Sarah McEneaney is a Partner and Digital Talent Leader at PwC where she is part of the leadership team tasked with upskilling PwC’s 50,000+ employees. Mike Petrusky asks Sarah how organizations can prepare for their own digital transformations and create a culture where digital disruption is seen as an opportunity and not the threat for workplace leaders. Mike and Sarah discuss how workplace leaders can influence the culture of their organizations and explore why studying the lessons of improv might help us innovate as we deal with digital disruption in our fast-changing world today. This discussion will provide you with some inspiration and practical leadership lessons for moving your team forward into the future of work.
Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarahmceneaney/
Learn more about PwC’s investment in Digital Transformation: https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/upskilling.html
Discover free resources and explore past interviews at: https://www.workplaceinnovator.com/
Connect with Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepetrusky/
Share your thoughts with Mike via email: podcast@iOFFICECORP.com
Read the full transcript:
Wow. This is cool, folks. You’ve heard me talk about the iOFFICE Summit 2020, and I’ve just been given a free pass that I want to share with one of you, my podcast listeners. That’s right, you will be my special guest in Vegas, baby, Vegas, as we get a chance to interact with an incredible community of forward-thinking workplace leaders. Your hotel room and all your meals are included with this conference pass, but travel is not, so you’ll just need to get yourself to Las Vegas on April 15 and 16 and we’ll hang out together as we hear from awesome speakers and participate in breakout sessions that will inspire you to create a connected workplace experience in your organization. Enter for your chance to win by emailing me at podcast@iOFFICEcorp.com, and then I will announce a winner on Friday, March 6. You can learn all about the summit agenda by visiting www.workplaceinnovator.com. Send me an email and we’ll bring the future to life, together.
Sarah McEneaney (01:05):
We’re very focused on that so much of this you don’t have to have a computer science background to engage in. Many of these tools or self-service, you can pick them up with a few days of learning and then a few months of practice. It’s been pretty cool to see how it’s transformed our workplace.
This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE, the leading employee experience-focused IWMS software that delivers real-time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.
Hey there, thanks for tuning in. My name is Mike and it’s time for episode 97 of The Workplace Innovator Podcast. This week on the show I welcome PwC’s digital talent leader, Sarah McEneaney, who is on a bit of a media tour sharing how digital disruption is transforming how businesses operate and why we should be excited and not threatened by these changes happening in our workplaces today.
PwC recently announced a $3 billion investment in digital transformation for its people, its clients and its communities, and Sarah is part of the leadership team tasked with upscaling over 50,000 employees here in the U.S. and Mexico. I recently had the chance to chat with Sarah and I think she offers a lot of great insight about how we, as workplace innovators, can help our organizations prepare for the future of work. Check this out.
Joining us today on The Workplace Innovator Hotline, from Chicago, it’s Sarah McEneaney. Hi, Sarah.
Sarah McEneaney (02:48):
Hi, Mike. How are you?
Sarah is a partner and the digital talent leader for PwC across the U.S. and Mexico, and she’s responsible for enabling across all talent elements of PwC’s digital transformation priorities. Here’s my favorite part, Sarah is a strong proponent of the power of employee experience as the key to future proofing organizations at scale. So there you go, Sarah. You had me at employee experience.
Sarah McEneaney (03:17):
I’m glad that I got ya.
I’m excited to learn more about the work you’re doing with PwC and their commitment to digital transformation.
Sarah McEneaney (03:27):
Excited to talk to you about it.
Awesome. I stalked you on LinkedIn, I hope that’s okay.
Sarah McEneaney (03:32):
You wouldn’t be the first one.
I saw that you have a background in accounting, but I saw the connection to Ireland as well. Can you tell us a little bit more about that part of your story and how you ended up where you are today?
Sarah McEneaney (03:47):
I grew up in Ireland, it’s where I’m originally from. I did start my career there and did my undergraduate education there in accounting. Then I spent several years with PwC’s Irish firm. I pretty quickly realized that one of the benefits of PwC was the opportunity to have international experiences and spend some time with our firm in New York and Seattle and London. Then I decided to do some backpacking, which is a classic Irish person in their 20s move.
There you go.
