KIND INNOVABILITY - A conversation with Ernesto Ciorra, Director of Innovability at Enel and Guido Stratta, Director of People & Organisation at Enel
By the Editorial staff
Words are important: Ernesto Ciorra, how and why did the term (and function) of innovability come about?
It is a cross between innovation and sustainability, invented in April 2014 by CEO Francesco Starace, the first to combine the two words. Innovation must be spread to ensure sustainability for the entire company: society changes; markets and technologies change; customers' needs and tastes change. To be sustainable, we have to interpret change through innovation. The CEO, at the time, created a division dedicated to innovation and sustainability, and proposed that I become head of it in 2014, as he was perfectly aligned with my point of view. Our Tao (Yin and Yang, black and white) has become innovability, a happy synthesis that encapsulates a new concept: sustainability is achieved through innovation, which is both a prerequisite and a tool. Innovation is not only purely technological, but above all cultural, because being innovative means being ready for change. This mental attitude enables the company to be in harmony with changes in the external environment – and thus to become sustainable.To give an example: Enel, which is attentive to the role of its stakeholders (NGOs, community institutions, shareholders, international investors, employees and customers), chose to close 23 fossil plants and convert its workforce and facilities to renewable energy. It was a courageous act because, in a way, we left behind part of our business model to be more sustainable and competitive: we doubled our value to €90 billion. To do this, we worked on people’s skills and culture.
How did the idea of creating a large community of innovators come about?
It is not possible to innovate without creating. It starts with the organisation of work: the community between people, without necessarily abandoning hierarchies. All revolutions are born from cultural change and it is unthinkable to manage change by imposing it from above: you can manage a company with hierarchical logic; but not change! If we want cultural change that is in harmony with the outside world, we have to rethink organisational structures and enhance people’s skills, including those of skilled workers who have essential know-how that is needed to innovate.
How do you change the mentality of the people at the top?
Just explain the benefits. Innovation in the form of D&I policies, for example, in addition to its intrinsic ethical value, is worthwhile from a business point of view. Another example: Fabio Bosatelli, a colleague who has two degrees, in economics and engineering, and an MBA. He is deaf and had difficulty making long-distance calls with several participants. We wondered how we could help him. We started scouting for start-ups that could help him and other colleagues to overcome this barrier and we found "Pedius", which developed technology that converts speech into text. Thanks to this application Fabio has experienced continuous growth regardless of his 'disability'. Thanks to this technological innovation we obtained competitive advantages, for the employees and for Enel: Fabio felt included; it was a winning choice that was also extended to Enel's deaf customers who, thanks to Pedius, can communicate with the contact centre without difficulty. We valued an employee with very good skills; we showed consideration for deaf colleagues and customers. The company has to create bias-free contexts, contexts where it is possible to express doubts, criticism, solutions. We have to work on the tyranny of judgement because the real brakes are in people's heads: when you point out problems, people accuse you because they are afraid of inclusion and diversity. Judgement is caused by fear, and how do you remove that fear? By rewarding, by growing, by valuing those who include and those who are not afraid to express themselves. It is precisely with these intentions that we have established the “My Best Failure Award”.
How is it possible to generate innovation from inclusion? Can you give some practical examples of projects that demonstrate this link?
We have focused on a number of actions affecting inclusive culture and communication. One among many: the Avanchair project by Andrea de Palo. Andrea has created an electric wheelchair that takes you everywhere. Enel X created JuiceAbility, the cable that enables the chair to be charged at our charging stations. An idea that helped us win the award for the world's most inclusive application at CES in Las Vegas in 2020. To launch the start-up, Andrea turned to a crowdfunding platform, which covered part of the costs; the rest of the funding came from Enel and other private donors. Why? We gained competitive advantages: technological and social innovation and sustainability. There is not always a trade-off between doing well and creating wealth. Inclusion is an opportunity, a competitive advantage. If there is no inclusion, there is no innovation. It is no coincidence that inclusion is synonymous with wealth.
