In case you missed it, here are photo highlights from our “Get Access to the C-Suite” luncheon in Toronto!
BY STEPHANIA VARALLI
“Here’s what I told them: A strong change leader can implement change without hurting the day-to-day business.”
When I was hired to run the operations at McCarthy Tétrault, I was excited to join a firm that not only took pride in its status as an industry leader, but also recognized that the industry was evolving. They needed a driver of change who could bring a non-traditional perspective to this very traditional business, and motivate and guide an organization built over a century-and-a-half ago. Here’s what I told them: “A strong change leader can implement change without hurting the day-to-day business.”
Three weeks after being welcomed into their offices, I realized I had an opportunity to transform the operations and create a service delivery team for the law firm of the future. I had a full report outlining my initial assessment, which I explained with a metaphor: this was a house that had to be modernized, and to do that we had to start at the foundation.
In an industry resistant to change, it was a tough sell. I was the new kid, a non-lawyer, and I had come in and asked them to trust me to make the changes they needed to ensure we would not only provide the best services going forward, but also improve engagement.
At McCarthy Tétrault, The Engaged Change Roadmap came out after five months of careful preparation. It described a two-year strategy that addressed infrastructure and efficiency issues, and looked towards improving our internal business operations and client experience.
I’ve found that I can find two or three ‘golden nuggets’—individuals that have the right vision, but haven’t had the ability to shine, for whatever reason. I then give them an opportunity to be the leaders of change.
Diagnosing the issues began with asking questions, interviewing people, and listening. I spent time talking to key individuals to understand their roles in the organization. The firm conducted engagement surveys, which provided valuable information on what the problems were and how to start solving them. My approach is collaborative. In my experience, I’ve found that I can find two or three ‘golden nuggets’—individuals that have the right vision, but haven’t had the ability to shine, for whatever reason. I then give them an opportunity to be the leaders of change. I ask them to vet ideas and leverage their expertise.
In a firm where many had twenty or more years of tenure, my plan also had to consider relationships. I had to strategically think about the right timing, communication, and how to help people adapt to change. At McCarthy Tétrault we have roughly 200 partners, which is the same as saying 200 owners. Resistance can build up easily, but by meeting with all the key stakeholders individually, explaining the successes I’ve had in other organizations, and educating them on the two-year roadmap, I was able to get them to buy into change.
Another aspect of the resistance is fear. What has helped me, and what has helped organizations transform, is being seen as a true, listening leader, one who isn’t quick to draw conclusions. But the most critical part of the process was establishing trust.
As a non-lawyer that’s never worked in a law firm, getting people to buy into my vision was a huge hurdle, especially because they were so used to doing everything the way it had been done for 150 years.
I knew it wouldn’t happen overnight, and there would be challenges along the way. Fortunately, this venerable Canadian law firm understood that change was a very good thing. I’m proud that I’ve been able to deliver on that promise.
“If you ask me what keeps me up at night, without question the biggest thing that I think about all the time is the talent and skills needed to transform the business.”
There are only a few times in a person’s career that you get to be involved with something that’s this big. I’m especially lucky because I’ve been in tech for 30 years and I’ve been through three of them: the first was Bill Gates, envisioning a PC on every desk in every home. The second was what the Internet has brought us. And the third is happening right now, and that’s the power of cloud-based solutions.
A year ago, I was surprised to find that Canada was lagging so far behind other countries with respect to the cloud explosion. To be fair, I had a seven-year head start in the U.S., working with some of the biggest customers to move them to the cloud, so I understood the value proposition and the savings and the ROI that we can bring to this country. Over the past 12 months, mobile and cloud solutions have exploded in Canada and it’s exciting to be leading this huge transition. But I have also been very mindful of the fact that Canada is different—because we have privacy, security and data sovereignty concerns and a lot of other serious issues that we have to work through in order to have Canadians feel secure as they move their data to the cloud.
As president, I have had to ensure that I managed this transformation responsibly. When we take our customers into the cloud, I believe we have a different level of responsibility to them, because they’re trusting us to run their most private, secure data—and they expect to be always on, always connected and that we’ll never go down. So our relationship with our customers is changing deeply, and we’re having to change our blueprint as to how we go to market with our customers to the same degree.