Sarah McEneaney (04:16):
So spent about half a year in Southeast Asia and eventually landed in Australia, and lo and behold, back with PwC in Sydney.
Sarah McEneaney (04:26):
From Sydney, made it to Boston about 12 years ago and been in the U.S. ever since. Although I am trained as an accountant in Ireland and in the U.S., so have a deep expertise, I really had a passion since I went back to grad school to get my MBA and started working with some startups as just a pro bono advisor, really took an interest in the intersection of technology and the people experience.
Sarah McEneaney (04:53):
So kind of got bitten by that bug about four or five years ago, and have really tried to shift my career in that direction since and came up with this title, digital talent leader, in conjunction with our leaders at PwC and the strategy that we’re rolling out. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to combine what I like to do with what people are willing to pay me to do.
Excellent. Another thing my listeners enjoy, Sarah, is getting to know a bit of that personal side of my guests. I love music, it’s my favorite thing to talk about. Of course, with the Irish connection, I have to mention the greatest band of all time to come from Ireland. I’m talking about, of course, U2. Where do you stand on Bono and the boys?
Sarah McEneaney (05:37):
Big, big fan of U2 I’m glad you said that. I think if you move your stalking from LinkedIn to Spotify, you’ll see a lot of their music on my playlist.
I love it, I love it. Favorite song?
Sarah McEneaney (05:50):
I don’t have a favorite U2 song, but my favorite song, at least a song that really kind of gets me going, is Adulthood by Jukebox the Ghost.
Wow, I’ve never heard of it.
Sarah McEneaney (06:01):
It’s a one that has a melody that’s hard not to dance to but also the lyrics are pretty deep, so check that out there. They’re a cool band out of the DC area, actually.
Sarah McEneaney (06:10):
I love it. I’m rarely stumped, people will be shocked, but I will check them out. Very cool.
Sarah McEneaney (06:15):
Yeah. They have a new album, Off to the Races, so you can start there for some good tunes.
All right. I am writing that down. Spotify, here I come.
Well, we are going to talk today, Sarah, about digital disruption and transformation in our fast-changing world. I think we need to start with a little motivation for my audience.
Sarah McEneaney (06:36):
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote you can share with us?
Sarah McEneaney (06:39):
Yes, I do. I have several, but I definitely have an absolute favorite, which is, “Beware of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that come along every single day.”
Sarah McEneaney (06:49):
That is a quote from Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford, but it was taught to me by a different professor at Chicago Booth, where I went to business school, Linda Ginzel was the professor who taught me that. It just really reminds me that there’s so much change going on. The pace of change, it will never be as slow as it is today, which is pretty fast. I think things are just coming our way that are very shiny and exciting and it’s easy to get caught up in the hype of a lot of the change instead of taking a longer range view.
Sarah McEneaney (07:23):
I like to think that while there’s a lot of upside and opportunity that comes with technology and the change that we’re all experiencing, it’s important to stay focused and not to opt-in to here’s a new opportunity, here’s a new job, here’s a new project you can work on, because I think with the best of intentions we all want to raise our hand for all of these things that seem exciting and game changing, but staying the course on some bigger bets I think is the way to go.
A measured view of handling all this coming our way. I think that’s wise, good wisdom. All right. I know you’re a big book reader, right?
Sarah McEneaney (07:57):
Do you have anything that comes to mind recently that you’ve read that might be particularly helpful to my audience of facility management and real estate professionals that are trying to be innovative in their workplaces?
Sarah McEneaney (08:10):
Yeah. Well, I think if anyone who knows me knows that my view on innovation is everyone should study improv and there’s an excellent book, it’s not super new but it’s still highly relevant, called Yes, And, from Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton. That does a nice job of showing the lessons of improv very specifically in how they apply to business and innovation and thinking differently and bringing people along. I highly recommend that one.
Sarah McEneaney (08:36):
Another leader I love to follow and is probably a bit bigger thinker than just on the real estate and technology front, but Amy Webb is a futurist and a data person who I absolutely admire and recommend. She has a book from last year called The Big Nine, which looks at some of the larger technology companies and what they’ve done and maybe some of the risks that they’ve inadvertently created for society. I think it’s a very thought-provoking read and one that I think anyone who’s charged with changing the workplace would get a lot out of.
