What is an agile organization? What does it look like? Why is it important?
Being a big, highly-diverse, multinational company, KPMG offers some answers to these questions. With significant presence in 146 countries and territories and more than 227,000 outstanding professionals under the KPMG umbrella, being agile has become the audit and consulting firm’s motto — no, more like...lifestyle.
In the first episode of Vietnam Innovators Season 2, Vietcetera CEO Hao Tran spoke with Warrick Cleine, Chairman and CEO of KPMG in Vietnam and Cambodia. Warrick, who’s been recognized as one of Vietnam’s leading tax professionals as he brings with him more than two decades of experience in tax advisory, knows firsthand how crucial it is for a company that handles major international and local corporations to have empowered teams that function with high standards of transparency, expertise and accountability.
“An agile organization like KPMG is one that’s able to respond to changes happening in the environment, internally and externally, to continue to be successful. It’s about having a strategy to move with the times,” explained Warrick.
Being agile is having that growth mindset to be willing to take big risks to reshape something continuously, and to welcome every change — inevitable or not, he added. Especially as industries have now started to go full digital and are taking advantage of technological innovations to advance their businesses, agility becomes a critical factor for success.
As he leads KPMG here in Vietnam and Cambodia, Warrick also pays serious attention to his employees’ talents and expertise, encouraging them to voice out new ideas and fostering a culture where everyone contributes to the company’s growth. And it’s no easy task — Warrick manages about 1,800 people.
“We looked into our people and we saw a change in demographics. Our workforce is ‘rejuvenated’ with Gen Y and Z. They are characterized as tech-savvy, prefer horizontal communication, eager to contribute to shaping the strategy,” he said. To accommodate this changing “workforce”, KPMG moved from the traditional seating arrangement of cubicles and chairs to an open office — spacious floor plan where comfort complements productivity.
And as organizations, including KPMG, are mandated to follow safety regulations against COVID-19 in Vietnam, Warrick’s team had to allow work-from-anywhere setup. Fortunately, KPMG invested in IT infrastructure way before the pandemic, so any work and transactions done remotely remain seamless and efficient.
The same strategies were applied to its local and international clients, who are all expecting nothing but fast, quality response from KPMG.
“Our approach to clients is U-S-E: Urgency (all problems of clients are priorities), Our response must be quick (e.g. SLA: within 24 hours). And we continue to enhance the quality of our assistance (Expertise). We invest in D&A and visualization in many services (Tax Reimagined, CLARA, Working Capital Optimisation, etc).”
Structuring agility within KPMG
While agility is becoming a more familiar word across industries, determining and building a structure to achieve such is a complicated process that requires varied approaches.
KPMG recognizes the fact that it had to change the way it’s doing business to continue to thrive in a very competitive industry. The change, of course, had to start within its own walls.
“The first thing we did was people-based assessment, where we had our staff answer questionnaires to assess their level of agility. As a big and diverse firm, we observed a wide range of results. Some people have higher scores of agility and some have lower scores.
The important point here is to know what your team member is capable of and match them with the right project/task/position/direction. And enable them to know which areas they need to improve.”
But structuring agility doesn’t only involve KPMG employees, Warrick said, as people on top of the ladder also need to establish that they, too, are willing to adapt to changes and are actually capable of doing so.
Adapting an agile mindset
Before an organization restructures to build a more agile culture, Warrick said the single most important first step is to make it clear to all people involved why it is necessary.
“If you look at the top 10 companies in the world, seven of them didn’t exist 20 years ago. That means the previous seven who were on top fell behind or may have fully disappeared already. Here’s the thing, you can identify the survival rate of a company based on its agility.”
Such is true even in Vietnam. When Warrick arrived in the Southeast Asian country from New Zealand 23 years ago, the big and most important companies here were different from those booming at present time.
“As a business leader, you have to decide: do you want to be a survivor or not. If you’re not going to adapt, you're going to be overtaken by others and disappear. This just proves how imperative it is for leaders and companies to be agile. It’s not really an option.”
Design thinking, a creative, human-centered approach to solving problems, is one of the clear methodologies to develop better understanding not just of the problem, but of the people whom a company is designing the solutions for.
“Design thinking came out of the world of product design. But what has been done more recently is to take those principles of product design into strategy design. Typically, design thinking is really about turning around your strategic thinking from where you’re looking at the market and telling them what products you can offer by putting yourself in the consumer’s shoes. Who are your audience or consumers? What problems are they facing now? And then you design your strategy around that.
The business environment has changed, and has become more competitive. Applying design thinking to approach consumers and developing strategies the more agile way is key to survival.”