Expert Eye: Unlocking business transformation in Asia

Unlocking Business Transformation in Asia

Robert Tennant, Head of UK and International Development at The Storytellers, discusses how leaders in Asia need to be prepared to adapt to seismic changes and embrace transformation  
 
Written by: Robert Tennant, Head of UK and International Development, The Storytellers 
 
 
18 months ago, the start of the pandemic plunged companies around the world into a crisis which saw them having to adapt their working patterns almost overnight.
 
As the rapid, unprecedented change we saw last year continued into 2021, companies have realised that having a robust company culture is necessary not just to stay rooted, but to grow in this challenging environment. Now the immediate shock of the pandemic has passed, business transformation plans are once more dominating boardroom agendas. 
 
Being open-minded to change and successfully leading through it will improve company agility, resilience and future performance. The dangers of resisting or being unprepared for change have been made clear throughout the pandemic: a loss of revenue, customers and employees. Early on, the focus for all leaders had to be on the ‘here and now’ as they got to grips with fast, short-term decision-making while their businesses either thrived or required action to survive.
 
Going digital 
Companies were pressured to enhance business models by evolving their digital capabilities as the workplace was rapidly transformed so teams could work remotely and communicate through technology. This digitalisation is set to continue beyond 2021 as companies look to reshape workplace culture and adapt to new business priorities and customer needs. 
 
Businesses have felt the full force of needing to digitalise. In Japan and Singapore, companies have been looking to bolster their technology talent by creating more jobs for technology experts. To address the skills gap in this area, Fujitsu is just one example of how companies have begun to provide upskilling opportunities by offering free online courses to its employees so they could improve their understanding of AI and technology programming. 
 
Digital leaders 
Leaders must harness the existing momentum behind digital change, ‘think big’ and take their people with them on the transformation journey. Change is often uncomfortable, but if the past 18 months has taught us anything, it’s that people can adapt quickly and with agility if they understand the bigger picture and feel part of the journey. 
 
Soft skills must also continue to be developed, as should skills in knowledge acquisition, capabilities and working with new digital systems. All leaders, coupled with the efforts of HR, will play a crucial role in upskilling existing teams. 
 
Unlocking people’s potential 
Digital transformation is not only about adopting new technology or processes, but also about empowering people so that change is sustainable. Asia’s young workforce is globally minded – opened up to the world through technologies and forces of globalisation. 
 
Therefore, younger generations will have different expectations of the companies they work in, and these needs must be considered.
 
Companies that champion diversity and inclusion and ESG factors will bring in better talent and forge partnership opportunities, challenging the traditional business culture of hierarchy. 
 
Purpose-driven teams will be quicker and more agile, better prepared for digital transformation and the future. HR will play an essential role in keeping talent and connecting employees to a higher purpose. People are the key to fending off competition, improving strategy and reacting to change at pace. 
 
Leading through change 
For any organisation to adopt widespread change, its leaders need to motivate, inspire and engage their teams to maintain productivity and high-performance levels, particularly as we move out of the pandemic. 
 
To help us drive transformation programmes in the Asia region, The Storytellers’ partnered with Tony Williams, an Executive Coach and Board Advisor based in Hong Kong. Tony has noted at least three priorities facing CEOs today: Firstly, how to mend the balance sheet; secondly, how to leverage productivity from what we have learned from the last 18 months and lastly, how to build more sustainable operating models to embed the short-term gains made from recent essential cost containment measures. 
 
In overcoming these challenges, motivating teams to enable organisational change will be critical. This can be achieved by creating the capability and means to enable change, as well as building momentum to ensure the change becomes sustainable. We’ve identified the following skills which are helpful to our clients when implementing transformation: 

1. Authentic and visible leadership 
Authentic leaders who empower their teams, find solutions to complex problems and successfully manage change will be those who others want to follow. Leaders need to create an emotional connection with their people in order to stimulate the energy and collective spirit needed to power their teams through challenging times.

2. Ingrain a culture of learning 
Now is the time to rapidly install a flexible culture – quick and effective at decision-making, skills-building and collaborating. Creating a learning culture will require the revision of many traditional hierarchical business cultures so that younger or newer employees can learn without fear. 

3. Collaboration 
Create cross-team communities and bridge silos. This can be done even when working remotely, as technology allows teams to dip into virtual meetings and to learn more about their colleagues’ roles in other departments. 

4. Agility 
Be prepared for a fast-changing future. Organisations in Asia must adapt with speed to changing consumer preferences and technology, and balance the needs of both stakeholders and shareholders. A digital world runs at a rapid pace, so new ideas need to be thought up and tested quickly. 

5. Resilience 
Organisations that invest in their people will be the ones ready to face the future of transformation in Asia. It is vital to embrace the ever-changing world of technology but this will not be sustainable without first unlocking the power of your people. Change is not limited to the world of technology. Asian companies must also focus on ESG principles, upskilling, retaining talent, adopting new ways of working and challenging new competitors.
 
For leaders, contending with such immense change requires a new and powerful 21st century skillset. Put simply, change has become the constant.