Fostering Innovation at PWC

How can digital transformation at professional services firms be supported by a culture of experimentation and innovation? And how do firms create that culture?  Stuart Pugh, IT Director at PwC, provides a number of insights focusing on the balance between what to do at the centre and what to delegate out.

To get the most out of innovation, Stuart thought that there still needed to be centralised governance. “We balance that with an element of delegated financial approval. So, each business unit has an amount that they can spend on innovation,” he said. There are also funds at the centre: “And that might align a service, a territory, or globally. And then you can progress through gated funding like a normal investment process.”

PwC has a system to surface innovative ideas from the bottom up, using a platform called Pollien8 for people to submit ideas. “Other people can come in and upvote or downvote, so there’s that social collaboration. It allows people to see an idea that they want to be a part of and to reach out,” said Stuart. And once they have an idea that they think is innovative, another platform – ‘Digital Labs’ – allows people to share that idea: “The assets submitted go through a curation process to make sure that they have the right risk controls, or are at a particular standard. Then people can use those assets on their own engagements. The person who submitted that asset gets recognition and points. If the asset is used, we turn the points into micro-rewards in the recognition platform.”

Recognition is crucial, but Stuart stressed that having permission to fail is equally important. “People need to know that they will be rewarded and can refine their idea through failure and through learning,” he said.

And when it comes to learning, Stuart said that PwC has done a huge amount of upskilling to give people not just technical skills in new products, but teach them about design thinking, user-centric design, and how to commercialise ideas. He said commercialising an idea is about getting people to think “how do we change the business service that we deliver and still recover the value for the firm while delivering the value for the client?” And commercialising can be successfully balanced with permission to fail: “Start small and go to the next stage, then the next, and stop when you have enough value. For every micro-decision, think whether it is worth taking the next step. And when you have the value, charge the client. Don’t just take it as a time saving for the organisation and say that we can do it cheaper; there’s still value for the client.”

It can be difficult to get innovators to collaborate across sectors and geographies. “We reward people who work together; you won’t get promoted if you don’t collaborate. We’re looking for people who can bring together global acumen,” he said. And one of PwC’s core principles is that people understand they work in a global organisation: “We can’t survive anymore on the small ‘one partner has an idea and they’re off doing it on their own’ thing.”

Stuart Pugh

Stuart is an experienced technology leader with a background in software development and IT management in a complex multinational organisation.