When we spoke with Sarah Chowdhury, Transforming Change Lead for Group Transformation division at Lloyds Banking Group, we were blown away by her career story and contagious energy. Sarah shared with us what she calls her ‘rainbow career’ and how Lloyds has supported her, giving her the confidence to thrive.
Out with the old. In with the new
Sarah knows how to navigate change, which is particularly relevant today while we are still in the midst of a pandemic. She explains that in her role she is pivotal to supporting one Europe’s largest business transformation activities and is dedicated to designing the right frameworks for it to happen.
“Business Transformation has many different facets, and I have found my last few roles have focused on the transitional elements critical to landing a successful new model. My passion centers on how we can create a workforce where people are happy, productive, collaborative while at the same time, customer-focused. And I support this through delivering the component parts that enable change – greater automation in our engineering, better training to upskill our talent, better tools to manage our work, simplification of our processes and one eye on future models of banking.”
Managing any change is challenging, but Sarah knows it takes the right ingredients to make it all work. Sarah applies the agile methodology in change management. She passionately describes it as breaking up projects into several phases with constant stakeholder collaboration and continuous improvement.
“It’s about making changes frequently and incrementally, I try to ensure the basic needs of our people and business are translated into the strategy and design of how we operate and work.”
Lloyds is a WORK180 Endorsed Employer and we were curious to hear what is involved behind the scenes in designing and shaping a great organization.
“Organizational design may sound like it’s simply the structure of a team, but actually it’s changing the processes, ways of working, and tools that enable a team to work at their best. Evolving culture of work is just as important as changing the mechanisms.”
Sarah challenges what it means to be great and says it takes the right blend of leadership and diversity of perspectives.
“I feel in the past there has often been a homogenous idea of what great looks like. I want to see us bring out the best in the individual and give them the confidence to be unique, which requires the right engagement, emotional intelligence and leadership.”
Presenting a colorful career
Sarah shared with us how it all started and her career journey to Lloyds. She is grateful for a varied career across many roles and industries.
“I’ve had a rainbow career. I started my career in a data company. I would talk to massive brands in FMCG about their sales trends.”
Presenting comes naturally to Sarah — and it took her one mishap to realize.
“I created the training materials [for the data company] for a new data product. I wasn’t meant to present it but had to step in for a colleague. I was 22 years old at the time and I remember presenting to a room full of the company’s most senior leaders. However, the tool was actually broken and didn’t work! But I persevered and weathered the difficult questions and disappointment in the tool well. This failure built my career because I was able to present with maturity and conviction and confidence – the tool not working actually helped build my strong profile.”
When you know it’s time for a change
Sarah started to realize she was working long hours and then experienced burnout. She was taking on more responsibility as well as charity work on the side. Something needed to change.
“I was tutoring children for a charity on weekends. I believe education is the key to unlocking a good career and I was happy to be a role model for these kids. But I realized I was burning the candle at both ends, and so at 2 am one day, I applied for a role at a charity. I got the job and worked with disadvantaged communities for three years. They got me involved with the strategy because I am very entrepreneurial in the way I think and my experience with working with big businesses.”
While Sarah loved making a difference, Sarah also gets itchy feet after being in a role for more than 2 years.
“After a while, I started to feel frustrated that there were limited opportunities to progress, when I had more value to give. I bumped into one of the directors who had left to set up his own business at a networking event. I told him if he was ever recruiting, I’d be interested and six months later, he reached out. My lesson in this is to always share your ambitions with others.”
Sarah eventually started her own consulting business, providing advisory services. Lloyds was a client. The company was so impressed with her they offered her a permanent position in the responsible business division as a community engagement lead.
Leading with values
Sarah wanted a new challenge and applied internally for a role in the Digital division, who’s culture resonated with her. She didn’t think that she would get the job because she didn’t have any digital experience. It was a competitive role with highly experienced candidates.
“During the interview, the executive asked me if I would be happy to lie on his behalf just to get something done for him. It was not a question I had prepared for and I was taken aback, but I said that I wouldn’t lie because it was against my values and I would not compromise my integrity.”
Sarah passed the interview with flying colors. The executive director said that it was the right answer because he needed someone he could trust.
Over the course of eight years, Sarah progressed quickly into many rewarding roles, but perhaps what she loves the most is her voluntary role as an Ethnicity Lead.
“In 2017, I took on the responsibility to lead the ethnicity network within the Group Transformation Division in Lloyds Banking Group. This is a volunteer network made up of colleagues from both a white and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) background passionate about the ethnicity agenda.”
“My personal mission is to help break down the taboos around discussing race and ethnicity. I want to help the industry understand that they can lean in to combat the high attrition rates of ethnic minority colleagues, the uncomfortable biases that sometimes exist, the awkwardness in understanding culture and how culture can impact personality and work.”
“Ultimately I want to help make sure everyone has a chance to be excellent at their job in an authentic way and be celebrated.”
Sarah says her role as the Ethnicity lead built her confidence and empowered her to influence leaders on the ethnicity agenda throughout Lloyds.
We chatted with Sarah during the UK’s lockdown. Sarah says she is very much looking forward to getting back into scuba diving and travelling again. Just before COVID, she travelled to Australia. She used to travel about four times a year before the pandemic. She loves experiencing different cultures and corners of the world – which is why she is the perfect Ethnicity Lead! These days, she is spending lots of time at home cooking and enjoying the company of her feline friends.