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ZINNOV PODCAST   |   Business Resilience

The Agile CXO: Navigating Disruptions In A Dynamic World

Rani Pangam
Rani Pangam Vice President, Strategy Realization Office ServiceNow

In this episode of the Zinnov Podcast, Rajat Kohli, Partner, Zinnov, and Rani Pangam, Vice President, Strategy Realization Office, ServiceNow explore the intricacies of leading successful transformations. Join us as we delve into a wealth of knowledge, experiences, and practical strategies that can revolutionize your approach to change.
With her diverse background and expertise right from law to MIS, Rani provides a comprehensive view of change management, in any set up. Rani and Rajat discuss the importance of understanding human psychology, aligning stakeholders, and creating a supportive environment to navigate the challenges of change successfully – alongside technology. Drawing from her extensive experiences, Rani provides tried and tested strategies using real-world examples that leaders can apply in their own organizations.

From leading cultural transformations to managing resistance, Rani and Rajat talk about critical factors that contribute to effective change management. The conversation provides a deep understanding of the importance of leadership, communication, and empathy in driving successful organizational change.
Whether you’re a change management professional, a leader responsible for driving change, or simply curious about the dynamics of change in organizations – large and small, this episode is a must-listen.


1:25 – Career Highlights
2:38 – What a Strategy Realization Office does
3:40 – Strategies for organizations to drive transformation
7:14 – Coping with global disruptions
9:02 – How to manage the disruption created by Generative AI
11:46 – The impact of technology on processes, people, and productivity
12:57 – Challenges to change management
15:08 – Examples of effective change management
16:57 – Leadership qualities for ensuring business resilience


Rajat: Hello, and welcome to an all new episode of the Zinnov Podcast, where we deep dive into the latest trends and innovations in how leaders across the world are making their organizations more resilient. I’m your host Rajat Kohli, Partner at Zinnov and today we have with us Rani Pangam, Vice President, Strategy Realization Office at ServiceNow.

Rani comes with over 20 years of experience in Change and Risk Management across various industries. Her expertise lies in leading strategy, planning, and transformations while driving product program portfolio with operational excellence in high growth mode. In her current role at ServiceNow, Rani enables IT-led business transformation and has experience leading global cross-functional teams. Welcome, Rani. We are thrilled to have you on the podcast today.

Rani: Thank you so much, Rajat, and the pleasure is all mine.

Rajat: Great. Let’s get started. Rani, I wanted to kick off this conversation by asking you about your journey so far. What are some of your career highlights that you’d like to share with us?

Rani: I think you rounded up my experience well. One thing I would say about my career journey is, didn’t take a beaten path, if you will. I actually started my undergrad in business, went to law school, ended up doing a master’s in MIS, and then started my career in Risk, then transformed into driving compliance, then went into transformations, and the rest is history.

So I think, I would definitely say that there was nothing in there that was following a traditional path. I think the second highlight of my career journey was I just met some tremendous mentors throughout my career, and that was really a pivotal moment every time my mentors gave me the confidence to take on something totally new, totally challenging, something I had no experience with. And I do feel that, that has helped me tremendously to bring me to where I am today.

Rajat: Wow. That’s been quite a journey, Rani, and I’m very curious to ask… I see that your designation is written as Realization Office. What’s the persona of the Realization Office? It’ll be good to know.

Rani: Yeah, I get that question quite a bit as well. Look, I think the key in today’s world is that there’s obviously a lot of great strategy around when you work in business organizations.

What’s very important is to understand that strategy and make it come to life. And that’s really why we branded ourselves as a Strategy Realization Office. It’s the engine that understands the strategy, defines, plans it, executes it, and delivers the outcome. So making sure those outcomes tie exactly back to the strategy plan that you defined when you began the journey is very, very essential.

So that’s why we really claim to be the organization that is the glue that brings the strategy, plans it, realizes it, and drives the outcomes.

Rajat: Interesting. And if we shift the gears and turn it around the Realization Office, in the last few years, the world has undergone a tremendous shift with the pandemic, a war in Europe, and the current macroeconomic scenario with the looming recession.

So in the face of such unprecedented uncertainty and disruptions, companies need to continue driving digital transformations to stay relevant and keep pace with these disruptions. What strategies or approaches do you recommend for organizations to successfully drive these transformations?

Rani: Absolutely. I think, first let me just recognize the validity of your statement. I think there’s enough scary facts out there to, to talk about how unprecedented the change and the pace of change has been in the recent years. In fact, there’s an IMF index on uncertainty and it’s by far the most we’ve seen in the last 60 years. Having said that, what doesn’t change is for us as leaders to lead, drive, and enable change and enable transformations and make them successful so we can attain, value for our customers. I think those strategies aren’t really something very noble that I’ll be talking about. It’s about the how you really make sure those strategies come to life.