Wow. Another thing I saw when stalking your LinkedIn is that you have taken improv classes at Second City there in Chicago. How cool is that?
Sarah McEneaney (09:19):
It’s so fun. I spend between three and five hours a week taking improv.
So it’s an ongoing thing.
Sarah McEneaney (09:24):
It’s an ongoing thing, you never graduate.
Sarah McEneaney (09:28):
With a great group of people, we’ve been together since the start. We go every Sunday night for three hours, and then if I’m not traveling, I try and go on Thursday nights too, to an extra improv jam, just to get some reps in, practice. Can never get enough practice.
So cool. For those that don’t know, Second City is this troupe that has launched so many careers, famous comedians, TV, movie actors. Help me out, Dan Akroyd.
Sarah McEneaney (09:55):
Yeah, Amy Poehler.
Sarah McEneaney (09:57):
Steve Colbert, yeah.
I’ve been bingeing reruns of The Office on Netflix, these last couple of weeks. Steve Carell’s an alum, isn’t he?
Sarah McEneaney (10:06):
Yeah, he is. He’s was actually in the same cohort as Stephen Colbert. They were onstage together back in the day.
As we get into our discussion on employee experience and other elements, I think there’s just so much relevance in how leadership styles are changing that have so much applicability in terms of improv and the skills that you learn. But yeah, I mean, I’d love to invite you to a class, Mike, if you’re in Chicago.
Oh, wow. Thank you. I’ll take you up on that for sure. That’s a great segue, Sarah, into the topic at hand. We are at the start of a new decade and this initiative that PwC is taking seriously, a $3 billion commitment to digital transformation. Tell me what that’s all about.
Sarah McEneaney (10:50):
Yeah. We made a commitment, globally, of $3 billion to upskill our people, as well as many, many people in society, on the new skills and knowledge and tools that they’ll need to be equipped to succeed in all this change. One of the things I love about our approach is that we take what we call a citizen-led approach, and that is where we put the tools and the skills in the hands of our people, but more importantly, we give them the time and the permission, not just the tools and the money. But we give them the time and the permission to go practice these skills, apply them to their business, have fun with it, learn as a community and not necessarily a top-down traditional classroom-style model. That’s been a real culture shift for our business, and I’ve been very inspired by our leaders who’ve committed to making that change and listening to our people and putting the human at the center of the technological change.
Interesting. Yeah, that culture piece is important and it’s something we talk about on this show a lot. Do you have any thoughts on helping our audience of workplace leaders be better culture changers, if that’s the right word?
Sarah McEneaney (11:58):
Yeah. I mean, I think we all have a responsibility as leaders to be agents of this change. I think what’s hard for some people is they want to be the leader in the traditional sense and they want to have all the answers, but I think what’s actually more powerful in a citizen-led model is to enable the team and to clear obstacles for them and point them in the right direction but then to get out of their way and trust that they will bring everyone along to the right place.
I think leadership styles just in general are changing, or at least the demand for different leadership styles is certainly emergent at this point, that gone are the days of someone’s in charge and barking orders at people and everyone else just obeys. I’m thankful that we’ve moved beyond that. Then concurrently, the demands from the talent pool that are seeking jobs or seeking to switch jobs, have found their voice in terms of how they’d like to learn, how they’d like to experience the employment. I think there’s a lot to be learned from the software approach of UX and design thinking and making sure that everything is designed with the user in mind.
That equally implies to the employment experience, because if you think about it, all of our employees, for the most part at least, are voluntarily consuming that employment. They are a consumer of something we are offering and it’s important to treat them as customers, maybe not in the traditional sense, but customers have something that your organization is creating, whether that’s a real estate experience, whether it’s flexibility, your compensation and benefit offerings, but most importantly, I think the developments you offer people and how they can progress through their career and have an impact in a way that’s meaningful to them in terms of the context they set for a value system.
Absolutely. I work, Sarah, for a technology company, a workplace management software company, and we really believe in the Gartner research definition of the digital workplace, when they speak of the consumerization of technology and the need to meet the expectations of our employees, the occupants of our facilities, the visitors. When they come in there seems to be a gap between our experience with technology in our personal lives, those great user-friendly experiences on our phones, whether it’s calling an Uber or ordering food, and then you walk into the workplace and there seems to be a drop off.
What iOFFICE, my company, does is try to bridge that gap with some great tools to allow employees to interact with their workspaces reserving desks, reserving conference rooms, ordering the equipment they need to be productive during the day. Is that a real problem that you experience when you’re talking to organizations about this digital transformation?
Sarah McEneaney (14:35):
Absolutely. I mean, just to be candid, it’s something that we took a hard look at ourselves on as well, several years ago, and have really been committed to the guiding principles of exactly what you’re talking about, that our people, especially people who work at PwC are often on road. We have a very flexible culture, a lot of people work from wherever. I’m at home today, no one is checking where I am and I’m very thankful for that. But because of that, our people operate often primarily from mobile devices and we want to make sure that as they experience what they need to do their job, as well as to learn and just administrative tasks, like you said, booking space, travel, whatever it might be. We want their experience with apps that are produced by us to be the same as the experience they would have from a consumer product. It shouldn’t need a training for you to get to learn how to use it, it shouldn’t need a manual that goes with it. It should be super intuitive. It should be easy, it should be simple. It should be clean looking.
We have a mantra of, our CEO or a senior partner likes to say, everything should be like a good pair of jeans. Which means that if you are making jeans and no one’s buying them, you don’t blame the consumers for not buying them. We should be producing things that people are clamoring to consume.
A good, comfortable pair of jeans. Michael Scott, Steve Carell would be proud of us. For those who don’t know The Office, Michael Scott’s really excited when he’s wearing his jeans to work, so there you go.
Sarah McEneaney (15:59):
Oh yeah. Well, we do like to wear our jeans at PwC, too. Another thing I’m thankful for.
Excellent. What are some of the technology tools and advances we’ve seen in the world of the workplace that may really have an impact on our organizations?
Sarah McEneaney (16:15):
Yeah. At PwC, we don’t recommend specific tools and we build some tools ourselves too, but I will say that we’re very focused on what are the skills people can earn and learn that will be transportable, whether they stay with us or not, and hopefully will be somewhat future-proofed and stay with them for their careers. For us, those things are focused on bringing better insights to our people and to our clients, having better storytelling skills. That includes things like data, visualization, software and things of that nature.
We were also very focused on, as you can imagine with a large proportion of our professionals being accountants and tax people, there are a lot of opportunities for automation so that we can have “robots” do certain tasks for people so that they can focus on more meaningful work. We have spent a lot of time upskilling our people on robotics and various elements of artificial intelligence and natural language processing too, which has been cool to just take some of the more mundane elements of those jobs and get them automated.
Then the last thing I would say is we’re very focused on that so much of this you don’t have to have a computer science background to engage in. Many of these tools are self-service. You can pick them up with a few days of learning and then a few months of practice. It’s been pretty cool to see how it’s transformed our workplace. When you think about on any given day there’s north of 500,000 unfilled tech jobs in America, but here we are kind of creating tech people who weren’t necessarily self-identifying as a computer person to begin with. It’s been pretty cool to see that you can bolt on technology skills to all sorts of backgrounds and it’s made people more relevant and certainly more engaged.
Absolutely agree, excellent. Wow. Well, this has been wonderful having you on the show, Sarah. Inspiring stuff, some good laughs along the way. I want to thank you for taking time to be on The Workplace Innovator Podcast.
Sarah McEneaney (18:09):
Thanks for having me, and I’ll see you at improv.
Yes, let’s do it.
Sarah McEneaney (18:12):
There you have it, everyone. Sarah McEneaney of PwC sharing just a few of her thoughts on how everyone should be able to live, learn, work, and participate in the digital world. For more information about the program Sarah mentioned and to learn more about the things PwC is doing to demonstrate their commitment to upscaling, please take a look at the link in the show notes. It will take you to a website that talks all about it.
I hope you enjoyed this episode and you’ll join us again next week, and also be sure to check out our new website if you have not done so already. Www.workplaceinnovator.com is the place to find more content and resources designed specifically to encourage and inspire you to be a workplace innovator. Peace out.
You’ve been listening to The Workplace Innovator Podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOFFICE can help you create an employee-centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit iOFFICEcorp.com.