Digital Pulse sits down with PwC Australia’s Chief Digital Officer, Vishy Narayanan to talk honestly about the firm’s efforts at reskilling its employees. The Digital IQ program is designed to lift technical skills, but mostly, it’s about behaviour.
“Tech isn’t optional.”
It’s a blunt, if somewhat ironic statement, from PwC Australia’s Chief Digital Officer, Vishy Narayanan. He immediately follows it by espousing the importance of behavioural change above all else in addressing the challenges of the future. The technology itself barely gets a look in during our talk.
It makes sense though, when Narayanan explains the role he occupies. With the absorption of the CIO role into his remit earlier this year, the CDO sits firmly in between business and technology, “helping to pull both together”. He likes to joke that PwC Australia killed the traditional IT function.
Previously, a CIO had a larger role given a big part of a business is infrastructure and ops. With the shift to the cloud and increasing rate of technological change, however, there’s a significant reduction of that core IT footprint.
But that doesn’t mean less work, it just means different work. Such as skilling employees in the ways of digital.
It’s a change
“As a 135-something year old firm, evolving with technological change isn’t easy,” says Narayanan.
But the firm is ambitiously looking to capitalise on this change, and build on its strength as a knowledge-based business to offer tech capability as a professional service in its own right. Increasing its capability in this area however has not been without its challenges.
As emerging technology and automation have evolved, so has the need to upskill staff. While it might be nice to think that people with skills in machine learning, automation and data analytics are grown on trees and easily harvested, the reality is not so abundant, says Narayanan.
And besides, he points out, PwC has taken the stance – very strongly – that technology is about opportunity. This optimistic outlook on the future led to a commitment to upskilling leadership and staff, and the fact that the majority of employees and partners understand, are invested in, and committed to change gives the business great license to transform.
This is where Narayanan’s focus on the importance of behavioural change comes in. Rather than implementing a tech program, PwC instead decided to run a “whole of firm behavioural change, learning and development program” called Digital IQ.
Measured across four areas – skillset, behaviour, mindset and relationships – the program, which has successfully run in the US and UK firms, begins with a test which assesses a person’s ‘IQ’ in matters digital. Once a score has been given, a tailored learning program is suggested, which staff have 11 weeks to complete before retaking the test with the aim of improving.
Behaviour must start at the top, though, and rather than just put all the digital learning on the young or newly employed, all 700 plus Australian partners took the Digital IQ test at the annual partner summit.
“I expected most would keep their scores under wraps and we’d be lucky to get 50% of partners reporting their scores. We were pleasantly surprised when nearly 90% chose to disclose their IQ to peers,” Narayanan says.
Moreover, they went on to commit to actions to improve their scores, and name what learning areas they would invest time in. This was a necessary milestone to reach for the program, because partners have to lead themselves, before they can then lead their people and better solve clients’ problems using technology – imprinting the necessity of digital competence by demonstrating it.
It’s a model that can be used by all businesses, says Narayanan. Start with the C-suite, the board and then move downwards.
When asked what the most challenging parts of implementing the change program were, Narayanan freely admits there were a few.
“Many were overcome through the journey naturally. But in fact, one of the benefits we had was that we already had momentum. Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane were moving to new offices – with new ways of working and technology embedded in them.”
“While this change created a certain amount of churn and angst, or flux as I call it, when driving a change like this you must have an element of it already happening. Otherwise you’re embarking on transformation from a standing start. That’s a much harder proposition”
The other element that had to be overcome was time itself.
The reason we use the term digital ‘fitness’ is because it’s like physical fitness. To invest in yourself you need time,” says Narayanan.
This is doubly tricky, because technology waits for no one, and while five years ago people had better technology at work, now they have the good stuff at home. It can frustrate attempts at upskilling, particularly for early adopters. Narayanan admits that they haven’t solved this problem yet, though they continue to work through it.
Finally, the Digital IQ program had to address the fact that different people are at different levels of understanding – and it wasn’t always where they expected. Narayanan had his assumptions dashed when, for example, the results from the partner conference came through. Partners who had been with PwC Australia the longest, some going on 20+ years were not, as he had thought, the lowest in Digital IQ. Many had done their own reading and skills upgrades, but hadn’t had the chance or need to apply them yet.
How to upskill
With this in mind, Narayanan offers his learnings for businesses undergoing their own digital skills initiatives.
First, don’t assume who knows what – you might be wrong. A phased approach, such as that which the Digital IQ program takes, will allow skills to be lifted to a communal baseline before the ‘next level’ of technological knowledge should be undertaken.
Second, don’t run digital fitness as a technology initiative. It must be a behavioural change program with strong executive support. For this reason, make sure the C-suite is assessed first. This has to happen in a safe environment, without the potential for embarrassment. At PwC, for example, partners can partake in Digital Accelerator programs – which are made up of small groups of peers at comparable skill levels. Similar programs could be instituted in any business – starting with the C-suite, then addressing leadership and management levels.
Third, any upskilling program must have a ‘so what’.
“For us, we are using this program to realise our business goal of digitising our core,” says Narayanan.
We have a certain percentage of hours of work that must be digitised by 2020. It’s a clear target that applies to day-to-day jobs. In this way we don’t just ‘get fit’, we apply it.”
Finally, digital fitness must apply to a strategic business goal. Narayanan suggests one of three: delivering better customer experience, operational efficiency – a natural beneficiary of digital – and creating new revenue models.
Of the program’s effectiveness, Narayanan admits “shifting a mindset is always difficult but we are making good progress on this front”. This is particularly true when it comes to technology.
“In society, we often have a healthy respect for the new, and an unhealthy disdain for the old. But there’s no reason why we can’t take legacy skill sets and train for new challenges.”
The workout might make you sweat, but the results will pay for themselves.