So three things that I think are pivotal when you deal with leading change, despite the uncertainty. First of all, I think the strategic alignment is really, really key. Being very laser focused on the logic of winning. That’s how I always think of strategy, the one thing I took away from my Stanford Strategy class is, what’s your logic to win and how are you going to learn while you execute that logic on pivoting that strategy. So that’s strategic alignment… Really understanding the Why gives you the change narrative, first of all.

And that is also the Why on the second thing I’m going to talk about is the buying, the adoption. That why is something you want to narrate, not just to your leaders, but all the people that are going to have to participate with you in that change and help drive the adoption of the change.

So to me, that strategic alignment, the Why and the What is very, very key. And then the buy-in for it and the sponsorship for it is sort of the second most important strategy. When we look at that sponsorship, I do want to emphasize that it is important to look at how much change you’re introducing in relation to the change appetite that exists today, because again, you have a lot of cool new stuff with these disruptions, but you also need to understand how much of that change can you even absorb within the company.

And third, but most important is really tying how this change will help you attain your outcomes, because of the cost to undergo the change. So you have to be very clear on the value you’re going to drive for your customers, for your partners, for your employees, because if that value isn’t there, the change is not worth it. Or you should know when to roll back that change or to tap out and say, you know what, this is not the right time for this change.

So I think those three things, really that strategic alignment, the buy-in and adoption relative to the change appetite, and thirdly, ensuring that you’re able to tie that change to what measurable outcome you want to attain in terms of value.

Rajat: I think those are very insightful and I strongly agree those are relevant to some of today’s scenario also. One of the main things during such periods is how leaders and companies handle the change. Can explain the importance of organizational Change Management in large enterprises during times of the global scenarios such as, the supply chain disruption or the pandemic or the diversity challenges. So what is your viewpoint around that?

Rani: Yeah, I think having done large transformations in the last 15 years of my career, whether it’s massive shared service, centers being redesigned around the globe or massive job movements to right shore or nearshore, to major ERP consolidations. in all of these transformations, a lot of times the investment that’s made in understanding the change and building the right techniques to help that change being adopted is underinvested. Obviously the technology is where we usually lean in and make a lot of investments, but I do want to make sure that leaders understand that equally important is the emphasis on people, because the people are the ones that have to ultimately make, the change stick, the change successful.

So I think that’s why, I emphasize the importance of change management because naturally we do invest in the technology because that’s something that’s very visible and we know that disruptive technology will yield us a lot of value, but let’s not underinvest in the people side of that change, which actually happens over a much prolonged time. And the patience and the resilience needed to go through that is also very essential.

Rajat: Interesting. I think so you touched upon one of the interesting points, investments in the technology. If I look at from other angle that everyone’s mind is talking about that Generative AI. What do you see the need for change management to enable this technological disruption that has transformed the world across different business functions?

Rani: I think that’s a great question and yes, absolutely that’s on everybody’s mind.  I mean, look, there’s a scary fact out there. Like 90% of our films by 2030 will be made with Generative AI and to really think of a skillset set like, some of our, Oscar winning film stars, not being as indispensable as we thought before.

It’s a scary thought. But again, we as ServiceNow are also embracing Generative AI. It’s highly disruptive, but we have a very thoughtful approach towards it. So first of all, the recognition that the human intelligence is exceptionally valuable in the use of Generative AI. I mean, yes, there’s great power that you harness from using these large language models and giving us a lot of guided, contextual support. So, of course you can train all the models, but they’re as good as the training data you give them. The human intervention then makes sure that the output is actually relevant, is risk free, is actually helping you attain the value.

So we are actually driving change management in the way that we have the right balance of technology, process, and people. We started off by picking a small pilot of use cases that we think are going to be most pertinent for our customer, for our employee, and for our sales. So we picked the right personas, we picked the right use cases, and we want to experiment. So again, we are not introducing too much change. We are gauging what the change appetite is because we have a lot of work already active and in flight, and making sure we are strategically aligning. How do we maximize customer outcome? How do we maximize outcomes for our employees or drive productivity gains? How do you maximize the seller’s experience, because that’s a very key persona for us.

So again, that strategic alignment, gauging how much change. So again, starting with pilots, learning more about large language models, and then being very clear on outcomes. When we look at a customer, are we driving higher revenue? Are we driving pipeline influence? Are we driving adoption for our customers? So again, those three components don’t change agnostic of whether we are dealing with Generative AI or we are dealing with the pandemic.

Rajat: The next question around that… which you think would be the biggest impact because of these emerging technologies? Is it more on the productivity, is it more on the process, or is it more on the customer experience?

