4 Transformative Lessons for Modern Businesses from Accenture CEO Julie Sweet
When it comes to navigating times of unprecedented change, Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture, knows what she’s doing. Recently ranked #1 in Fortune’s Most Powerful Women in Business 2020 list, Sweet has been successfully steering Accenture through the pandemic, positioning the multinational professional services company, as well as its clients, to tackle the continued changes head-on.
A Columbia Law School graduate, Sweet joined Accenture as general counsel in 2010 after a decade at a top law firm. In 2015 she took over the company’s largest geographic region as CEO of North America. In 2019 her responsibility expanded as she took the top spot as CEO of the entire company.
Although our series on business leaders has previously focused on entrepreneurs, the lessons that can be learned from Sweet’s approach to business and leadership are timely and transformative in an emerging new era for business. Here are four of her most valuable lessons:
1. Create a Culture of Learning – Sweet attributes part of her rise in Accenture to her background as a lawyer, which instilled in her a habit of constant learning. In her words from a recent interview on Forbes Innovation Rules Sweet said, “Being a learner is at the heart of being a lawyer.” Continuous learning is imperative for problem solving and advancement in an ever-changing business landscape. To thrive, your business must create a culture of learning, and Sweet exemplifies leading from the top.
“My first official video message to employees was to tell them that I had a learning agenda. I said I would make available what I am learning in the form of a CEO learning board which is accessible. Within six weeks we had a hundred thousand people go on my learning board. I wanted to be clear that the most senior person at the company had to learn, right? I think it is super powerful as a leader to admit to the need to learn, because that is how your people will become learners.”
2. Let There be Change (for All) – The pandemic drastically changed consumer behavior and how businesses operate. It also opened our eyes to the interdependence between individuals, communities, and businesses. While this may have been uncomfortable, it’s also a wakeup call for businesses to start acting with the larger society in mind. “As we think about the opportunity we have today to rebuild economies, industries, and to re-imagine companies, having a strong moral compass, so that we rebuild for the benefit of all, is absolutely vital at this time.”
Sweet is so committed to this notion that in October she announced Accenture’s new brand campaign: ‘Let there be change.’ Accenture internally embodies this notion of embracing change and changing for the better and is encouraging their clients to do the same. Not only is this shift underway, but it aligns with consumer preferences.
“We did a study [in September], and seventy percent of workers think that their companies will operate more sustainably and think about society more than they did pre-Covid. Even pre-COVID, about sixty percent of consumers cared about what their favorite brands said, what they stood for. That is increasing, right? And you also have a mindset shift in CEOs, who are asking what we have to change and how we embed things like sustainability into what we do.”
According to Sweet, “It’s an inspiration that we can use the incredible change that was happening pre-COVID and now it is happening as a result of COVID even faster to transform for the benefit of all.”
3. Embracing Tech is Vital – Technology is an integral part of this change and for companies to thrive; embracing it has become imperative. “And so right now many companies and people are focused on this unprecedented crisis [the pandemic], but because it has literally changed everything about our behavior and how we operate, it has decisively ended a debate about whether technology is good or bad. Technology today is our lifeline. It has created the opportunity to accelerate the benefits by rebuilding differently.”
4. Innovation Happens Outside – As we as a society become more aware of our interconnectedness, it is becoming evident that true innovation and change can only happen when we make strategic partnerships outside ourselves or our organizations. “When I talk to a CEO or a chief digital officer, I ask them about their innovation strategy and who they partner with. If they do not have clear partners, I know they are not really being innovative, because innovation cannot be done alone. It has to have organizations and partners outside of your own company.”
Business success in a new era is going to require the ability to constantly learn, embrace change, leverage technology, and form meaningful partnerships. It is also going to require a heightened awareness and concern for the impact of business activities on all stakeholders. Following Sweet’s advice will help any entrepreneur or leader position their business for success well into the future.