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PwC CEO Luke Sayers on how to overhaul a workplace culture

by Nick Hindhaugh

Blurry photo of 6 people sitting and standing around a table talking

Six Degrees Executive caught up with PwC Australia’s CEO Luke Sayers at our recent CEO networking event, where Luke talked candidly about PwC’s cultural transformation and shared leadership insights.

PwC Australia has 8,500 employees with an average age of 28. Prior to starting its cultural and digital transformation, most of the firm’s partners and leaders were in their late 40s. “There was an obvious generational gap and digital divide”, says Sayers, “So when we started our transformation it wasn’t just about technology; it was about culture.”

Turning a culture upside-down

Sayers acknowledges that pre-transformation PwC was a quintessential big partnership: “Everybody was pretty similar – the demographic was not representative of society, nor was it representative of where customer needs were heading.

“The organisation prided itself on being technically the best, but little else mattered. So, we embarked on a significant change”, says Sayers. “Today, we’re still not as humanistic, diverse, creative, or technologically literate as we want to be, but we have turned the place upside down with regard to the skills and backgrounds of people that we recruit.” PwC has radically changed its hiring practices in regard to the universities (and non-universities) it recruits from, and the people it recruits from business, academia or other professions.

The other part of the transformation involved making sure that all 8,500 employees were much more digitally literate. A common misconception, says Sayers, is that younger people are all digital natives. “Some are, but some aren’t. Young people have a higher foundational level but still have a long way to go in different areas.

The transformation has taken place in both the physical workspace at PwC and in its ways of working. “We’ve changed the workspaces and we've thrown out all private offices”, says Sayers. “We've thrown out all the car parks and opened it all up. It's all digitally enabled; digital waterfalls, a digital backbone and infrastructure.”

“Technology and digital change is an enabler to cultural change, but it takes time. It’s got to be led from the top and from the bottom. It needs investment, patience and requires the right people with a learning desire rather than an ‘I-know-best’ attitude.

“Today, values are integral to whether or not you are successful at PwC.”

Leadership insights from the top

Sayers gives the following five leadership tips:

  • Get an amazingly different set of individuals around you. They should be individually different, but they should all absolutely embody your organisation’s values.
  • Be grounded and authentic. Do more listening than preaching. Learn to synthesise and speak clearly to bring real clarity to the organisation.
  • Be a natural collaborator and bridge-builder.
  • Find a balance between head and heart; IQ and EQ. At the end of the day, people are motivated by different things. Find a way to marry intellectual rigour with emotion, happiness, connection and motivation.
  • Be the beacon of values, tone and behaviour. Don’t walk past things that are outside the values and boundaries of the organisation.

Finding opportunities in an uncertain climate

Sayers believes 2019 will be a challenging year for Australia on a number of fronts. “Politically, we’re in very uncertain waters at the moment. One perspective is that the Federal election may not provide the clarity people are expecting”.

Sayers believes that changes to overseas economies will soon have an impact in Australia. “The tax changes in the US stimulated the economy, but there are other headwinds such as their trade agreements with China. European countries – apart from Germany – will continue to struggle. In Australia, to think we’re going to easily deliver 2.5 to 3% GDP growth is naïve.”

But a tough year ahead does not mean there will be no opportunities. “There are always opportunities”, says Sayers. “It’s about how you identify those opportunities and avoid trying to do too much … For those companies that are cashed up and have a great balance sheet, are simple and know their niche strategy role, there could be some great opportunities.”

 

Talk to Six Degrees Executive to learn more about transforming your workplace culture.