Radical factors are disrupting the way we work. A recent global survey of business leaders on the future of work found that the combination of demographic upheaval, climate change, digital technology, and changing social values, are turning business models on their head and redefining the workplace. How we navigate and manage change is a major factor. And, to be most effective, it should be handled with a diverse and innovative lens. As the world evolves, technology and expectations change, and with this, so must its leaders. We are in the crux of redesigning the future of work, so we look to new thought leaders for inspiration and advice on how they execute and drive transformation across different industries worldwide.
A Leader’s Journey series spotlights leaders who are embracing change, managing and leveraging disruptive technologies, and spearheading initiatives to drive execution across their organization. The series aims to inspire, elevate innovation, and deliver impactful insights.
This fall, we sat down with Jana Vondran, Senior Vice President of Global Business Services for global technology distributor, Ingram Micro Inc. to discuss her philosophy on driving change and humanizing leadership. According to Vondran, the focus needs to be on your people, not the technology alone. So, what is it about digital transformation that makes it so difficult? Read more to find out.
Can you describe your approach to leadership that’s uniquely yours? Jana: I believe in humanizing leadership. It’s all about the people, the relationships, and the vision. One of my strengths, perhaps more so as a woman, is the ability to read between the lines. I’m able to quickly assess the temperature in the room and address the people and situation in a way that influences based on what I’m seeing. It’s trying to make people feel seen and heard. I tend to not work in absolutes. I approach business situations by putting myself in the other person’s shoes. I go into difficult situations with people seeking a win/win outcome - not me-win, you-lose. It’s important to take the time to build relationships and to understand the greater vision, so we can collectively be successful. What does change mean to you? Jana: I'm someone who loves change. It doesn’t scare me. I've always advocated change - in the beginning of my career as a consultant promoting new processes and technologies and throughout my entire career looking for new ways to change the paradigm. Change makes many people nervous. It's the uncertainty - especially in the world that we live in. We don’t have all the answers, and I’m okay with that.
What’s your secret to success when introducing change? Jana: First, I focus on the purpose and create a common vision. Then we can put a plan together to start executing a strategy. I ask myself, "What is it we are trying to do? Why are we doing it? And how will we get there?” Next, I think about the people. Throughout my career, I've worked with a variety of different people at various levels in an organization. To make change successful - either through technology or in processes or within the organization as a whole, it’s imperative to be conscious and address the needs of the people you are impacting most.
Why is change so important in your industry? Jana: In my role, driving change is instrumental in ensuring that process improvements align with my company’s overall strategic objectives. I need to deliver a compelling value proposition both internally and for external partners. In my industry, as a global distributor of technology products with over 35,000 employees, we serve an enormous market. In our department - the shared services arm of Ingram Micro - it's critical to have your stakeholders on board. Especially when you’re introducing change that requires people to invest time and money in certain technologies. Speaking of change, what was it like bringing Celonis over to Ingram Micro? Jana: From day one, I wanted to address the needs of the entire organization, not just our department. We told them, Celonis is not just for Global Business Services (GBS). This is so much bigger. We are going to connect all data sets and all ERP systems, even for countries that we’re not currently supporting from a GBS perspective, because we want to bring value and benefit to everyone, everywhere. We did roadshows, we did presentations. We introduced the concept to many stakeholders. We showed them what the power of Celonis can do - how it can really help us to identify execution gaps based on data so we can start closing those gaps and executing at full capacity. How was the new technology received? Were there any detractors? Jana: I wouldn’t call them detractors, but there were certainly people that were very skeptical. Perhaps because it was new technology to them, perhaps because it was driven out of the GBS organization (rather than our IT team). They were like, “What is this new technology?” and “Is this really the right path?”
How do you manage the skeptics? Jana: Skeptics are usually your biggest assets. By bringing them on board and making them part of the team, it provides more diverse questions and ways of thinking about the problem and solution. I believe rather than shying away and hoping your skeptics just magically disappear, embrace them and realize “Now there’s an important lesson I learned.” How do you handle those who are excited and want change immediately? Jana: I can certainly relate as I get very excited about change too! So it’s all about managing expectations. There’s a list and order to it. It’s crucial to build the muscle and skillset and have those conversations first. It’s important to start small. When I was creating procurement services for external partners in my previous position, I learned early on that to be successful we must start small and create a proof of concept that quickly shows results. Yes, excitement is high, but you can’t deliver to everyone from day one. So my advice is select a few solid pilots to create some positivity and then keep going. Studies show that it’s a strategic tactic for leaders to switch between dominance and influencing. How does this show up in your leadership style? Jana: My natural inclination is leading through influence. I would love to get everyone to the end result purely by coaching and steering them in the right direction and enabling them to make the decision themselves. To me, that style really promotes ownership and buy-in. Unfortunately, that is not reality, and it is important for us as leaders to change the style based on the specific situation.
How do these leadership styles coexist for you? How do you know when to switch between one or the other? Jana: I’ve learned throughout my career that it’s wishful thinking that you can have just one style. You don't get everyone to the finish line through influencing alone. Sometimes you need to be really direct and draw on the dominant side. I pull the lever depending on the situation. If the house is on fire, you need to direct people rather than have a discussion. What is the result?
Jana: Being super direct and forceful may be faster in the short run, but fostering relationships, building bridges and win-win solutions together is key and will get you further in the long-run. Can you talk about your professional journey to leadership as a woman? Jana: From the beginning, it was always very important to me to be authentic. When I first started out in my career, women in leadership positions would often show very male characteristics. To make their mark in a very male-dominated world they had to assimilate and adopt more aggressive working styles. This never appealed to me. I always believed in being authentic and truly myself. In fact at the beginning of my career, I must have gone through my ‘goth phase’: I was listening to The Cure too much! I wanted people to judge me on my own merits and working style - not what I looked like. And while I’ve learned that it’s helpful to adjust a bit on the optics, staying true to your inner self and not twisting into something you are not is the only way you can be successful in the long-run. As Oscar Wilde once so brilliantly stated, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” What’s your advice for other women leaders? Jana: Stay true to yourself, but also make sure you’re claiming your success.