Guido Stratta, how do you transform the HR management model, which has always been based on control, into one based on responsibility, delegation and kindness?
The magic happens through a very simple operation: start with people and ask them what they love, what they do best and what they would like to achieve in the future. Dedicating two minutes to listening and respecting them makes it possible to capture the human energies that are far more renewable than wind, light, water and sun. Because, if released, the energy produced by human beings is infinite. The coach's responsibility will then be to compose these passions – and here lies the difficulty – while respecting personal vocations and the company's objective. And here is the result: one hundred years of hierarchies, one hundred years of formalism and control that evaporate to become imagination and motivation. So if left free to express themselves, people do not lose their bearings but go in the direction the company suggests. After all, the coach has both a paternal and maternal role to play: the maternal code makes everyone feel like a unique child, eager to express themselves as best they can, but it is not enough, otherwise there would only be anarchy. The affectionate paternal code is also needed, which sets limits, not to crush people but to elicit in them the desire to grow. The relationship is also complicated because these two codes can be acted out by both genders: the maternal code can also be expressed by a man and vice versa, and this is not a gender issue.
After the pandemic, how did you reconnect and keep people together?
Everything starts with relationships. We have explored everywhere, we have gone to Mars, but we have not fully explored human relationships. Each individual is an entity as complex as the universe. We must learn to talk to each other, to feel our fears, not to think we have the truth in our pockets, because after all this uncertainty, which we will have to continue to live with, it is important to redesign a world in which each person is aware and included. The era of execution, of doing, of results and of unbridled competition that limits cooperation is over.The future will be about competing with ourselves, cooperating with others, having doubts, being afraid, asking for help and being vulnerable. That is where we will start from and that is where people will feel united.
The issue of people with disabilities is actually an issue of competences. How is it possible to respond to the personal needs of over 70,000 people (people with visible and invisible disabilities, people with fragility, including psychological fragility) working at Enel?
We are on our way; it is not an easy path. We have been guided by care and attention to people, to whom we have given faces, no longer considering them just numbers. We are all people with potential emotional, physical, psychological disabilities, especially when we do not see others, and this happens at all levels of the organisation. We need attention to the person: affection, care, interest, listening. Then everything becomes possible. But we cannot act alone: this attention, which I would even call a vocation, must be widespread. In this period Enel has created the "Heart Managers" dedicated to people who have problems of various kinds (physical, health, psychological, emotional): it is only through listening that the person flourishes and opens up. The fear of disability, the anxiety it might provoke, the depression seen or recognised in the other person, can block us. The issue is to unite the people who share this vision and to create a system between public and private, between SMEs, start-ups, non-profit organisations: to create a team. In every public or private organisation there are opposing impulses: cynicism and generosity, between which one must find a balance.
What lessons does the pandemic leave us with, on a personal and professional level?
Awareness of being infinitely nothing; awareness of the importance of spending the day trying to offer the best image of oneself to others; awareness that alone we are nothing but together with others we can surprise. This awareness helps to overcome the bad habit of complaining from morning to night and can be a good compass.
You have recently written a book on kindness and leadership; can you tell us about it?
I would like to dwell on the word kindness to make it clear that what I am talking about is a prerequisite for a relationship. It is not biology, or politeness, or good manners, but it is the desire to experience a different relationship with the other person and to let the person express who they are. It means understanding that, before judging our interlocutor, we have to ask why they are the way they are, and before labelling them, we have to consider their background. Before associating kindness with a form of delicacy, of fragility, one should remember the acacia tree which, when young, has terrible thorns so as not to be eaten by the cows. But when it grows up it surprisingly turns into a tree with a wonderful, smooth trunk. The point is that first the acacia tree was weak and then it grew strong. The rude soul is weak and fraught with problems; the kind person is strong and sees in others a great opportunity for professional, personal and spiritual growth.