Involve all staff in digital transformation: Experts

Change in organisational culture is key to success, say business leaders at conference

A change in organisational culture is the key to driving success in companies grappling with digital transformation, business leaders were told yesterday.

For example, transformation at DBS Bank started at the top, so staff have the psychological safety to try new things, experiment, fail and move on, said DBS group head for institutional banking Tan Su Shan.

"I often joke that DBS now stands for Digital Bank of Singapore," she said, adding in jest that Disappearing Bank of Singapore might be another good name if it can be so seamlessly integrated into customers' lives that it disappears.

To ensure that everyone was on board and had a sense of urgency, the bank reached out to its 26,000 employees with the messages that "tech is business and business is tech" and "no such thing as tech in the back and business in the front", said Ms Tan.

"Everyone knows, 'Hey, you better change, otherwise you're going to get Apple Bank, Facebook Bank, Google Bank eating our lunch'," she said at a conference on transformation organised by consultancy McKinsey & Company at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore.

She said that when the bank rolled out an app to help staff understand tech concepts like application programming interfaces and the cloud, most of the people who used it were employees over 50 years old.

Grab co-founder Tan Hooi Ling also told the 300 senior business executives at the event that as the ride-hailing firm grew, it evolved from having to "grovel" for talent in the first four years to now having to ensure people are joining the firm because they share the same values and not just because "they want an interesting name on their CV (curriculum vitae)", she said.

Both company leaders were speaking at a dialogue with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who agreed that a key challenge for organisations is how to inspire their entire workforce to work towards the same goal.

"Very often, many companies and organisations will tell the employees, this is where I want to go, this is where I want our businesses to be.

"But they fail to translate it for employees who want to know, 'What does it mean for the individual? How is it going to help me? How is it going to provide more opportunities for me?'," he said.

Mr Chan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Public Service - Singapore's biggest employer - also said it is becoming increasingly important for the Government to harness diverse skill sets as people flow in and out more quickly.

He said that while an organisation needs to be very aligned and focused, it also needs people to inject new ideas and help check the blind spots of the team.

The bigger and older the organisation is, "the greater the discipline we need to keep reminding ourselves of the need to build diverse teams and to keep our organisations porous where you have cross-pollination of ideas", he added.

Speaking about how the Government can create an environment for companies to transform and innovate, Mr Chan said that while the stable rules-based system here attracts global talent, the Government can build a more collaborative culture with businesses.

Singapore, he added, can also leverage the good quality of family life here to attract experienced tech talent to lead local graduates.

A conducive culture, together with putting hardware, progressive rules and free trade agreements in place, as well as training businesses and workers, will help Singapore seize the opportunities of digitalisation, he said.

At the event, Mr Chan also launched analytics firm QuantumBlack in Singapore, together with its chief executive Jeremy Palmer. The company, which was acquired by McKinsey in 2015, aims to help clients in South-east Asia use data to optimise performance and grow.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2019, with the headline 'Involve all staff in digital transformation: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe