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How Enel Group’s response to the pandemic set them up for a brighter digital future

Going beyond the technology to drive digital transformation

By Shell on Sep 02, 2021

In mathematics, there is a concept known as equilibrium – or the ‘stability point’. This is a point in space where an object, based on its geometric movement, will always return. No matter what force is applied to the object, after a certain time, it will come back to the stability point – regardless of the disruption or deviation to its path. Think of a pendulum swinging back and forth. As soon as its force is spent, it slows to a halt and gradually returns to its starting position – its stability point.

As a former engineering student, it is a concept that Carlo Albini, Head of People and Organization Innovability at Enel Group, knows all about. And it is an idea that he believes can apply to businesses as well. Following the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies will adapt to change but then return to what they view as their stability point. They will return to old ways of working and business as usual, which Carlo views negatively.

For him and the wider Enel Group, there were lessons to be learned from the crisis and ways to move the business forward. “If our future path were to lead back towards the stability point, I wouldn’t want to see the outcome,” says Carlo. “Because the best companies that will transform their business will act to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

So, how can leaders prevent their business from returning to their previous stability point? And what lessons has Enel Group learned that will help it lead the way into a transformative digital future?

Carlo Albini, Head of People and Organization Innovability, Enel Group
Carlo Albini, Head of People and Organization Innovability, Enel Group

An agile response to a global crisis

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the energy and power sector, with lockdowns around the world contributing to a 2% drop in global electricity demand during 2020. As in many other industries, companies faced the challenge of rapidly adopting new digital ways of working. In fact, our latest research shows that 85% of leaders in energy and power say that the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated their digital transformation journey by up to five years.

For Carlo and Enel Group, the crisis presented a stern test of the digital journey the company had already set out on in 2016. “Before the pandemic, we had already introduced the concept of agility across the organisation and implemented agile methodologies,” explains Carlo. “For example, when I came to Romania in 2018, one of the first things I did was create an Agile Transformation office – an area dedicated to the dissemination of agile methodologies and an agile culture.”

The aim at the time was to increase the organisation’s ability to respond to the ever-shifting needs of the business in an effective way. The focus on agility – supported by digital technologies – meant that, when the pandemic hit, Enel Group was better prepared than most.

“The pandemic was a successful test of our agile approach,” says Carlo. “Because in something like two weeks, we were able to shift roughly 55% of our workforce to remote working – with the remaining people dealing with tasks and processes that couldn’t be handled remotely.”

In our recent Under Pressure survey of senior figures from across the energy and power sector, we discovered that:

  • 69% say difficulty to digitally transform due to legacy systems will be a key challenge in the next two years.
  • 85% say that COVID has accelerated their digital transformation journey by up to five years.
  • 55% say their budgets for digital transformation increased during the pandemic.
  • 93% believe that responding to the pandemic has unlocked previously untapped potential in their business.
  • 95% believe that the lessons learned during the pandemic will be critical to their future success.
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Laying the foundations for digital transformation

A critical element in Enel Group adapting so swiftly to the crisis was the flexibility of the infrastructure it had in place. An example of this is the fact it had 100% adoption of cloud technologies across the organisation before the pandemic arrived.

“The cloud adoption was a real enabler,” says Carlo. “We were able to avoid having to deal with centralised data centres, making it possible to have our people working on remote platforms and collaboration tools from wherever they were.”

Carlo is quick to highlight, however, that simply adopting cloud platforms did not make the difference alone. “Another factor was adaptability of our workforce – the managers and our employees,” he explains. Without this, Enel Group might well have struggled to keep its operations running as effectively during the various lockdowns its people have experienced. It demonstrates how digital transformation within a company must be much more pervasive than adopting solutions to address disparate use cases.

To adapt to future disruption (and potential crises), Carlo believes that organisations need to put the right conditions in place to enable new ways of working – whether that is flexible infrastructure, an adaptable workforce, or even reshaping business and operating models around digital processes and platforms.

Only by doing things together can we exceed expectations, go beyond our targets, and deliver better results.

Carlo Albini, Enel Group

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Creating a culture to support the transformation journey

Another crucial part of successful digital transformation is culture. As well as implementing new technologies across an organisation, it is important to bring people along on the journey – making sure they have everything they need in place to work and collaborate effectively, without feeling isolated.

For Carlo, creating an environment built on trust is vital to this. “If you want to advance on your digital transformation journey, you at least need servant leaders in your organisation – people who enable the autonomy of your teams” he says. “But servant leadership is not enough. You have to start from a position where trust is a basic and fundamental value, which then drives the performance and the resilience of all the teams. Trust is the most important element in delivering the performance that we did during the pandemic.”

Enel Group’s experience in this area is underlined by the shift in trust that has taken place during the pandemic. According to the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer, business is now the most trusted institution – with 61% of people placing their trust in commercial organisations . And it shows what the outcome can be when companies take on that responsibility.

“What we learned is that only by doing things together can we exceed expectations, go beyond our targets, and deliver better results,” Carlo explains. “We have developed the ability to face complex situations, solve complex issues, and make complex decisions together – bringing a diverse range of perspectives into play. It's an incredible value that we cannot lose, and that we have to establish as a building block for the future.”

This all serves to highlight the fact that a company’s digital transformation journey is about far more than making the right technology choices. It is also about creating a culture that is able to sustain and empower that journey.

Girl on her tablet, surrounded by hologram data charts

Going beyond skills to bridge the digital gap

As well as creating a culture built on trust, organisations need to make sure their workforces have the skills needed to drive digital transformation. This is supported by our latest research, which found that eight out of ten leaders in the energy and power sector see a lack of in-house skills and expertise as a barrier to their transformation journeys.

However, a key lesson for Enel Group around employee retention has shaped their recruitment behaviour when looking to fill a gap for digital skills. “We’re part of a huge number of companies struggling to attract talent,” says Carlo. “But, if you just go looking for skills, you’ll reach a second level of the fight, which is how to retain people who are used to moving from one company to another.”

After exploring this challenge, Enel Group struck upon a different strategy – one that focused on the attitudes, rather than skills. “We asked ourselves shall we look strictly the people who already have the skills we need, or at the people with the attitudes that would help them engage with our purpose, our challenges, and our projects over the long term,” says Carlo.

“We’ve found it so much better to have this focus, along with an understanding of how best to access the necessary digital skills – either internally or working with external partners,” he explains. “Otherwise, you’ll be in a continuous fight to retain people – especially in countries where the labour market is more dynamic.”

Enel Group is also looking at the opportunity to leverage its digital journey to widen its geographical horizons when looking to recruit – taking advantage of the wider talent pool it can access when people are able to work remotely.

If you look at it not as a crisis, but as an opportunity to learn, the pandemic is an important accelerator.

Carlo Albini, Enel Group

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Taking advantage of untapped digital potential

From technological enablers to organisational culture, there are many ways for leaders to maintain (and make the most of) the acceleration in digital transformation across their organisations as they recover from the pandemic.

The critical lesson though is not to return to their stability point. Our latest research shows that 93% of sector leaders believe that their response to the pandemic has unlocked previously untapped potential in their business. This means there is an opportunity to achieve an even better digital future, which is exactly what Enel Group will be working towards.

“It’s important to look at how we responded during the different phases of the pandemic,” Carlo concludes. “If you look at it not as a crisis, but as an opportunity to learn, the pandemic is an important accelerator. We have the chance now to create the environment to build on that response and do it better, in an augmented way. Ultimately, it would be nice not to lose what we’ve learned over the last 18 months.”

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