Leaders in the UK are driving transformation. Here’s how.

by Darren Hardman, VP & General Manager, AWS UK and Ireland

The pressure to digitally transform is increasing, often resulting in a complex, multi-faceted change program. The need for business leaders to expertly drive this change throughout their organizations is critical to success. Darren Hardman, VP and General Manager of AWS UK & Ireland, offers his perspective on how executives can navigate the complexity and deliver the business and customer value they seek.

All too often we see digital transformation initiatives embarked upon with the mindset that a technology transformation is the extent of the change needed.It doesn’t take long for business leaders to realise that successful business transformation is so much broader than technology alone. It requires a cultural shift that allows business processes to be re-imagined and where innovation through experimentation is encouraged. All the while, these business leaders need also to be concerned with developing future leaders, championing inclusion and diversity, and keeping everyone in the organization (including themselves) inspired as fundamental components of driving that cultural shift. Piece of cake, right?

Put customers at the core

At AWS, we believe digital transformation for businesses begins with a wider recognition that customer obsession needs to be front and centre of any strategy. Keeping this at the root translates into how leaders organise their wider business operations - both in capability and capacity. Everything we do at AWS comes from our mission “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company”, which is an ethos that we bring to the partnerships we form with our customers.

One UK customer that exemplifies that customer-centric philosophy is Dunelm. The home furnishings retailer set about transforming its capabilities with a focus on increasing choice and value, making the customer experience more inspiring, and ensuring maximum customer convenience both in store and online. To achieve this the business has been through a digital transformation which has led to the creation of an 80-person development team and, crucially, adotion of an agile culture and organisational structure. The team have been empowered by the largest-scale adoption of serverless technologies in the UK from a development perspective. Benefits of this approach have included a doubling of site speed, improved customer conversion and an increase in digital sales to 30% of overall sales, up from 15% the previous year.

This is also an approach we’re increasingly seeing from our B2B customers, who traditionally would not have direct contact with the final customer of their product/service. They are now adopting new mindsets and digital practices that enable them to put end customers at their core, thereby adopting the type of customer-centric culture seen at B2C enterprises like Dunelm. In effect, digital is reshaping the value chain, opening up new opportunities.

Start with the cultural transformation

In my experience, the key to success starts by addressing the cultural changes needed to create a more customer-centric business. Top-down leadership is essential in achieving this transformational culture of learning and experimention. It also requires the teamwork of the organisation’s executive leadership to enable teams to pivot based on three ongoing principles:

  • Maintaining a diverse workforce that broadens the pool of ideas
  • Fostering behaviours that encourage experimentation and innovation
  • Reassuring teams that it’s ok to ‘fail’; just fail fast, learn from it and move on

Core to top down leadership is the ability identify and develop next level leaders. Raw previous experience in a role isn’t the be-all and end-all—to successfully lead transformation, executives have to be willing to try things that have never been done, and to commit themselves to always be learning on the job.

Inclusion drives success

Diversity amongst customers and larger society as a should be seen by companies as an opportunity to embed different points of view across the organisational structure. Indeed, how can companies align their offering to the demands of society today if their workforce does not reflect the diversity of that society? Only by doing this can you draw upon a broader pool of ideas, and make new avenues of innovation possible by bringing new collaborative groups together. The AWS re/Start program is one way that we’ve tried to take this on board—this classroom-based training program is designed to arm our younger generations with cloud skills and create job opportunities to underserved populations.

Don’t fear failure

Possibly most challenging of all for many business leaders to accept and embrace is that the natural by-product of fostering a culture of experimentation and innovation is failure. Failures will happen along the way. This cannot be looked at as a negative. If anything, failure is a fundamental aspect learning and of successful innovation. Across the UK & Ireland, our culture has traditionally been a little more cautious about the prospect of failure, however we must more broadly embrace the mindset we see in the start-up community, where there is a greater acceptance that the price of success often starts with failure. I have witnessed that businesses leaders who are most successful in driving transformation programs are those that reassure teams that it ok to fail. From each failure comes learning, and they must leverage that learning to educate future experiments.

When I think about failure, I think about my personal experience of attempting to climb Mount Rainier. I lived in Seattle, Washington in the U.S. for a time, and whilst there I set out to climb Mount Rainier. If you don’t know the mountain, it’s more than just a casual hike, that’s for sure. Two times I tried to reach the summit, and two times I was unsuccessful. Rather than giving up, I learned from each failure, better preparing myself for the next attempt. On the third attempt, I had learned enough to reach the summit. My success was only possible because I had taken something from each previous failure.

For business leaders looking for more insights into leading transformations I recommend reading the AWS ebook “Leading Transformation: How Today’s CXOs Are Thinking Beyond Tech in the Digital Age.” Authored by my colleague Miriam McLemore, AWS Enterprise Strategist, it draws insights from her conversations with global C-suite leaders, on their vision, goals and leadership philosophies for leading transformation. Along with customer-centricity, leading by example rather than direction and an acceptance that failure is an important and necessary part of the journey, both emerge as key themes in successful transformations. I hope you enjoy the read.

Leading Transformation
Leading Transformation
C-suite leaders share strategies for leading change

About the author

Darren Hardman
VP & General Manager of AWS UK and Ireland

Darren Hardman was appointed as the General Manager of AWS UK and Ireland in April 2020. Since joining, Darren has bought his wealth of business transformation and strategy experience, partnering with organisations of all sizes – from start-ups, through to the UK’s largest enterprises – to accelerate their customer-centric digital business transformation and help them realise new forms of customer value, leveraging AWS cloud.

Learn more about Darren »

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