Why Every Talent Leader Needs a Digital Transformation Roadmap: Q&A With PwC’s Sarah McEneaney


“Technology has enhanced experiences across all these dimensions. And, what’s key is to ensure this will be a north star of what success will look like, so we can course-correct as needed.”

Recognized for her efforts on enabling employee experience at the global advisory firm, PwC’s partner and digital talent leader, Sarah McEneaney, discusses how technology helped PwC deliver a stronger, more valuable experience. She also delves into the people aspect of digital transformationOpens a new window to enable strategic employee involvement.

McEneaney shares the ways through which global companies can leverage their workforce and technology to drive change at scale. In this exclusive with HR Technologist, the talent leader talks about the milestones in PwC’s digital journey, the measurable impact of digital transformationOpens a new window , upcoming projects, and more.

Key takeaways from this interview on digital transformation strategies:

  • Top tips on how technology can deliver valuable employee experiences
  • Insights on the tech needs of 21st century and beyond
  • Trends to follow on digital transformation in 2020 and beyond

Highlights of the Q&A With Sarah McEneaney of PwC

Here’s the edited transcript from our exclusive interview with PwC’s partner and digital talent leader, Sarah McEneaney:

Sarah, to set the stage, tell us about your career path so far and what your role at PwC entails.

I’ve worked with various PwC network firms around the globe, in roles spanning audit, consulting and strategy, serving clients of all sizes across financial services, technology and healthcare. With a long-held passion for the power of technology in augmenting talent strategies, I focused my career on this world after getting my MBA and working with many startups on their business models. I’m truly committed to using technology to increase access to opportunities and improve inclusion in leadership and have focused my community involvement in this space also.

PwC, a 170-year-old organization, has undergone a complete digital transformation. What were the major milestones in this journey?

I don’t know that we would ever say change is complete change is a constant we navigate at the firm and with our clients every day.

We focused for the first year, year zero if you will, on setting the stage for change and preparing the organization for an enterprise-wide mindset shift. As much as the change is focused on digital, it is, more importantly, a change in culture. We make changes in very deliberate six-month increments, with smaller milestones occurring even more frequently.

Our approach is a combination of business-led and citizen-led initiatives, which means we pair enablement from the center of resources, tools, and infrastructure, with permission to all our 50,000 people to innovate in the moment in ways that are meaningful to their roles.

The crowd-sourced innovation has been a big shift for many of our folks who are used to more a traditional top-down approach. Achieving broad adoption and having tremendous client interest in our success has been truly rewarding for us.

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Which were the top three initiatives that helped PwC focus on the people aspect of digital transformation?

It’s hard to pick just three elements as we have had remarkable cultural change through a multi-faceted approach. At the core of it all is our citizen-led approach and one that we feel has been a tremendous game-changer. Putting not just the tools and skills in the hands of all 50,000 of our people, but really allowing them to experiment, giving permission to fail and the like has yielded tremendous results.

And it’s contagious.

We’ve taken the view that the people doing the work are in the best position to know what pain points can be automated and improved from both a people experience and a client experience standpoint. From our CEO on down, anyone at PwC will tell you that everyone is empowered and expected to be engaged in the strategy.

Secondly, we have prioritized not just the technology skills needed (data analytics, robotics, machine learning, etc.), but also the importance of the related human skills which unleash the potential of technology and improve the insights we can bring as trusted business advisors.

We are highly focused on sharpening the design and storytelling skills of our employees and when we award micro-credentials (digital badges) for technology, those available include human-centered design too.

Lastly, we haven’t lost sight of the fact that, even, and perhaps especially with the talent strategy elements as front and center, digital transformation remains something that needs to be owned by the business. Our business leadership is highly committed to inspiring and driving adoption in a way that’s context-sensitive to each part of the firm.

I think it’s very clear from our $3B global investment in upskilling how much of a priority this is for our firm. In my role, I operate as a partner to our business leaders as we think through and scenario plan for the broader impact on the talent elements of our business model over time. As a knowledge-rich organization, our people experience is critical in the long-term thriving of our organization.

While executing PwC’s vision to digitally enable the firm, how has technology helped to deliver a stronger, more valuable experience to PwC’s employees, clients and the communities it serves?

Technology has enhanced experiences across all these dimensions, and what’s key is to ensure this will be a north star of what success will look like, so we can course-correct as needed. We have developed our success measures in conjunction with input from our people, clients, and communities, to ensure we are listening to our key users and stakeholders rather than just assuming what each constituent group needs and values. For our people and clients alike, it’s been the removal of many previously arduous manual tasks, which can be painful to execute, even more so when they are repetitive. Additionally, being able to focus on sharing insights in a language that’s more widely understood has been appreciated.

Given our platform as a developer of talent, we have a responsibility to invest in the broader communities which are ultimately the source of that talent, whether it ends up at PwC or otherwise. Through our Access Your Potential programs, we’re investing $100s of millions and 100,000s of hours with both students and educators to ensure they are equipped with digital acumen earlier in their lives than they otherwise might have been. Through countless in-person sessions at both the K-12 and undergraduate levels, paired with access to our Digital Fitness App and other engaging content, we have been able to reach many 1,000s of non-PwC learners across the communities we serve.

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In what ways can global companies leverage their workforce and technology to drive change at scale and at a pace that is in tune with the needs of the 21st century and beyond?

As I tell our clients when we discuss this, it’s not easy to suggest a “one size fits all” answer here. Every organization’s needs and profiles differ from the next, so it’s important not to believe there is a magic recipe to follow. With that being said, I do think the lessons I shared earlier are helpful: ensure the business owns the strategy, that they’re willing to put serious commitment and resources behind it, and that the workforce is engaged in the solutions.

