6 minute read 3 Apr 2019
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CEOs: Three essential steps to thrive amid disruptive change

By

Andy Baldwin

EY Global Managing Partner – Client Service

Passionate about innovation, FinTech, inclusive growth and geopolitics. Leading media commentator on financial services, economics and investment trends. Keen cyclist.

6 minute read 3 Apr 2019

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CEOs should cultivate transformation as part of an organization’s culture, not treat it like a finite project. Here’s how.

Driving a successful digital transformation ranks highly on the agendas of many business leaders. For 40% of chief executives, it apparently tops the list. But there’s a world of difference between having transformation on the agenda – jostling for attention among a number of other competing priorities – and having transformation actually set the agenda.

Digital transformation is at the top of the agenda for

40%

of chief executives.

Today, the pace of change is already fast and it will get even faster in the years to come. The most successful businesses of the future will not be those that ‘do’ transformation but those where perpetual change is an intrinsic part of organizational culture. So, how do you reach that place?

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1. Set a comprehensive technology strategy for your business

Consider how your business could be transformed by the technologies that already exist today and further transformed by emerging technologies that will mature in future. For example, how could your business use technologies such as robotics and machine learning to better serve existing clients or develop new channels to market? Which use cases and business ideas can you find for blockchain technology to allow your business to save money while operating more efficiently and safely? How could artificial intelligence and data analytics give your organization a competitive advantage?

New technologies open a wealth of opportunities for businesses to enhance their existing operations and create new revenue streams. A good transformation strategy balances both these requirements while also factoring in how digital transformation is simultaneously affecting the organization’s customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.  

The strategy should acknowledge that the pace of change will not, and should not, be uniform across every function and process of the business. Some functions and processes – particularly if they are impacted by the first wave of disruption or change – may need to change at a much, much faster pace than others. Then there is the question of how do you pick up the pace of transformation? Jack Welch, the former chief executive of General Electric, once said: “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Since change is a never-ending process, the most successful businesses will always transform at a faster pace than their marketplace.

2. Don’t try to go it alone

Transformation has the potential to catch businesses out. This is because it can start very, very slowly and then suddenly accelerate and take off at a rapid rate – particularly if consumer buying patterns shift or there’s an unexpected change in the regulatory or geopolitical environment.

The unpredictability associated with transformation, together with the scale and speed of it, mean that it is best addressed by a group of companies working together in a collaborative way. The idea that a single organization can absolutely own and control a transformation from end to end is becoming an increasingly antiquated concept. It’s too slow, for starters. And too risky, because it requires the organization to invest everything.

That’s why we see the emergence today of an agile, ecosystem-based approach to working. A set of players in an ecosystem will come together to work on a specific customer or segment of the marketplace, or a particular type of distribution. Through collaboration, they will then develop innovative products and solutions and they may even create an entirely new platform that comes to be adopted as the de facto standard for a particular industry.

3. Don’t underestimate the change management challenge

Fundamentally, successful transformation is not about technology, it is about people. You can make all the right investments, in all the right tools and technologies, and develop all the right offerings, but still fail at transformation because you haven’t got the right people, doing the right things, in the right places, at the right time.

Businesses also contend with change apathy. Since it is human nature to resist change, and to cling to legacy ways of working or technologies, successful transformation relies on the achievement of behavioral and cultural change.

Since it is human nature to resist change, and to cling to legacy ways of working or technologies, successful transformation relies on the achievement of behavioral and cultural change.

Some organizations and industries manage to get around human resistance to change by spinning out standalone divisions and businesses that are charged with innovation. This is not an option for others, however, especially when they are trying to overhaul long-established legacy systems that are used in their business-as-usual operations. The financial services sector is an obvious example of this. Getting staff to use new technology, deploy it, and embrace it, can be a far bigger challenge from a transformation point of view than actually developing the technology in the first place.

For transformation to succeed, leaders must make the emotional argument for it. People will only engage with transformation if they believe that it’s about more than business cases, return on equity and keeping up with competitors. They must buy into the idea that transformation will enable them to leave a lasting legacy in the form of a new process, product or solution, or by improving the lives of others.

For transformation to succeed, leaders must make the emotional argument for it. People will only engage with transformation if they believe that it’s about more than business cases, return on equity and keeping up with competitors.

Beyond transformation

The pace and speed of technological advances, and the pressure on organizations to adapt, mean that transformation is no longer about mobilizing a massive one-off change program. Instead, it’s about getting staff, customers and distributors to adopt a mentality that welcomes the notion of perpetual change. And the way to achieve this is not just through rolling out new technologies and working with partners, but through clarifying the purpose of an organization, as well as its culture, philosophy and proposed direction of travel.

At Innovation Realized 19, from 7-9 April in Boston, EY convenes leaders to further explore how companies can continue to create and deliver value by planning in three dimensions simultaneously: Solve the now. Explore the next. Imagine the beyond. Join the conversation by following #InnovationRealized and visiting ey.com/innovationrealized.

Summary

Successful digital transformation requires leaders to define the purpose of an organization and to lead a behavioral shift in the workforce.

About this article

By

Andy Baldwin

EY Global Managing Partner – Client Service

Passionate about innovation, FinTech, inclusive growth and geopolitics. Leading media commentator on financial services, economics and investment trends. Keen cyclist.