Rani: We’ve seen it in all three to be honest. We just had our knowledge conference two weeks ago where we had over 20,000 customers come in and see the power of the platform. I mean, a great example I can give you is where a customer opens a case. With ServiceNow, you could use Generative AI to actually help self-serve a customer support case and deflect a lot of that and actually improve the customer experience. At the same time, you could use Generative AI for the service agent who’s also serving the customer by prompting the next best recommended action and not having to make the agent go through reams and reams of knowledge articles to come back with a response.

So it, actually goes both ways if you have the right strategy, the right understanding of how much change you want to introduce, even for the customer you don’t want to introduce such a new experience for them that they don’t even know where to go. And thirdly, again, be clear on the outcome.

Rajat: The outcome is one of the key aspect because then you work backwards around all the areas. The change management, as you highlighted, Rani, is something needs buy-in across organization. And it is by no means a straightforward process. What are the top challenges that enterprises face when implementing change management strategies and leading digital transformation? And how can these challenges be overcome?

Rani: Yeah, such a valid question there Rajat, because change is not a siloed thing that happens just in one group or one function. It’s very important to look at change across boundaries. So one of the things that we do at ServiceNow is we look at change by persona. If I am a product manager, if I am a developer, if I am a seller, if I am a support agent, what are all the changes that are impacting me, whether they are an organizational change, whether it’s a disruptive technology, whether there’s some uncertainty introduced in the industry, or just me as a person, my personal stuff, right?

So we actually look at the change that those key personas undergo, agnostic or functional boundaries from where the change is coming in. And that really helps you plot that change across a timeline so that you’re not introducing all of it in the same time and you’re able to message the change narrative better. So working across boundaries and really understanding those changes cross-functionally in a very strategic way was a key pivot that’s important to understand.

The other thing I will say is that just like outcomes. make your adoption risk measurable as well. It’s very important to understand tangibly what that risk is and how will you address that risk for those key personas to really make sure that your benefit realization, your value realization is still possible. And that is a good barometer that you always have to have an eye on. And again, making it measurable and assessing it throughout the life cycle of the change is key to know that.

Rajat: Can you provide some examples where the companies successfully focus on three-pronged approach – Recovered, Renewed, and Refresh their operations? And what are the key factors that contribute to their resilience?

Rani: Yeah. I think, you know, we saw quite a few companies. Again, pandemic was a boon or a bust depending on the industry you were in. One company that got my attention was an industry that was supposed to be bust, hospitality, but Airbnb came through. They were dealing with the pandemic and the subsequent financial crisis all in one. And if you look at them now, they’ve really come back strong. And I think, kudos to the way the CEO, Brian Chesky used that three-pronged approach. It was very clear when they lost 80% of their revenue in like the first eight weeks of the pandemic.

It was very clear they had to change the strategy. Like there was no way they were going to continue. So if you look at, you know, they build online experiences, they went into long-term stays, so that strategy was very important for them to pivot to. If you look at buy-in, they came all out.

They told the hosts and guests they were really with them to get the buy-in, get the adoption. They actually created a newsroom. They were constantly feeding information about the pandemic so that the hosts and guests were constantly aware of it. And look, I mean, it was a tough time and they had to lay off a quarter of their workforce, but at the same time the CEO took a pay cut and asked the leaders to do that as well.

So it was not just the guests, the host also had to be taken care of. And I think because of the constant communication, the strategic alignment, they actually emerged, they came back and they are profitable again.

Rajat: Oh, very insightful. Rani. I have many questions, but I’ll keep this as a last question for you. In your experience, what leadership qualities and approaches are crucial for driving change, leading digital transformation, and ensuring business resilience, especially in today’s rapidly changing world?

Rani: Yeah, interesting, question. So I think leadership qualities, we touched upon it throughout the podcast today around really the mental fortitude to go through it and to power through it.

Because change is hard. Resistance is just expected as a natural outcome or a natural reaction when we are faced with change and uncertainty and disruption. I think as a leader it’s really key to have that clarity on strategy and then continue to have the mental fortitude to power through that change. The one thing that has always played in favor is the ability to experiment early and it’s fairly common practice in design thinking. But truly embracing that design thinking to do some early prototyping and fail rapidly earlier on, because no change has guaranteed success. There will be failures.

How can you anticipate as much of those failures upfront and fine tune those outcomes as much as possible, because again, those outcomes are a good guesstimate, if you will, and fine tuning that earlier through your failures actually help you define your success measures even better. That is the one takeaway I would have is to truly embrace design thinking, early experimentation, and fail early and learn from that.

Rajat: Wow. I think this is a great playbook and thank you for sharing your perspectives with us. I think so we touched upon the success and failure, the change management, the applicability or the technology and how the org readiness around that so that they’re ready for the change going forward, especially during the disruptions as well as economic scenarios. I’m sure our listeners found this as engaging as I did. Thank you once again for taking the time to do this with us.

Rani: Thank you so much, Rajat. I really enjoyed having this conversation with you and look forward to more.

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