Digital transformation tip: let millennials rip down your silos

millennials digital transform culture
Image credit: Chaay_Tee /

If you want to transform your corporate culture, you’ll need at least two things: distributed leadership and millennials, says CDO panel

Last week I sat in on the Chief Digital Officer Hong Kong Summit hosted by CDO Trends, where the hot topic was digital transformation. On one panel in particular, the hot topic was: who really owns digital transformation in a given company – is it the CDO? Do you even need a CDO, or can it be handled by others?

The overall response from the panel – which included two CDOs, a CIO and a CMO – was this: digital transformation leadership is most effective when it’s distributed. Also, let your millennials be millennials.

Everyone on the panel agreed that culture and mindset change is the starting point of any transformation strategy, and a key aspect of that change is convincing employees to stop thinking in terms of their own little silos.

Ravel Lai, chief information officer for Dah Chong Hong Holdings, said that when it comes to reporting problems, for example, “the finance team may say this is ‘none of my business, this is an operational issue.’ And I say to them, ‘If the loss of the business is none of your business, that this job is none of your business’.”

Maria Sit, chief client experience and digital officer for Sun Life Hong Kong, said that one of her daily pain points is how to break down the silos – “how to get people to think about the customers and not just, ‘this is my responsibility and this is not my responsibility’.”

That’s why she sees the role of CDO as a collaborative effort across the different silos within the organization. “Digital involves different disciplines – technology, delivery, marketing, operations. So I think it’s key to look at this in a distributed way – that leadership has to be distributed across the organization. And that’s quite essential in breaking down the silos.”

Akshay Trivedi, chief digital officer of SEA for Johnson & Johnson, said that “it’s everyone’s responsibility to drive culture”, but added that the real influencers in transforming culture are the new, younger talent and senior leadership.

“It has become very important for us to hire the right talent and ensure that they don’t get changed by the system,” Trivedi explained. “A lot of times, what ends up happening is you hire people and then you beat them down with processes, frameworks and hierarchies. But in JJ, we are consciously trying to break those barriers, especially when it comes to hierarchies.”

Consequently, he continues, “we’re giving our young talent a lot of exposure. We are putting these millennials in front of the leadership – they’re asking the uncomfortable questions, and ensuring that they are driving that mindset shift. It’s refreshing for them that there’s this 26-27 year old coming in knowing a lot more than they do and also being fearless and having those conversations that otherwise be frowned upon. It’s like a reverse mentoring type of exercise where the younger talent is mentoring the more seasoned people.”

Bonus tip: be yourself

Francesco Lagutaine, chief marketing and experience design officer for Manulife, said that culture change doesn’t always have to be radical – the secret is knowing what needs transforming.

“Transformation means doing things different, getting people working at certain jobs to do other jobs, getting people to challenge themselves. And it’s kind of hard when you get when you get 25 years of your career and someone says, ‘forget everything you know, now there’s a different way of doing things’,” he said.

So for Manulife, he continued, one of the biggest parts of transformation was to define the new culture with a new set of values, and a new way of working that is then foundational to how people want to approach their jobs every day. “You can’t change your culture 180 degrees and be something completely different. We needed to understand what we were and where we needed to stretch.”

Another tip for bringing seasoned employees onboard with your transformation strategy: encourage them to be themselves at work, Lagutaine said.

“In corporations, and especially in an industry like insurance, I find that people come to work, and they become different people. And especially when you go to events, and you meet them at a bar afterwards, they’re completely different. They have lives, they have passions, they have energy, they dislike things, and really like other things in their work,” he said. “And in our industry, it’s all about processes and having very measured reactions, so teaching people to come to work and be themselves was a big, big part of what we want to do.”


  1. Is breaking down silos and persuading employees to put the customer first particularly a digital transformation thing? Or just what any enlightened organisation would strive to do?

    • Both I would think. But telcos have been taking about it for as long as I can remember and still don’t seem to have broken them down completely. I suspect that digital transformation could provide another good excuse for actually doing it!

  2. The panel discussion framed it as a sort of prerequisite to digital transformation – that is, you have to change mindsets and culture if DT (or DX) is going to succeed, and part of that is ditching protectionist fiefdoms where people only want to take ownership for their little corner of the company and the rest is not their problem.

    Put another way, transformation isn’t just digital (in terms of tech), if that makes any sense.

What do you think?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.