People – not process – are the drivers of transformation, according to business leaders from Microsoft and Accenture

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Historically, business transformation has been a top-down endeavor largely focused on technology, process, and operations. As savvy leaders know, there’s another essential component to successful reinvention: People. By empowering their employees to be catalysts for change, and inviting them to help reshape their organizations from the bottom up, today’s business leaders are finding that culture and purpose are key.

As head of global employee, leader & culture communications at Microsoft, Letty Cherry’s primary goal is to keep employees informed, engaged, and proud of their association with the company. With Microsoft currently employing more than 160,000 people worldwide, this is a significant task. Cherry and her team have managed to increase engagement and invite outside perspective via activities like employee town halls, company hackathons, and “Outside in,” a cross-company learning event wherein business leaders on book tours stop by the company to talk business philosophy, creativity, mindfulness, and more.

Reaching this point required that Microsoft get a drum beat on its mission.”The mission of the company is everywhere,” Cherry says. “It’s printed on our employee badges. We talk about it a lot in terms of empowering every person and every organization on the planet. But the culture needs to ladder up to it.”

Company culture needs to evolve over time as you see gaps or as circumstances change, Cherry explains. As such, a central team monitors Microsoft’s cultural attributes, ensures employees are familiar with them, and makes sure leaders are exhibiting them. Microsoft prioritizes diversity and inclusion, and works to teach its people how they can be “good allies to each other,” Cherry says. Providing employees with channels for different topics of conversation is critical, too, even if they don’t always agree with each other.

Abiding by the company’s values, which include respect, integrity, and accountability, helps employees in a number of ways; it creates a sense of security so they can be free to maximize their potential, but it also “clears away the clutter” so they can innovate. But Cherry notes that in order for companies to effectively convey these rules, their managers must learn to embrace them.”

Making culture and purpose real

You can roll out whatever you want on culture. If the manager of your individual team isn’t living by that culture, it causes problems,” she says. Her advice to business leaders unsure of how to activate their workforce? “Check your bias at the door.” Empathy, vulnerability, and promoting two-way dialogue are all critical to removing barriers so you can develop both your talent and your brand.

At Accenture, Amy Fuller, chief marketing and communications officer, takes a similar approach. She manages everything from how the company markets to how it communicates to its talent brand, but the latter is increasingly important. As Fuller puts it, “For anything to work at a professional services company, it really needs to work with the people because they are the brand.”

There’s a lot of focus on the concept of purpose at Accenture, which Fuller calls “the topic of the moment.” For purpose to endure, she says, it has to embody the value of your business: who you are, and what you do.

“In the past couple of years, purpose has almost become a marketing cliché,” Fuller says, adding that “The value of a cliché is that everyone hears about it.” Still, when the company surveyed its workforce of 500,000 global employees to find out how they defined Accenture’s purpose, not everyone was on the same page. Some employees were unable to communicate it, while others defaulted to citing the company’s advertising tagline. “It was an open door for us to articulate something that was important,” Fuller says.

“Technology plus people”

Naturally, being purposeful as a business requires the help of your employees. “What we hear from our clients is that it’s all about people and technology. Not just one of those components – it’s actually both,” Fuller says. “That is the moment we’re in, in the world. It’s technology, plus people, and how they coexist.”

As Fuller notes, one thing many CEOs concern themselves with when it comes to their people is assessing how they collaborate. “How our people operate is actually the core of Accenture,” Fuller says. “[They] are not simply those who work at Accenture; they are literally the product and our distribution channel, all at once.”

In theory, that should make the task of empowering Accenture’s people to help grow the company feel monumental, but Fuller has cracked the code. It’s all about living those coveted values from the inside-out.

“For our purpose to become real,” Fuller says, “the number one thing is that it cannot just be words. When we’ve done additional research to ask people, clients, and our talent what would make this notion real, (the answer is), “I need to see it in my daily life. I need to see my leaders actually be using it to guide decisions. It needs to be extremely relevant.”

Encouraging your leaders to embody your company’s culture and demonstrate the optimal mindset, while also giving people – your most valuable asset – a voice, can transform businesses for the better. As Cherry puts it, “We look at our employees as a force for change.”