How French Leaders Can Address the Cultural Challenges of Transformation

by Sylvie Houlière Mayca, Head of Sales, AWS France

At this time of disruption, many business leaders are working to accelerate technology transformation within their organisations in order to create efficiencies and deliver new business value. But, across France, executives have found that change initiatives are stalling and the benefits are too slow to materialise. So what can boards do in response to this? Sylvie Houliere Mayca, Head of Sales for AWS France, explains four key cultural strategies for change with lasting impact.

Why is digital transformation successful in some companies and not in others? This is a very important question at a time when French businesses are facing unprecedented disruption and the need to harness technological possibilities to deliver new business value is critical.

In a recent report Getting personal about change, McKinsey observes: “The need to shift mindsets is the biggest block to successful transformations. The key lies in making the shift both individual and institutional – at the same time.”

This is echoed by my AWS colleague Stephen Orban, in his new e-book What Makes Good Leaders Great? He writes: “People believe in what they are able to understand. When it comes to change management, they’ll typically revert to what they’re comfortable with – the status quo – when they don’t understand the direction in which they’re being led.”

From my experience working with businesses across France, this is certainly true here. I’ve found that leaders are sometimes unprepared to lead the cultural change necessary to achieve successful transformation. The mistake made is treating digital transformation as a purely technological change.


Align Leadership on the Vision

French companies that I’ve worked with whose leaders have successfully instilled a culture of change typically have four differentiating features: The first is a strong alignment of leaders at executive level and a clear agreement on vision and communication strategy. This prevents inertia in decision-making, which is often the main reason for transformation slowing and stalling.

A great example of this in action is Veolia, a customer of AWS here in France. At the beginning of their transformation, the CIO announced that 100% of the company’s datacentres would be closed by 2022 – it was a bold move that really showed the intent at executive level to make change happen.


Lead with Ambitious Goals

The second differentiator I’ve observed is the establishment of aggressive goals – ambitions for the business that leaders share with their employees. Bold goals will be a catalyst for all of the organisation to move faster.

An AWS customer in the US that achieved this to great effect, and gives a great example to our companies here in France, is General Electric. A few years ago, then CIO Jamie Miller wanted GE to get to the cloud and go faster – so she aligned the leadership team around a target of migrating 50 applications to the cloud within 30 days. This created real momentum behind change at the company.


Unleash the Power of Your Team with Training

The third distinctive trait of firms with great transformation leadership is that they ready their employees and prepare them for the technological shift. At AWS we encourage all of our customers to upskill their employees so that there is both the culture and the confidence to embrace new digital capabilities.

With training comes transparency, and an understanding of how change will impact, and benefit, the roles of employees. This is crucial, because, as Stephen writes: “fear of the unknown is one of the most common points of friction in any change management program. … a great way for leaders to address this friction is to give everyone on the team clarity around what will happen with their roles.”

The risk of not doing this are now well documented, with Accenture Strategy reporting that: “High levels of fear and frustration can result in a decline benefits realised [from change programs] by more than 20%, while a high level of passion and drive can lead to an increase of 50%. These differences can translate to millions of dollars to the bottom line.”


Celebrate Quick Wins and Communicate Frequently

Finally, a fourth differentiating characteristic of French companies that lead change well is that they do not try to achieve the entire transformation in a short period of time. Yes, they have a broad goal, but then they take it step by step. It’s important to have quick wins and celebrate small victories – there’s a real boost from involving all employees in a positive story and creating traction for further change.

Underpinning all these strategies I’ve discussed, at every stage, is great communication. Each employee must understand the bigger picture, the contribution their day-to-day work has, and ultimately the “what’s in it for me?” of a successful transformation.

From the outset it is critical to communicate the benefit to the business – to increase attractiveness in the market and to facilitate the recruitment of new talent.

Four Key Steps to Making your Change Strategy a Success:

  1. Build a strong alignment at executive level and ensure you have a clear vision and communication strategy
  2. Set aggressive goals for your business that are communicated to all employees to create a shared sense of purpose
  3. Train your employees to prepare them for the technological shift and power your transformation
  4. Break the transformation process down into manageable steps and celebrate the wins achieved along the way


It’s very clear that companies who have overcome the barriers to digital transformation are those whose leadership teams have put an emphasis on culture – and particularly within that learning and communication – to give their change initiatives lasting impact. This is something our AWS team in France works on daily with customers and, if you’re looking to lead a similar programme at your organisation, we’re here to help you too.

 What Makes Good Leaders Great?
What Makes Good Leaders Great?
The importance of providing clear purpose and concise direction

About the author

Sylvie Houlière Mayca
Head of Sales, AWS France

As the Head of Sales for AWS France, Sylvie Houlière Mayca's mission is to capture untapped business opportunities in France by partnering with customers to harness the capabilities of AWS cloud in order to achieve their business and IT strategy initiatives.

Throughout her career, which has spanned more than 30 years in various leadership roles at some of the world’s most successful and recognisable tech companies, Sylvie has demonstrated an extensive experience in sales, innovation, operational performance, business development and transformation in the IT, telecom and engineering markets.

Learn more about Sylvie »

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