I want to both develop Canadians to take senior leadership roles here in this country as well as bringing in people from outside of Microsoft Canada to share best practices from all over the world.
Another challenge for a high-tech business like Microsoft or any other in our industry is that it moves so fast, one of the things I have had to keep focused on is ensuring we keep our customers and my own people up to date on all of the capacities that we have. New ways of training, the impact of social media—so much in our world is so different from what it used to be even five years ago.
If you ask me what keeps me up at night, without question the biggest thing that I think about all the time is the talent and skills needed to transform the business. Every day, I am pushing our leaders to drive the “new” business and ensure they are skilling their teams to do the same. I want to both develop Canadians to take senior leadership roles here in this country as well as bringing in people from outside of Microsoft Canada to share best practices from all over the world. We’re also aggressively hiring externally, because we have to ensure that we’re getting fresh points of view from people who understand companies that were born in the cloud. It’s good to have people who can continue to challenge us and help ensure that we are taking the right approach in the Canadian market.
The cloud has also entirely changed the way we work with the incredible talent I have found here in Canada. In the past, new start-ups would start to gain traction and they would go to Silicon Valley, because that’s where the money was to set them up to go big. A new venture used to have to go find hundreds of thousands of dollars to start up, buy the servers and infrastructure to get their idea going. Now they can get going in a day—they can get the cloud services up and start developing their idea without any investment cost.
So again, we’ve had to think differently—we’re putting people in the incubator hubs, helping people to understand how cloud works and the benefits it can provide. It’s just one more example of the kinds of things you’ve got to do differently when you’re in the midst of a major transformation.
“You have to prepare to push for the things you know have to be done but people are going to resist.”
There was a distinct advantage joining Deloitte compared to other change initiatives I had been hired into lead. Prior to my start date, I had the opportunity to provide input into a blueprint for a new vision that was being developed by an executive sponsor with Deloitte’s strategy consultants. The creation of the CMO role I was recruited for was part of that new vision. In the weeks between joining the firm and my start date, we worked on iterations of an organizational design that would achieve the objectives guiding the transformation. The key was to deliver greater value for the business, and measure the impact of the investments in our marketplace operations. While there were a variety of technical strategies to do this, the other priority was to give our talent—regardless of where they were in the organization—the opportunity to do their best work.
In the early days there were a number of activities happening in tandem. The first was the decision to do talent mapping, a process that is less disruptive than the traditional process where all employees have to apply for new roles. I sat at a table with the current leadership team and led by an extraordinary talent advisor we looked at the roles in the new structure, discussed the experience and strengths of individuals and mapped them against new roles. I remember that day vividly because while they had personal knowledge of the individuals—and the HR files—I had my screen opened to LinkedIn. It happened more than a couple of times during my early days that I had a little known fact about a skill or experience that helped us identify an opportunity for an employee. While I was an advocate of social media before—I became a true apostle during that experience.
There were a number of people whose roles didn’t change at all, but their reporting structure changed. We created an in-house agency or agencies to move people out of silos and allow people to play to their strengths. While this was the hardest change for many I was a true believer in the model recommended as I had worked in it before so I was a believable advocate for the benefits of the change.
“Even with decades of experience, you need folks who know how things get done in the organization and to open doors.”
In my first week, we did a national town hall, with the managing partner gathering everyone in marketplace services from across the country to join in by videoconference to share our new vision at a very high level. A number of our leaders were in other cities for the call so they would be on the ground to gauge reaction and respond live to concerns.
Before you take a C-Suite role from outside an organization, particularly one that is charged with making change, you have to have time with the CEO so you know that they are on board. The second key is to find Cultural Sherpas. I benefitted from the invaluable advice and support of a number of leaders who played this role. They were advocates to support the sell-in of the vision and change, and acted as cultural translators. The cloak of their credibility is really important, because even with decades of experience, you need folks who know how things get done in the organization and to open doors.
I am wildly optimistic, but you’re naive if you think everything is going to be rosy. A lesson learned for me is you will never be able to communicate enough. You have to get some quick wins. You have to prepare to push for the things you know have to be done but people are going to resist. And finally, be prepared to roll with the odd punch. Put on your game face, rally support behind the scenes and push ahead. They hired you to lead change, if they wanted status quo—you would not be here.