supply chain, production, inventory, quality control, human resources, and so on – can all benefit from applying AI and ML technologies.”

The opportunities vary by industry, of course, and the global pandemic has created opportunities to put AI to the test as never before. BenevolentAI, whose CEO Joanna Shields is one of this year’s Transformers, used its technology to analyze vast quantities of scientific research, ultimately surfacing a drug treatment that has been used to treat moderate-to-severe COVID patients.

“One positive outcome of COVID-19 is that it has united science and tech for good, accelerating data-sharing agreements and encouraging the open publication of research results.” Shields told Insider. “This new environment of collaboration has provided a glimpse of the beginnings of a more open and adaptable R&D model that can accelerate the delivery of innovative and life-changing outcomes for patients.”

Innovation has not come without problems, however. AI applications have come under fire, demonstrably shown in some cases to reflect racial and gender bias in hiring tools, and voice and facial recognition.

Tech companies and their customers are under pressure to address these injustices with a appropriate urgency.

“[Businesses] must find a way to provide AI with the right data inputs, and give it instructions to behave in the most ethical way possible, ignoring and unfolding historical biases and to be confident in leaving the business’ past behaviors behind,” Michael Feindt, a 2020 Transformer and strategic advisor at Blue Yonder, a digital fulfillment and supply chain solutions provider, wrote for Insider.

It is possible, Feindt said, to apply these tools to actually combatting discrimination and inequity.

“Simply put, it’s down to us whether AI is a force for good or a force for bad. If you can provide it with data and instructions that are designed to shape the world in a certain way, AI will do that,” Feindt wrote. “So if businesses are willing to put in the time and effort to set things on a fairer course, AI can set about fighting discrimination and injustice.

This SurveyMonkey Audience poll targeted individuals who work in a management capacity at their company according to the Audience panel. They included respondents from Hong Kong (n=50), Singapore (n=50), The United States (n=207), Canada (n=104), France (n=52), the United Kingdom (n=51), Germany (n=50) and India (n=50), with local translations in Germany and France. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Polling data collected total of 614 respondents March 3-4, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider