People first: the importance of circularity

Published on Friday, 29 May 2020

The circular economy has been at the centre of the debate on business sustainability for quite some time now. The focus is often on the circularity of things, goods and services. Less frequently, it falls on the circularity of people, even though people are the starting point for any journey to innovation.

Recently, training consortium ELIS explored the subject with an event within InGrandiMenti, a new conference format dedicated to the value of sharing, which runs across the board in the training pathways offered by the organisation – founded, amongst others, by large companies, SMEs, universities and research centres.

“The circularity of people is more important than the circularity of things,” declared Ernesto Ciorra, our Group’s Head of Innovability, who was one of three guests at the “Circularity of people: upskilling and reskilling” open talk, held on 27 May and moderated by Luciano De Propris, Head of Open Innovation & Sustainability at ELIS.

Technology alone is never the answer, Ciorra went on to explain. “Video conferencing platforms already existed, but we are now making massive use of them because of Covid-19,” he said. Thanks to the Enel Group’s efforts for digitalisation (leading to the company going full cloud in 2019), 37,000 people are now remote working with no negative impact on productivity. “Values such as responsibility, trust and freedom are more important than mere rules, and will lay the foundations for a balance between personal and professional life in the ‘new normal’ scenario – a balance that wasn’t always respected in the past”.

People must also be at the heart of any innovation journey. Ciorra mentioned apoptosis, programmed cell death, to explain how renewal is first and foremost a biological process. In any company, it is important for people to be allowed to make mistakes, to question their beliefs, to not be afraid to point out errors or failures. “Our My Best Failure project has been studied by other companies, and Google X has asked us if they could use it: if people don’t make mistakes, it means they have never tried to do anything new. Sharing their mistakes publically also helps others to avoid repeating them”.

The concept of sharing and circularity of experiences will soon find a practical implementation through a mentorship programme promoted by Enel in collaboration with ELIS Open Italy: a platform that will put the Italian startup ecosystem in touch with highly experienced managers – for example, those nearing retirement or already retired. “Why should we deprive ourselves of those skills on a social level? Startups often only have a tech background but lack other skills, relating to marketing or legal or simply company management for example. These managers can make these skills available to them, and in doing so, update their own store of knowledge,” explained Ciorra. This helps “the innovative idea of a startup to become a scalable model on a global level” and ensures growth for the whole innovation ecosystem.

“I am sure that most managers will want to pass on what they know to younger people, which is a perfect exchange in human terms too,” added Franco Stivali, Head of Innovation at Ferrovie dello Stato, Italy’s State Railways; according to Gaia Corazza, Managing Director & co-founder of Generativa, “humility and generosity are the most important qualities for a mentorship programme”, especially in the ‘new normal’ scenario in which sustainability will be increasingly central, even in managing people. “The leaders of the future will have to be able to listen, welcome and share: fears need to be listened to, they need to be socialised; you can’t prosecute anyone for a mistake, and instead need to help everyone enhance their abilities. At the same time, leaders have to be able to spark passion by keeping alive the goal, the destination, the dream,” added Corazza.

“The pandemic caught us on the back foot,” concluded Stivali. “We got a taste of how rapidly everything can change, and that has increased our responsibilities. Technology offers us a world of possibility, but we often only looked at it in terms of production and much less so in terms of people: now we can change direction”.

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