When I joined EY in 1985 the world was a very different place. Microsoft had launched its first version of Windows, CDs had just been introduced and car phones the size of a brick, as used by Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas in Miami Vice, were among the coolest gadgets.
I have seen business and society transform a lot over the last three decades, but I’ve never seen business change so much as it has in the last three years.
Change has always been a part of the business world and great companies have flourished — or failed — based on their ability to manage change. But today, organizations must contend with a faster pace of change than ever before. And EY is no exception. As I covered in previous blogs, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain combined with the power of data are not only opening new doors, but also fundamentally evolving our most traditional services, like audit and tax.
A few years back we embarked on a worldwide effort to disrupt ourselves as a way to get in front of the change happening around us. From the outset of what has been an extensive, hard look at the way we do things, some of the questions that I keep coming back to are around the role of culture in driving this transformation. Do we have the right culture to drive change at speed? Should technology lead the change or do we need to adapt our culture first in order to embrace new technologies?
Here are my lessons learned along the way.
Disrupting from within
Being a partnership with a history of about 170 years and operating in over 150 countries, we’ve always had an entrepreneurial culture, with innovation flourishing in all parts of our business. But the level and speed of change meant we needed to focus on scaling the best ideas fast and sourcing new ones.
We quickly recognized that we needed to change the wheels on the bus while the bus was running so we could continue to operate our healthy and successful business, while adapting it to the fast pace of technology. To help us achieve that delicate balance, we needed a group that was unbound from short term constraints and pressures of the day-to-day and was focused on the future, infusing the whole organization with new ideas.