Sebastiaan Laurijsse has long experience guiding companies with Digital Transformation, focusing on their greatest asset: their people. Next to that, he is fully renovating (himself!) a 1905 farmhouse that will soon become his family's home. However, most of his time is spent flying across Europe, talking to organizations in need of change. Sebastiaan's job is to advise them on operating model culture and technology platforms, looking for ways to help them evolve and prepare for the challenges ahead. With a never-ending love story with NXP ("I think I'm going to retire one day and go back," he jokes), Sebastiaan is also an entrepreneur and the Business Developer and Innovation Manager at the AI Innovation Center. He strongly believes people perform their best when they feel safe in their work environments, and he tells us why.
"I think I've always been a techie. Since I was born, I would break my toys to see them from the inside," he recollects and explains that at the age of three, he started to play with Lego blocks—to build things instead of only demolishing them. Since then, Sebastiaan has been creating everything his mind wishes to: "What I can think of, I can build." But it's not only about building blocks or doing renovations: it's also about having a future vision, analyzing what it would take to get there, and executing the plan persistently.
As such, digital transformation became his forte as early as he joined the workforce after finishing High School. Sebastiaan learned how to help enterprises solve their problems while working at a consultancy company. However, he soon understood that one does not fix things by merely adding new technology: people should be the center of everything.
When Sebastiaan started working for a Semiconductor company in Eindhoven, he became responsible for the R&D IT environments: "They needed change, and that is what made my eyes shine," he acknowledges. Leadership is part of digital transformation, as individual organizations have different needs and interests. When NXP became independent from Philips, it needed to survive in its own right. "It's a well-known and documented story—for some time, they barely survived. But due to strong leadership, they are now very successful in the whole world with their proposition and portfolio." Sebastiaan pivoted the prevailing needed cost-saving mentality by focusing on innovation. And great lessons emerged from that task: "That's when I found out that leadership and digital transformation are much more about people and culture than digital."
Technology is available at the discretion of a credit card. But for a company to truly advance, he thinks, it requires major changes—starting with its own mindset. Consider the following concepts: owning a car or having the ability to be mobile; in summary, mobility as a service. "In the latter example, you still drive the car wherever you need it, but you don't own it anymore as you can lease it or rent it via an app. It's a big shift in mindset. It's advancing, innovating, progressing. By applying those novel concepts into organizations, you transform them to the best, helping them to perform." According to Sebastiaan, the role of a leader is to help people navigate through the change. For him, the impact of certain alterations can be huge on individuals. As such, he believes that if provided with the best environment, they will adopt those changes. And the best environment is a safe one.
Creating a safe work environment
Sebastiaan defines psychological safety as providing people security and ensuring they have all the necessary information to make the best decisions to progress and be happy. Feeling safe in their work environment means that people can express who they are, who they want to be, or what they want to say without repercussions or harassment. "If you enter a room and feel unsafe, it will harm your performance. Instead, when you feel safe, you are more likely to adopt change and accomplish your best," he explains. According to him, it starts by clarifying the organization's real purpose and what it wants to achieve: "Clarity and direction promote a safe environment. I'm not sure how engineers do their amazing and innovative work, but I want to guarantee they get the relevant information to make decisions because those are the most knowledgeable people in their field."
Inclusion is also a crucial element of a safe environment. As people say, one cannot judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. "If you're a purpose-driven individual working for a money-driven company, it might not be the best match. People have different norms, narratives, experiences, and needs; a leader must identify those aspects, try to put them to good use, and align them with the common interest of the organization. When that happens, people are happy in their jobs," he says.
Gender inclusion X diversity
Sebastiaan believes that diversity goes well beyond gender and that everyone should have an equal opportunity to show their talent. However, we might have a bias for a particular personality type, for example, and the effect will be the same: a non-diverse population. For him, "opposites attract" is not an accurate concept, as psychology has already proven that similarities attract individuals; so being mindful of your own bias says much about you.
Sebastiaan bravely confesses he's been confronted with the dilemma of having the perfect female candidate for important and long projects. However, he wondered if she might eventually go on maternity leave, for example. And there came the opposite mental exercise: "But what if I choose this male leader: how likely is he to leave the project, take on another role, or even parenthood? In the end, the risk is the same. You're doing it wrong when you start taking collateral information to base your decisions upon instead of only skills, capabilities, and personality types. On top of that, women, who can bring children into this world, shouldn't have their careers negatively impacted by the fact that they might need to step out for a few weeks, months, or a year. Men can also get ill or step out," he acknowledges.
Taking a walk on the "other side."
Before meeting Fe+male Tech Heroes, Sebastiaan was inspired by NXP colleagues who run a program on female leadership—the Changemakers. His very first FTH event was our annual Conference in 2022, during which he had an eye-opening experience: "In the first 15 or 20 minutes, I was already confronted with the feeling of being in the minority. I didn't feel unsafe; it wasn't oppressive, but it showed me that this is power. It was fascinating to be immersed in that feeling—a feeling that so many women have so many times on so many occasions. Sometimes, on a daily basis. However, in their case, the feeling of being safe might not be there."
More than this practical empathy exercise, Sebastiaan took away from the Conference another lesson: "We shouldn't be evicted; we are allies. I'm a who I am DNA wise, which I can’t change. So I need a lot of new knowledge to understand the different interests and needs of people with different perspectives." For him, being immersed in these new conversations is one of the great advantages of joining this kind of event. Sebastiaan praises the Conference for its neutrality, not being specifically about men or women but about lessons learned from successful leaders.
On being true to yourself
For Sebastiaan, people should be open to feedback: "Feedback is a gift," he says, "and it's up to you to decide if and what you're going to do with it." He also highlights that any input you get is always a fraction of the truth, not what defines you. As he adds, "develop yourself, give yourself space to grow, but be loyal to who you are and ignore the judgment," underlying that many employees burn out while trying endlessly to be someone they are not.
To wrap up our conversation, Sebastiaan invites other allies, male or female, to help reflect upon and close this gender equality gap, as he recognizes it's not an easy task: "It's a call to action to all those in influential positions who can help overcome those challenges. We need to drive that change fast and powerfully."