As part of our commitment to developing careers and with the knowledge that we can gain valuable insights from each other, in a series of interviews with top professionals in their fields, Zoe Green had the pleasure of catching up with Abbi Agana, Director of Business Excellence and Innovation from Octavia.
Talk me through your background and journey in Technology and Data?
My desire to make changes came first. I was interested in changing the way that people work and make a greater impact on service users and colleagues. Very early on my in my career, I worked in the NHS and the strategic change projects I managed were about making patient journeys easier, data helped me join the dots and streamline their experience. Further to that it just made sense to start looking at the user journey’s in their entirety, be that of patients or customers and now residents, transforming their experience as well as colleagues’ experience through technology.
In every role I have had, it has been data that has made the case for transforming. It’s always the analysis of good data that drives and delivers successful change, hence it was my preoccupation with data which led me into technology and doing the right analysis. I have always had to use data and technology, as it achieves business’ strategic objectives, I translate between the two – business and technology.
What are you responsible for in your current role?
As the Business Excellence and Innovation Directorate, my role is to ensure that the organisation has the right tools, technology, and information to be optimum and perform in the best way possible. We are a housing association, so it is about equipping people to provide the best service, products and outcomes for our residents.
Currently, whilst we are all working remotely, connectedness is important to ensure that people still feel part of the wonderful purpose-driven organisation that Octavia is. There is no denying that people miss people and the informal conversations that we would have had in our offices. However, we are finding that people are getting to know colleagues with the 1-2-1 Teams calls because you have to give people your full attention online, this is resulting in some deep and meaningful conversations which is really good.
What would you say is the most rewarding part about your role?
Empowering people. I would say using technology and information to empower people is so rewarding. If colleagues are laying their hands on the right information and the right data, then they are in the best position to perform and execute their role optimally. If they are spending less time struggling with fundamentals, we can really get the best out of our people, and they can then give their best to our customers. When people are performing at their best, people are ultimately also more satisfied with their work.
My role includes modernising Octavia, it is rewarding knowing that we will be accelerating that change by providing the technology and tools as aligned with the business’ objectives and upskilling people to really maximise the tools. It’s essential to build capability and establish that growth mindsets required to embrace new tools and different ways of working, hence we always look at the people, processes and technology in tandem.
What can we do to encourage women to get into Technology and Data?
We can reframe. Essentially working in technology and data is about a desire to solve problems and innovate rather than about the technology itself per se. It is about helping women understand that it is important to build up a repertoire of skills and tools that solve business problems, and that technology is just one of those tools, one that has a huge role to play. It is about discovery, investigation and innovation, and simply, getting to the root cause of systemic failings in organisations and addressing them by utilising technology aligned with new ways of working, skills and mindsets.
Mentoring also plays a helpful part as well. As leaders, I think it is important for us to support other women that want to work in this field. I currently have 3 mentees, the first criteria for a mentee for me is that they actually want me to be their mentor, so I wait to be approached because that means they have identified something in me that they feel will assist them on their journey.
At the senior end, how can we help women’s careers in Technology and Data?
As a senior leader, I think it’s important to make things accessible. We should demystify technology and make it accessible to people. As leaders, we need to create psychological safety – that it is alright not to know everything and just to try. It is crucial that our teams know their ability to learn new concepts, and apply them, and to try things is the important part.
You really have to start reaching out to people and create networks, shadow people in other teams. It is also about the belief systems and mindset as a woman you must believe in your ability, learn new concepts and apply them.
Again, I would echo the importance of receiving mentoring and coaching. I have had my mentor for 12 years and have recently just gotten another one!
Has anything inspired you along the way?
Mindsets. Over the years I have encountered people who have been brave in their careers, made a change, and believed in the art of the possible. It is those mindsets that have inspired me and continue to inspire me.
I am inspired by people who see something and think, “this should not continue and so I will take this action”, the change-makers in the world. It’s not always senior people that inspire me though, as leadership can be found at all levels and I’ve been inspired by people and mindsets at all levels!
If you had one bit of advice to give to young women looking to get into Technology and Data what would it be?
Learn as much as you can, there are great course and articles available, it is important to have the fundamentals. Research, learn and master your craft, I don’t advocate ‘winging it’ in this field, you must have a good understanding of key principles that underpin the digital, data and technology ecosystem.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for help, LinkedIn has made so many people much more accessible to us and they will help you or point you in the right direction.
As you become more senior and you master your craft and yourself (personal and professional development are inextricably linked) remain a student with a growth mindset. Self-belief is key! People talk a lot about imposter syndrome and that is a real thing that affects women particularly and needs to be managed from within. It’s important to think about how you manage that balance between your ego and humility, and remind yourself you don’t have to act like you know things that you don’t, instead seek out the information and guidance you need, and let those around you know that it’s safe for them to do that too.
Lastly, any recommendations?
- The future of Tech is female by Douglas M Branson
- I’m Ok you’re ok by Thomas Harris MD
- How successful people grow by John Maxwell
- Measure what matters by John Doerr
- Good to great by Jim Collins
- All Data and Change management books in the HBR range
- I also read a lot of Mckinseys insights – I have the app on my phone
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