PwC shares change management tips after migrating 275,000 users to G Suite

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez July 24, 2020
It has been a seven year change journey, but PwC is finding collaboration in the cloud with Google’s G Suite is delivering greater value.

Image of PwC logo
(Image sourced via PwC)

PwC provides professional services to 85% of the Global Fortune 500 companies and more than 100,000 entrepreneurial and private businesses. It operates in 157 countries, has over 275,000 employees and accrued over $42 billion in revenue last year. In other words, it's a behemoth. And in organisations of this scale, change isn't a simple task.

Which is why it's worth paying attention to the lessons learned from the company's recently completed migration to Google's G Suite, which has helped boost online collaboration, productivity, teamwork and build connections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adrienne Schutte, global change director at PwC, was speaking as part of Google Cloud's virtual Next OnAir conference, where she described how advocacy, meeting people where they are, offering continued support and getting leadership on side helped to overcome migration hurdles.

Schutte leads a globally distributed change management team, which completed in January 2020. Just before the nationwide lockdowns took hold as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This clearly had an impact on PwC's approach to business, but was helped by the G Suite rollout. She explained:

The world shut down and we are a relationships business. Suddenly we weren't in our client sites, we weren't in the office. We were all at home. Being seen and connecting for our business, a relationships business, is very key. It was very strange, but we still had to stay connected all the same. Business doesn't stop.

So although unexpected, we were totally ready. And honestly, our technology was the key. As all of our offices shut down all over the world, we shifted to distributed work. All of a sudden we had 275,000 distributed people in all their own offices and all their own places. But not remote. Remote implies isolated. And with all the G-Suite tools, with Meet, with Chat, we weren't isolated.

Schutte shared some interesting statistics, which highlight how much the G Suite products have been relied on by PwC to carry out its business in a distributed way. For example, the company is now running 5 million Meet video conferences a month, up 4 times since January 2020. That figure is also 6 times the amount it saw in May 2019. In terms of behavioural changes, employees are now turning on their cameras more for these video conferences - with camera usage up 30%.

PwC is also now sending 10 million Chat messages a month, versus 2 million in January 2020. Schutte said that the impact has been noticed beyond the four walls of PwC:

Even our clients noticed. They said that we were just continuing to work as normal. They felt like they could talk to us as if we were in a conference room. They asked, how did you guys do this? Why is it so seamless? And the answer is that we have been preparing for this for a long time. And while I'm focusing on Meet and Chat, our Drive, Editors and Files numbers have gone through the roof in terms of usage.

Being a first mover

Schutte notes that the journey to G Suite hasn't taken place overnight and has been a long, phased approach, across 156 countries. However, given the pressures of COVID-19 on distributed work, the foresight to shift to the cloud has proven beneficial. As noted above, the decision to move to G Suite was taken back in 2013 and completed in January of this year.

G Suite was PwC's first step into cloud computing and there were a number of factors driving the decision. Schutte said:

This was our first cloud endeavour, so even just educating everybody about what the cloud is, how does it work, why the data is safe - that was a big challenge for sure. The key one for sure what that people just thought that this was an IT project, turn it on and it will be fine. No way. Do not think that. We also had very strict business rules because of our regulated environment that we had to abide by. Also, we had a lot of legacy and customised technology in play, so that brought us interesting challenges.

However, the change management team knew that cloud was the future and would deliver real value to the business going forward. Schutte added:

We knew digital transformation was a business imperative. The original business case was agnostic of technology, take the name of the vendor out of the picture. We knew we had to move to cloud. Infrastructure was proving to be far too expensive. Cloud was the way of the future. But more importantly we needed to change the way that we work. We needed to reduce hierarchy. We are accountants and auditors, there are a lots of workflows and processes, and we just needed to smooth that out.

Especially as we work on so many multinational clients, we needed to appear to our clients and the market that we are one company. Not 156 countries trying to pass work back and forth over email. We also needed to make work easier and better for people, having the same experience you'd have at home. And probably most importantly, it's that innovation piece - to show that we are very innovative and we are ahead of our time if you will. We wanted to be a showcase in the market and to also to attract new people to the firm.

Google drew appeal for PwC, said Schutte, because people are familiar with it. Whilst Google at PwC isn't "Google in the wild", there are differences, generally people have a familiarity with the product suite.

It takes time

Schutte said that a common viewpoint is that real transformation takes anywhere between three and six years. She said that this was the case for PwC, where it took approximately four years for Google to be ‘everywhere' in the PwC network - across territories, in finance, HR, and across a number of processes.

This transformation journey took place over three acts, Schutte explained, which are illustrated in the graph below.

An image of the three steps in PwC’s change management journey
(Image sourced via PwC)


Schutte said:

First is deployment, right out of the box you get amazing tools. That's where the collaboration starts. But Day Two, the day right after deployment, that's when behaviours start transforming and that's what you really want to look for. That's the key to this, getting people that actually change what they're doing, not doing exactly what they did before. Then the third act is the never ending journey - we tell people that this is the project that never stops. You're constantly talking about adoption and sustainability. It takes time.

Lessons learned

Schutte said that the number one lesson learned at PwC from the Google project is that you have to meet people where they are. What does this mean? Simply put, there is no one way to do a deployment and being rigid in your approach is not going to work. You have to understand where people are coming from and how they work. She explained:

Don't try to talk at people, work with them and bring them along on the journey. Make sure your team is an expert on the tools - we did so much support in the early days, both the technical team and the change team. Getting our people over the line, changing behaviours and seeing that it's possible.

The other thing is, you've got to tell the mission again, again and again. You'll get tired of saying it. You have to keep people on the vision and the mission, that's so important. Making advocates at every level of the organisation is really the key to making this happen.

PwC's mantra throughout the G Suite migration has been ‘progress, not perfection. Schutte said that people often have this perception that ‘change management' is a fluffy function that doesn't do a great deal. But her team has made it their mission to talk to users about practical and consumable change, and to change their expectation that the change will stop once the project is ‘over' - because it won't. She said:

This is not going to stop, whether that's the implementation of Google, or some other technology, or process change. Constant change is the name of the game in this world. We built leadership advocacy, we have everybody telling the story over and over and over again. We converted leaders to our way of thinking. We focused on those desired behaviours.

I'll give you an example, when we'd go in and sit with our partners to talk about Google, we wouldn't say ‘let me train you', I'd say ‘tell me how you work, how can I make your work better?'. That's really about winning their hearts and minds.

But my favourite part of the implementation is that we answered questions over and over and over. Imagine over five years, 275,000 people, people know our names. I had an amazing team and they know our names and faces. They did not sit behind an email box and we took everything on and answered their questions.

And in terms of changed behaviours, Schutte said that one of the most satisfying ways that PwC has changed its approach to work is that collaboration is now the status-quo. Whereas previously people may have often worked in isolation, employees and leaders now work together on delivering results. Schutte explained:

It boosted much higher quality results. It's actually changed our culture. Whereas before we'd never give a document or a deliverable to a partner before it was completely done and dusted. Now we've helped people understand that it's okay that people make micro-contributions along the way.

I think the last time I owned one document totally by myself was in 2013. Now everything I do, other people weigh in - five heads are better than one. What's cool it's that I don't hesitate to comment my partner in. It results in a much better deliverable overall.