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Alumni Stories · Leadership - Digital

Life in the fast lane: driving digital is all about your team’s mindset

Digital transformation can only succeed when your team is fully onboard, says Hajar El Haddaoui.
February 2022

For Hajar El Haddaoui, Senior Director Sales Switzerland, NTT Ltd., working for one of the world’s leading global technology & service providers during a period of massive acceleration in digital technologies has been an exciting time. In her role on the frontline of developing and delivering NTT’s strategy, she finds both the pace and the level of perpetual innovation in her industry exhilarating.

“We are living with volatility in this post-COVID period. Our clients are prepared to maximize business value delivery during this period and digitalization is a key part of that, so it is fast and furious and very exciting,” she says.

Of course, pre-COVID-19, we knew disruption was afoot. The fourth industrial revolution was steadily advancing, and global organizations were well aware they had to get onboard with an unprecedented technological revolution or get left behind.

However, the pandemic drove country after country into lockdown. With teams dispersed from central office hubs, and suddenly only able to connect and collaborate online, the disruption accelerated at warp speed. From IT infrastructure investments to strategic pivots towards the acceleration of digital strategy, organizations have committed heavily towards the promise that digitalization will drive growth.

NTT’s foresighted response throughout this period has been to firstly cater to the infrastructural requirements of its clients and secondly to develop its client services business.

“The investment intention around digital capabilities was really resilient during the pandemic and it continues to increase. As a result, we are really taking this as an opportunity to continue to provide our clients with our IT services, and also to be a partner and advisor through the critical digital transformation journeys they are undertaking,” she says.

Fundamental to the end-to-end partnering that El Haddaoui describes is developing a new organizational mindset, without which, she says, digital transformation will flounder.

“We live in this VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world right? So our teams must develop the muscle to deal with that. There needs to be an upgraded appetite for risk, for example, because change is fast and furious. Without that appetite, that mindset, you can have the best digital strategy, but if you don’t have the mindset to execute it, that will be difficult,” she says.

Purposeful ambition

El Haddaoui was drawn to the IT industry from a young age and, despite the dearth of female role models in the field, she was determined to follow her passion.

“I have always had the purpose to be a part of the future; I was always fascinated by the potential of IT as a megatrend. Although my father wanted me to follow him with a career in international law, I put my foot down and chose IT. That was my first battle,” she says.

Now, as a woman at in a top management position, she is keen to use her own success to encourage young women into the field. She is a board advisor to MOD-ELLE, a Swiss non-profit association that challenges gender stereotyping in youth career aspirations. As part of her role, El Haddaoui gives talks in schools outlining her career and her belief that more women should move into it.

“One aspect of encouraging more women into the field is by being an active role model, which I try to do. But there is a role here also for organizations, who could provide sponsorship or scholarships to women students at university level. And becoming proactive towards promoting women in the workforce across all verticals by taking special efforts to recruit, retain and develop their talents. The two things together could provide a big support to young women,” she says.

And how does she navigate a male-dominated industry?

“A good speaker knows the audience. I have learned how to present my contributions in such a manner that mine will be able to digest. There is unconscious bias, of course. For example, I was once told I was ‘too emotional’ when discussing something as dry as a finance initiative. Interestingly in that case, just a few weeks later, the same male colleague became very voluble about another issue in a meeting and I suggested he might be feeling ‘too emotional’ too. He approached me later and thanked me for bringing his unconscious bias to his attention,” she says. “As I said, there are organizational efforts to be made and individual ones too.”

Very much part of the vanguard of women leaders in IT, El Haddaoui has every intention of doing her bit.