The Agenda

#16 - Alessandro Rimassa - Putting people at the centre of digitalisation

July 26, 2022 SHERPANY Season 2
#16 - Alessandro Rimassa - Putting people at the centre of digitalisation
The Agenda
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The Agenda
#16 - Alessandro Rimassa - Putting people at the centre of digitalisation
Jul 26, 2022 Season 2

Doing digital transformation right: Bringing people and technology together for a better life

The Agenda podcast series uncovers what it takes for leaders to build trust and inspire people. In this podcast, founder of RADICAL HR, and other businesses, Alessandro Rimassa, speaks with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai, about digital transformation as a way to bring people and technology together to work and live better. For more podcasts, stay connected at

The Agenda is brought to you by Sherpany #LeadingTogether

Thank you for listening! Visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn for board, board committee, and executive meetings solutions.

Show Notes Transcript

Doing digital transformation right: Bringing people and technology together for a better life

The Agenda podcast series uncovers what it takes for leaders to build trust and inspire people. In this podcast, founder of RADICAL HR, and other businesses, Alessandro Rimassa, speaks with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai, about digital transformation as a way to bring people and technology together to work and live better. For more podcasts, stay connected at

The Agenda is brought to you by Sherpany #LeadingTogether

Thank you for listening! Visit us at or follow us on LinkedIn for board, board committee, and executive meetings solutions.

Nisha Pillai 00:00:06

How do leaders build trust and inspire their people? What skills and tools do they need? How can they develop them? And how about meetings - what role do they have?

I’ve been talking to business leaders and scientists about what leaders can - and should - do to help their people feel trusted, with a sense of belonging and purpose. So, join me, Nisha Pillai, for another fascinating series of The Agenda - brought to you by Sherpany.

My guest today believes that the future is digital, but people remain at the centre. Alessandro Rimassa is a digital entrepreneur who's founded a leading Italian business school with a rather wonderful name, Talent Garden Innovation School. He's also set up an edtech and training platform, Radical HR. He's a prolific author. So, what makes him tick? Let's find out.

Alessandro, welcome to The Agenda.

Alessandro Rimassa 00:01:03

Thank you very much for the invitation, Nisha.

Nisha Pillai 00:01:05

So let's just dive straight in then. I believe your mantra is the future is digital, but people remain at the centre. What does that mean?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:01:14

It means that in the past decade, we thought that digital transformation was all about technology. And at the end of the decade, when COVID19 came up, we thought that digital transformation was done.

Then I saw a picture. It was a picture of journalists from Hearst Magazine and they were leaving their buildings with big towers of PC of computer in their hands. This is the picture of digital transformation that didn't work.

And what was the problem? That we thought that digital transformation was only technology. But at the end of the day, digital transformation is, first of all, a cultural transformation.

And when we do a cultural transformation we need to put people at the core. So the point now is that if we want to realise a real digital transformation, we must listen to people, we must engage people, we must be driven by people. And then, we can use technology to enhance and to help people to work better and to live better.

Nisha Pillai 00:02:35

I think I get what a digital mindset is and what a people centric mindset is, but how do you bring them together?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:02:40

The point of bringing together the digital mindset and the people mindset of a people approach is about understanding with people how to use digitalisation and how to use technology to work and live better.

When we think of creating new ways of working, when we think of realising a real smart working, it means that we must understand that how people work, how people leave, how people interact.

And then use the technology to help them to work better, faster and easier. The goal at the end of the day is to help people to work better, to be more productive, to use less time, and to have a better resolve that in their work, in their jobs. We can't just implement technology and hope that people can use these technologies.

Nisha Pillai 00:03:42

So what's at stake here then, Alejandro? If businesses don't do this, if they neglect to do this, neglect their people effectively.

Alessandro Rimassa 00:03:50

I'm talking especially of the Italian themselves, the European situation. What do we do? We do services, and we do high value products. And when you do services and high value products, you need people. You need the abilities of people. You need to take care of people and to help them to work better, and to create better services and better products.

If you want to try to digitalise something and to do digital transformation projects, forgetting to put people at the core of your processes, it happens that digital transformation doesn't happen.

You have a technology implementation that is nothing about digital transformation, it is just that having technologies, but then we've no one able to use at its best those technologies.

