Recipe for transformative success found in the power of ‘why’

  • By Kate Weber

Sarv Girn, the chief innovation and transformation officer at MLC Life Insurance combined 20 decades of knowledge into one recipe for transforming a business.  

Speaking at the recent RFi Group/Randstad Leaders Lecture in Sydney, Girn identified five key ingredients that are “absolutely critical for any business transformation.”

Among the key ingredients of mobilisation, talent, partnerships and delivery, it is explaining the 'why' in a transformation stratey that is key.

As a former executive leader in technology Girn has led on a number of large-scale transformation projects at Westpac and the Reserve Bank of Australia.

In the age of digital and real-world transformations, businesses must embrace change to stay at the forefront of continue regulation amendments and consumer demands.  

To do this, Girn said the most important ingredient is explaining the ‘why’ factor of change.

“It's the ingredient that defines success or failure of so many transformations and so many people skip past the stage of bringing the ‘why’ to life.

“I have seen so many business strategies that get approved by a board, executive committees, they get summarised and crunched and then they get cascaded down to large organisations or medium sized organizations.” Girn said.

Despite its importance, the ‘why’ is often overlooked according to Girn, leaving the next stages of business transformation, vulnerable to failure.

“The why is always missed out and the ‘why’ is really about the definition of why you need to change and what does good look like at the other end and what it should look like as you go along that journey” Girn said.

To find the ‘why’, it must also be relevant to a company’s ethos and reach across the various aspects of a business Girn clarified.

“It’s explained through the shoes of your staff, your customers, your external stakeholders, and of course the shareholder.”

Girn also pointed out that if a business takes care of a customers, then the shareholders are naturally “sorted.”

“It's also at all levels of the organisation in terms of living, breathing and explaining what that ‘why’ means,

“If you are a financial services organisation, then you will need to explain the why to  your staff and your customers and your shareholders. But if you are an academic organisation or government, then volunteers or researchers are your focus.

The why is always missed out and the ‘why’ is really about the definition of why you need to change

“The ‘why’ has to be expressed in terms of your own organisational dynamics and stakeholders.” Girn said.

At MLC, the ‘why’ is centred around “offering customers a promise for life” according to Girn.

“Life insurance companies have to honour that contract and can't cancel it… our mantra right at the top, the ‘why’ is a promise for life. That's why we exist.”

To keep up momentum of purposeful change, Girn recommends businesses keep the ‘why’ mantra at the fore front of any transformation.

“I've certainly found that the ‘why’ is most successful when it's constantly out there and people are being reminded of it. It also does not end at the beginning of a project.

“Every few months leaders need to get out there and explain to all their staff the ‘why’."

It is also crucial leaders reminded their staff of their common shared goals which offers motivation outside of target setting.

“It's actually a rally for the people to change. It's not to scare them away with ROI numbers, share prices and tax cuts.”

The April edition of AB+F Magazine will include the full interview with Sarv Girn who also tackles the perennial issue in banking – legacy.