Article: Leaders need to build an environment of care and trust during digital transformation: Kameshwari Rao


Leaders need to build an environment of care and trust during digital transformation: Kameshwari Rao

In a conversation with People Matters, Kameshwari Rao talks about the cultural factors that companies need to focus on during digital transformation.
Leaders need to build an environment of care and trust during digital transformation: Kameshwari Rao

Kameshwari heads People Success (Human Resources) for Publicis Sapient. As part of the company’s global talent leadership team she is responsible for providing strategic leadership for the company’s people agenda.

In an exclusive conversation with People Matters, she talks about how organizations can integrate culture during digital transformation, what is the role of the leadership in enabling a digital ready culture and what kind of behavioral shifts that are needed. 

1. In the age of the 4th Industrial revolution, companies have to undergo continuous digital transformation. As a company that is enabling other companies to transform digitally, what are some of the common people related challenges that organizations struggle with?

With changing consumer demands in today’s digital world, the transformation imperative is a reality for all established organizations. While the urgency may vary across categories and markets, but the direction will be the same. Therefore, it is essential for an organisation to design its products and services with the customer at the center, which requires revisiting the organization model and strategy. But, how many companies are actually talking about the need to evaluate and transform their culture too? The truth is very few of them. Culture is often the ignored piece in an organization transformation journey.

Some of the challenges one can face when relooking at culture are:

- How do you change mindset? Changing mindsets is something that takes time and needs consistent focus. One needs to start with a vision or purpose that serves as the north star for people to anchor around and get motivated by. It’s important to call out the behaviors that are valued and constantly reinforce these as another step in shifting mindsets.

- How do you scale cultural behaviors? When an organization is small, a group of like-minded people come together based on a shared purpose. They develop a common language and a common set of values organically. In working closely together, they develop a culture that is built on these values. However, as organizations scale, getting people excited about around a common purpose takes concerted effort. It requires empathy, transparency and repeated communication to rally a larger set of people who need to come on the same journey.

2. What are some of the cultural traits or factors that you see in companies that are successful in adapting to digital transformation?

Culture is a powerful intangible force that shapes and promotes diversity of ideas, customs and social behaviors. In organizations, culture is a key ingredient that mobilizes people to work towards a common goal. 

At Publicis Sapient, we believe that our values are some of the foundational elements of our culture and will be a key differentiator and central to our transformation. There are five key attributes required to enable successful transformations:

• Customer focus: In the everchanging scenario where technology changes and customer expectations are changing at such a rapid pace, it is important to keep this view front and center at all times.

• Taking the leap of faith: Brands need to keep exploring innovative and game-changing solutions, and recognize that they will keep evolving along the way. Experimentation is the best approach to adopt to stay ahead of the curve.

• Learning never ends: The key to success lies in the ability to learn and apply that knowledge in a short time frame, relearn and reinvent . This is a major shift from the past where the focus was on working on a technology or solution area and progressively getting deeper into it over time.

• Tinkerers are welcome: Tinkerers are a rare breed of people who are far more likely to innovate than the rest, just because they are ever curious. A tinkerer will improvise on an existing practice or solution and transform it into a creative marvel.

• Valuing craftsmen and not just management: In this era of flat team structures and de-layering of organizations, it is imperative to create a culture of staying close to your craft. Being a 'player-coach' is key to demonstrating value and relevance in the client context. 

All these key attributes contribute to the success and signifies the culture of an organization. They need to understand that cultural change is a continuous process rather than just big shifts. 

3. When you create a culture that enables transformation, what are the key behavioral shifts that you expect your people to make?

A few key shifts we expect our people to make is of continuous learning, partnership with collaboration and being agile and flexible. As discussed earlier, the environment is changing rapidly around us and our ability to create impact is predicated in our ability to continuous evolve and keeping ourselves abreast of these changes. Along with this evolution, our ability to partner and work in collaboration with our clients, colleagues, and stakeholders will be key to ensure that all viewpoints are incorporated in the final solution. Last but not the least, the pace of change requires us to keep an experimentation mindset, to be able to move rapidly and approach the problem in multiple ways. These fundamental shifts across all our people will be important to create value for clients and their customers.

4. Who according to you owns culture? And what is the role of the HR team?

Organizational culture can be defined as the shared values, beliefs, and perceptions held by people within an organization. Knowing that organizational culture evolves and progresses from a shared mindset, we find that leaders are one of the activating forces in its early development. At Publicis Sapient, they are the early enablers of culture who helped define the need for change and the purpose of our organization. Having said that, every person needs to make the choice to own the culture in the organization.

The People Success team (aka HR) plays a vital role in perpetuating a strong culture at PS in ensuring reach and coverage besides bringing the domain expertise in enabling the design.  They encourage and bring together a diverse set of people to work towards a common goal and achieve success as a team.  

5. What is the role of leadership in building a digital-ready culture?

Organization leaders play an instrumental role in shaping and sustaining organizational culture. A leader needs to create an environment of caring and trust that encourages everyone to bring their whole self to work. 

At Publicis Sapient, the leaders share power, put the need of their people first and help people develop and perform most effectively. With this mindset, they enable their people to acquire personal growth, while the organizationalso grows in an ecosystem of commitment and engagement. 

Leaders need to value diverse perspectives, encourage opinions and conversations and act with humility. Creating consensus, thinking long term and focus on developing others are the hallmark of leaders in our organization. The days where leaders were directive and expected others to follow are far behind us. Today’s leaders are the ones who think about their people, put them ahead and act with empathy.

6. What is the one thing organizations get wrong in the digital transformation journey?

Today, many organizations struggle to build an inclusive environment where all disciplines work harmoniously to create exponential value and growth. According to a survey by McKinsey, the success rate to digitally enable organizations is consistently low and less than 30 percent succeed. Only 16 percent of respondents say their organizations’ digital transformation have successfully improved performance and have allowed them to sustain changes in the long term. 

In many of these transformations, their focus on culture came last or not at all. Organizations are about people and people define the culture. Hence, reversing the focus and bringing in a cultural change at the start of a transformation is key to ensuring success. 

The second is the role that leaders play in the transformation. Leaders influence 70 percent of the change in mindset and behaviors. How they think, behave and act is key to drive transformation. Bringing everyone on the transformation journey is critical and leaders are the enablers to this.

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Topics: Culture, Leadership, #CultureForDigital

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