In a 2018 survey we conducted, we learned that 90% of our executives believed they wereOpens a new window putting the right tech in the hands of their employees, but 50% of those employees disagreed. Engaging the end-users is critical here, and it’s the reason we expect PwCers to become upskilled in design principles. Having the employees and business leaders involved in the co-creation of the strategy is much more likely to result in adoption at scale.

I think it’s also important to understand which technology solutions to standardize at scale and to not try to solve for every possible nuance across the organization from the center. The pace of change will never be as slow as it is today, and with that in mind, to keep the pace I would also suggest not overly customizing off-the-shelf options, but instead invest in tools that are self-service, easy to learn, mobile-friendly, and not cost-prohibitive. Investing in skills that are transferable is important because those will stay with the employees, even as the tools come and go.

Can you elaborate (with examples) on the specific firmwide investments PwC is making in its people and the measurable impact these initiatives are having?

Our investments in our people are broad and cover all elements of the talent lifecycle. Specific to our digital transformation we have invested in a suite of learning experiences, with flexibility in the channels and modalities delivered, and ranging from bite-sized assets and live trivia to more intense in-person sessions and a full-time two-year Digital Accelerator program. While our focus is the skills and knowledge, we want folks to acquire, these are all underpinned by world-class learning technologies and digital tools which enable automation, better analytics, and artificial intelligence.

In terms of impact, we have seen results across many aspects of the business, even in the early days. The engagement of our people has been remarkable, and those that are highly engaged are more likely to remain with PwC, which is a business and financial win for us. Our clients have been enthusiastic about the improved experiences also, as they see the impact on projects as our people apply their new skills. Of course, there is an additional focus on a financial ROI of the large investments, which we are also starting to see.

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What has been your experience with integrating the various components of your HR Tech stack? What tips do you have for HR leaders investing in new HR tech, when it comes to factoring in integration from the start?

Our digital transformation covers our entire organization, client-facing and internal, which includes our People team. Everyone at PwC is engaged in our strategy, including our entire human capital function. In fact, close to 100 of our Digital Accelerators sit within our people team and are focused on using their new skills to advance the digitization of our HR function in ways that complement our existing HR tech already in place across talent acquisition, performance management, compensation, reporting, and so on.

My advice to HR leaders would be to do exactly that, be part of the transformation. Additionally, as we’ve been talking about, it’s important for all of this not to become a “HR exercise” but for HR to operate as a business partner in supporting the business outcomes, understanding the expectations placed on the workforce and partnering with those in the business to advance learnings for the HR function itself.

Can you give us a sneak peek into the upcoming projects at PwC on digital transformation about which you are most excited?

I’ll share what I can for sure! This may not sound very exciting but now in Year 3 of our digital transformation and having achieved scale, we are acutely focused on the need to sustain momentum or, as I like to call it, “keep the change”. Now that our workforce has achieved a foundational to intermediate level of digital skills, we are ensuring those who need or want to take it further have those resources. We are also ramping up our business-led efforts through a group called PwC Labs. Our “citizens” have a democratized innovation platform to share automation they’ve built (or find ones built by others) which has sped up our solutioning. PwC Labs can then take these to assess them for more robust enterprise-level solutions. The technologists in PwC Labs are also focused on building out more powerful AI-driven analytics across larger data sets.

One thing we have seen a huge uptake on is the interest of our people (and many people beyond PwC) in earning credentials to demonstrate their enhanced skills. To this end, we are expanding our offerings of digital badges. We’ve also seen tremendous success in the enablement of peer-to-peer learning models, and innovation fueled by community- and crowd-led engagement should not be underestimated. We are focused in the next 12 months on ramping up our investments in this space, both tech-enabling it and establishing wider community connections. As we expand much of our digital effort globally, this is especially pertinent.

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As we head towards 2020, which are the key trends you are keen on tracking in this space?

 Speaking for myself personally, I’m highly focused on trends in the future of learning, whether that be the increase of micro-credentials to the expansion of learning options for folks who don’t follow more “traditional” academic paths. Both trends are over-indexed with respect to digital skills which is exciting given what it can do to improve the diversity of populations gaining those skills in ways that work for them and employers alike. I’m also encouraged to see more focus on the application of design principles to employment experiences, it’s so important to realize in a world where the supply of tech-enabled talent is limited that talent has myriad choices of where to “consume” employment experiences. Ensuring a user-first perspective on people experiences, and overlaying UX concepts on employee experiences (as has been done for customer experiences) is critical to advance employee engagement. I’m so excited by the incredible upside from technology for workplaces and society alike!

Neha: Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your valuable insights on how digital transformation strategies can impact the workplace. We hope to talk to you again soon.

About Sarah McEneaneyOpens a new window :

Sarah McEneaney is a Partner and the Digital Talent Leader for PwC across the US and Mexico. A member of the People Leadership Team, she is responsible for enabling success across all talent elements of PwC’s digital transformation priorities. A firm believer in the power of employee experience in future-proofing organizations, Sarah is passionate about amplifying business potential by combining talent with technology skills and tools and permission.

About PwCOpens a new window :

PwC focuses on audit and assurance, tax and consulting services. We’re a member of the PwC network of firms, which has firms in 158 countries with more than 250,000 people. We serve approximately 86% of the Global and US Fortune 500 in either audit or non-audit capacities.

About HR TalkOpens a new window :

HR Talk is an Interview Series with the top executives at HR Technology companies and HR Departments who are redefining the way HR functions. Join us as we talk to them about their solutions, their insights about HR as a function and some bonus pro-tips on making HR Tech work better for you.

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