Managing in a digital age: daring to feel uncomfortable!

Byline from Véronique Sani, COO of Natixis, speaker at 2019 Digital Women's Day .

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I was once asked what the best way is to improve a company's digital performance. I think I surprised my questioner by answering in very simple terms: you must put yourself in a state of discomfort. Indeed, it is not possible to fully master all the tools at our disposal given the rapid changes in information and digital technology. Adaptation is now part of our daily existence, and we all need support to manage this new normal. In this brave new world of machines, the human dimension becomes paradoxically more important than ever. Here are the three essential factors I learnt in managing people in the digital age.

Inclusion: an essential factor for innovation

First, inclusion. Why is it so important? In large companies as in start-ups, the first challenge remains inclusion and diversity. Within Natixis, for example, we count 30% global women leaders and 41% expert women leaders worldwide. By 2020, we aim for 25% of our IT workforce to be women. Attracting profiles from diverse backgrounds in our teams is essential to be able to face different perspectives, to tackle approaches that challenge us and to consider points of view that question our existing methods. Diversity enriches decision-making. This is crucial when you think about it, especially in banking and finance where technical expertise can quickly become pervasive. To my mind, an inclusive spirit is a powerful driver of innovation.

Empathy: an effective means for transformation

Second, empathy. In all companies, what matters is not only to be right, but to develop listening and empathy skills too. This is an essential point that I constantly aim to develop as I feel I still have much progress to make in this area. During my experience in the United States, I discovered importance of these qualities in supporting strategic decisions and gaining buy-in internally. Time spent with employees is never wasted. Quite simply because it is through listening and demonstrating empathy that we build strong relationships. This is at least as important, if not more, than knowledge and expertise. It requires a daily commitment, a sense of humility and above all, strong determination.

Courage: the key to success

Third, courage. Having a large budget or the best tools is not necessarily the most powerful engine to develop, transform and digitalize. It's all about experiencing discomfort! Indeed, we transform and adapt all the faster as we are disturbed in our routine. I notably experienced this in India where I lived and worked for three years. Everything was so different from what I knew. I was confronted with people who changed their minds a lot and who were proactive every day. While I enjoyed being in planning and control, I learned to open my vision and to broaden my perspectives when facing complex situations. This is where I understood the issues of agility, adaptability and openness that are deeply rooted in digital culture.

To bet on discomfort when working in a company is to give yourself the means to be open to diversity, to show empathy and above all to have the courage of your convictions.