How corporations can create change at massive scale

PwC and Chipotle say the goal is simple: go big or go home. Here are three lessons leaders from the two companies shared at the recent Fast Company Innovation Festival.

How corporations can create change at massive scale

Change is the only constant in life, but it’s something we all resist. It’s hard enough to get ourselves, our significant others, our friends to change—even when there’s obvious incentive. But what happens at companies that need to change—and employ tens of thousands of inherently change-resistant people?


During a panel at the annual Fast Company Innovation Festival in New York, PwC and Chipotle explored how companies can redefine customer relationships through employee experience. Tom Puthiyamadam, the digital, consulting and BXT leader at PwC, spoke onstage with Jason Scoggins, the director of loyalty and CRM at Chipotle, about recent initiatives they’ve each undertaken. These were, most notably, “Chipotle Rewards,” a new customer-rewards program that Chipotle worked on with PwC, and PwC’s initiative to teach all of its employees the skills and behaviours they need to succeed in the digital future. What’s most important to making it happen? Puthiyamadam and Scoggins say there are three must-dos if you want to encourage and codify successful large-scale change.


Professional services firm PwC is 165 years old and has had to embrace evolution many times. Most recently, that meant turning 55,000 of its employees into technologists and designers, using a different way of working called BXT. This approach isn’t just about working with people from across disciplines from the start—although that’s the crucial first step—but about reframing the problem, thinking bigger, putting titles down, checking egos at the door, and making sure you’re answering the right question before you talk about and implement solutions—solutions that should be bigger, bolder, more tech-fueled, and more innovative.

“Do we actually have the right sort of perspectives from very different people in the room? That’s the first question we ask,” Puthiyamadam said. “Do we have people who come from different disciplines? For us, it means bring[ing] a tax perspective, an emerging-technology perspective, a CRM and loyalty perspective, and a person who understands the human capital issues around the topic. When you bring that diversity to begin with, and then run them through the process, that’s when it begins to work.”

For its technology initiative, PwC first created an app to assess the digital fitness of all its employees and created mobile, skill-based programs so employees could “upskill” themselves. Next, it conducted a three-day training program so everyone in the entire company—finance, marketing, operations, client services—could work together to understand the new digital tools.

Finally, it trained a thousand people from across disciplines as “digital ninjas” who could help others develop the required digital skills. This was done in part to address something Puthiyamadam calls the “compression factor.”

Tom Puthiyamadam, Digital Services & BXT Leader at PwC.

“We want to shock the system as much as possible and give the most senior people a jolt to say, ‘This is what the future is really going to be,'” he said. “We are really trying to give [all our people] the freedom to challenge the system, challenge the norms.”

What’s perhaps most important, though, is what happens to those who aren’t in the C-suite or at the bottom of the ladder.

“You really want to ‘defrost’ the middle, though, because middle management is where things get stuck,” Puthiyamadam said. “We try to create forces on the top and the bottom to encourage people in the middle to actually buy in on the change—creating as much compression in the system as possible. The compression effect is what really drives people forward.”


In 2016, Chipotle tested a loyalty promotion called Chiptopia, with an eye toward launching a national rewards program in 2019. This would be a key corporate initiative, and the first major cross-functional effort, using PwC’s BXT approach, with a new leadership team that had taken the helm under CEO Brian Niccol.

“We’ve got 80,000 employees at Chipotle, and for this program to be successful, we needed every single team member engaged in the process,” Scoggins said. “We started out by hosting a workshop with key stakeholders from across marketing, operations, and technology to discuss what success would look like, not just for our customers, but also for our employees.”


Success begins with buy-in from the C-suite but can only transcend the entire company if everyone else comes along. Each employee must understand how new initiatives will make their lives easier and help them be more successful in their individual roles, whether that’s marketing, customer care, finance, or working the front line as a cashier.

“A loyalty program can help drive frequency and, ultimately, company revenue. But what are employees getting out of it? What is the operations team learning? How can customer care improve based on insights?” Scoggins asked.

For instance, employees on the front line discovered they would have more information about a customer who calls in with feedback or a complaint. And they’d have more power to fix any problems. For example, under the new program, someone in a restaurant can issue points to make good if something goes wrong. They’d also have a direct line of communication to the brand’s biggest fans should it need to message them directly, as was the case in 2015 when the company faced food-safety issues.

“It’s really looking at the individual needs across the company and figuring out how this program will enable them and make their lives easier,” Scoggins said.


Management’s approach to power has the ability to either nurture—or quash—the creativity that companies need to thrive in a time when technology has accelerated the pace of change.


“Our responsibility as leaders is not to control power, but to create space for all [our people] to be able to exercise their creativity,” Puthiyamadam said. “We always talk about power to empower, but how do you actually create space for everyone to flex their muscles the way they want to be flexed? If we don’t, they’re not going to stay with a company like us.”

Once that creativity is unlocked, you have to be able to let go of the concept of “best practices,” which is often just a nice way of saying, as Puthiyamadam put it, “the way things have always been done.

Instead, it’s about inspiring people, reframing the problems at hand, getting people to solve them in a new, more robust and thoughtful way. And as they do that, each person is developing new skills, flexing new muscles, and thinking and driving change that’s meaningful—not just expected.

“Best practices only makes you as good as the competition a year ago, right?” Puthiyamadam added.

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