Adaptable, Yet Rooted in Values: A Primer on Company Culture With A2A’s Chief People and Transformation Officer

Joe Kornik, Director of Brand Publishing Editor-in-Chief of VISION by Protiviti

How do you create a company culture that is rooted in values and principles, while also being constantly adaptable and open to diverse perspectives of employees and stakeholders? It’s a question Mauro Ghilardi, chief people and transformation officer of A2A, an Italian “life” company, has given a good amount of thought to — because he has to. Ghilardi’s company has more than 13,000 employees — and creating cohesion and engagement with the company’s mission for such a large and diverse workforce is not a light task.

Ghilardi is lucky, in a way, because his company already has a mission that’s pretty engaging — it collects municipal waste and turns it into clean energy. It deals with the elements of life, in his words — water, earth, fire, air (hence the name “life company”), which helps make its mission relevant to employees on a personal level. They are doing good, while doing well as inhabitants of Earth.

The higher the mission, the higher the bar, however. Ghilardi says that the way in which the company positions itself to its employees makes it incumbent on leadership to be accountable and to avoid missteps. And though it is tempting to speak of the company as a “family,” the way many companies do, he prefers to think of it as a club, where membership is voluntary and entirely based on the value the members receive by being part of that club.

“So, I like to think of a company as a club, and A2A has to be a club in which people decide to come, decide to stay and decide to engage with. And having a strong sense of values and purpose definitely helped to build that club.”

One way employees perceive value is when they are given opportunities to satisfy their curiosity and evolve their careers without having to leave the company to do so. “How many times do we have people who are changing jobs completely and go to a new company, and you say, ‘Well, I wish I had known. I wish I could offer that person the same opportunity inside,’” Ghilardi asks. Creating such opportunities is important to retain top talent but is a blind spot for many leaders.

His call to action to future employees? “Be exigent. Choose your company wisely and help us to become better.” And to leaders: “Be brave.” Ghilardi believes that new and existing employee expectations for meaning, responsibility and impact can help businesses make revolutionary — not just incremental — changes.

Watch my conversation with Mauro Ghilardi here. Our upcoming theme on VISION by Protiviti, the Future of ESG, which we are launching in July, will expand on many of the ideas my guest touched on in this interview — sustainability, accountability and prospering amid new environmental, social and governance expectations. To stay abreast of new content, subscribe to our biweekly newsletter.

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