How has the Covid-19 experience changed the way in which people working at various levels of an organization can express their abilities to the fullest? Is the idea that ‘work is an opportunity for expression, and therefore for innovation’ still intact or should it be rethought differently?
The obligation to work remotely during the pandemic has had many important collateral effects on the way we work. However, the new context with its many limitations has allowed us to discover alternative ways of doing things. In my opinion, this is what obligated everyone to rediscover unexpressed resources, both of a personal and an organizational nature. The issue of seeing work as an opportunity to express one’s full capabilities has always been a crucial one, and is sometimes influenced by organizational, environmental, and cultural conditions.

Once this emergency is over, there would be little point in re-proposing or even seeking the “old” normality of the past. In light of the experience of this past year, I am convinced that the very concept of innovation must change in meaning. Less constrained within pre-established schemes and more able to leverage the skills that are often hidden in the folds of organizational structure.

Speaking of talent, you wrote something very interesting: mediocre talent needs directors, great talent needs enablers. You also argue that «talent is not enough and there is no such thing as luck, as talent is not formed, it is challenged». To avoid wasted resources and help people find their “why” how should businesses and HR rethink the way they manage ideas? How much room should be left for experimentation? How much trust should be placed onto the insight of employees?
I am convinced that businesses, and those who are responsible for people in general, need to take a stand on this. The tendency to micro-manage has always been a trait that occurs in organizations from time to time, implemented particularly by managers who were unable to manage things without having direct and visual control. I do not use the past tense by chance, because if there is one word that characterizes this year and a half spent quite far from the traditional workplace, it is precisely the word “trust”. We all had to give our employees more room for autonomy, since in many situations they were no longer physically present in their usual workplaces. Today, businesses have
an urgent need to rethink their approach, to address this new and often indecipherable picture we are facing. So, we need experimental approaches in which the contribution of people is fundamental. It’s a way to leverage latent talent, leading to the establishment of a new pact between the company and its people. This not only speeds up innovation processes, but forms the basis for changing the underlying culture to make one’s own business an even better place to work, where trust is not a temporary concession induced by events, but a fuel able to increase the vital thrust to re-imagine the world that imminently awaits us.

The focus of this issue of EVOLVE coincides with the theme you addressed in your book “Startuppers in azienda”: not just the company, this is your company. In companies there are often people with entrepreneurial qualities, but they are rarely able to emerge. In addition to the aforementioned spaces for self-expression created by companies, how should people - in order to express their potential - be prepared to occupy these spaces? How much commitment and courage does it take to overcome the fear of being judged?
If the company is willing to create these spaces authentically and not episodically, we’re already halfway there. At this point, people have two options: either to remain in passive observation (missing many opportunities for growth) or to “come out of the closet” and use them. Taking this step certainly takes courage and commitment because the idea of going beyond one’s mandate is not culturally shared by everyone in an organization. Companies today, especially those that are highly structured, are faced with the issue of how to make the talents that inhabit them visible. The people who are pushing from the bottom to catch the professional elevator are asking for just that, but the strategic top management also needs it to lead company growth in new ways. Therefore, we must look at this as a mutual endeavor: on the individuals’ side not worrying about feeling judged, and on the corporate side learning not to judge with the traditional approach.

When you talk about a “toolbox” for turning problems and challenges into concrete solutions, what are you referring to? Can you give us some examples?
The toolbox I’m talking about is made up of ground rules for managing the space of self-expression and of tools based on methodological approaches such as Design Thinking and Lean Startup, as is the case with the experience we have been conducting for the last four years at Intesa Sanpaolo. Understanding them not only allows you to apply their experimental, repetitive, agile and concrete characteristics to your work, but also to use a common approach for problem analysis, identification and validation of possible solutions. However, in addition to this, there is a much more pressing issue that must first be addressed when considering the launch of initiatives such as these; namely, defining the level of ambition and, most importantly, choosing a model of intrepreneurship consistent with the goals the company intends to pursue. Therefore, my advice is most definitely to invest in understanding the tools because they create the conditions to generate mastery and a mentality applicable in different professional contexts, while keeping in mind the overall goal of the project.

Who is this so-called “intrapreneur” and why is his role important?
An “intrapreneur” is the employee of the future because he or she embodies all of the characteristics (such as initiative, risk-taking, imagination, collaboration, networking, resilience in the face of failure, etc.) that are increasingly becoming the skillset of the people who will be (and ideally should already be today) in charge of guiding the various branches of the company. This is important not only for its managerial implications, but also because it can create the conditions to give organizations a new form, one tied less to a hierarchy that we inherited from the Fordist factory and increasingly to a network composed of intelligent junctures that leverage autonomy and collaboration, unlocking all of the existing potential within.

One last question from backstage. Your book is very unique, not only in its content but also in its graphic structure, designed for multi-level reading. In writing it, was your intention to address only CEOs and managers? And if - as you said - it is not merely a “display of expertise”, what has it actually become?
I didn’t only think about corporate decision makers, although they represent an important target audience. I also thought about the people interested in revealing and enhancing their hidden potential to try and change their own professional destiny along with the destiny of the organizations for which they work. I have, in fact, recently discovered another type of reader: young people who, instead of learning how to launch a startup, want to learn how to think and act in an entrepreneurial way in their search for future employment. The dialogue that I have engaged in over the last few months with entrepreneurs, managers, professionals and young people, has taken the direction I had envisioned for this book: to offer my contribution to the debate on how companies and their people can best equip themselves to meet, with awareness, the complex challenges of this period that we are now living and the ones that soon await once this emergency has come to an end.

Roberto Battaglia
Transformation Lead of Intesa Sanpaolo's IMI Corporate & Investment Banking Division. Battaglia has gained significant experience in the field of Personnel, Organization and Innovation at several banking companies. In the last years of his professional career at Intesa Sanpaolo, he directed the initiatives Group Training and the Culture and Development of Innovation within the Innovation Center.