Nisha Pillai 00:04:45

I was looking through some of your blogs, Alessandro and one particularly caught my eye. I know they're written in Italian, so I'm not sure I've got the translation right, but I think the title said that many successful companies, currently successful, will have to close in the not too distant future if they don't sort out their people issues because I'm going to walk out the door.

Did I get the gist of that right?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:05:10

That's perfectly right. If we consider people as a big piece of the success of our companies, and when we speak of services and high value products, we must consider people as a high value piece of the success of the company.

You must take care of people. Starts with listening to people's needs, listening to people's interests, listening to differences of all the people.

When we speak of diversity and inclusion, it's not just a sentence. It means that listening to the different means, the different cultural approaches, and the different desires of people. So the point is that if you don't do that, it happens that people start choosing other companies.

But if you as a company take care of people and help them to be happier, you are helping them to be more productive also. And if they are happier and more productive, at the end of the day, your company is growing, your revenues are growing, your EBITA is growing. So the point is that taking care of people to me is something definitely important and fundamental.

Nisha Pillai 00:06:36

Indeed, you've been banging your drum about this now for seven or eight years, as you said, but it's hugely pressing issue right now because we're in the grip of a talent war and companies in so many different areas are finding it hard to recruit and to fill vacancies. So make it concrete for us, Alessandro.

When you're talking to entrepreneurs, and business leaders who are saying, yeah, OK, but, you know, what do they actually need to change once they've done the listening.

Alessandro Rimassa 00:07:02

They need to change their approach and they need to understand that people is a real resource of the companies. They must understand that the business results are linked to people, it is not just that business results come up by themselves, especially when we speak of high value products and services, and they need that to change their mindset.

Is it easy? The answer is no. But at the end of the day, digital transformation is not a total change of the world. It is a fast growing change with people at the core. And that's the big challenge of the decade that we are living.

The paradox of these days is that probably the unemployment rate will grow, but at the same time, the difficulties of companies to attract and to retain talents will grow.

In the last two decades, we thought that unemployment was something totally connected to digitalisation, to technology, to artificial intelligence. Now, we are discovering that two different facts are existing at the same time, and we as business leaders must face that with the retention and attraction of talent. That's our big challenge.

Nisha Pillai 00:08:35

And it sounds to me like you're saying that success is for organisations that look after their talent, look after their people, do so in every sense, including health and wellbeing, right?

So my question to you is this, how do you measure the health of a company culture?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:08:52

What's the point of company culture? We grew up with a company regulated by procedures of processes, bureaucracy, internal politics, and things like that. And I don't want to say that something is wrong or something that we must forget, but the point is that right now we must be faster in the continuous changes of companies.

I mean, digital transformation, the fourth industrial revolution, COVID-19, the globalisation getting us to face a continuous change, and to continuously change our companies, we must be fast and being faster is something that is not connected to a rigid procedures and bureaucracy. 

So the point is that we need the company culture, based on values, based on purpose, based on engagement, based on empowerment, to help people to take decisions in a fast way. That's the first point. 

The second one is the wellbeing, especially the corporate wellbeing. So taking care of people and helping them to be happy. So what it means taking care of the wellbeing of people?

It means listening to the different needs of people and transforming the company in a partner of people, not just seeing the company as your employer, but seeing the company as a partner of people in their daily needs. I mean, taking care of the wellbeing, we go and create a life balance.

Nisha Pillai 00:10:40

I couldn't help noticing you mentioned bureaucracy two or three times when talking about company culture. And that brought to mind the question of meetings.

Is there a relationship, do you think, between meetings and how organisations run them? How frequently, how long they are, to what purpose and the wellbeing, the culture of the company?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:11:00

We are having too many meetings, too long meetings and meetings with too many people. When we started, we did COVID-19 and having people connected online, we started with the idea that, OK, I can invite also Nisha in this meeting because maybe she can be interested. Maybe she can be interested. But Nisha is a podcaster and the meeting is on the business strategy.

Why invite Nisha? And that's the point about it's easy. It is just the adding one people. You need that 3 seconds to invite one people more in a meeting. And at the end you think that it's better because everyone is informed.

And then please look at the meetings in the companies right now. It's like 20 people in the same company, in the same meeting, with camera off with audio off. The point is that if you have more than five people in a meeting, you are doing something wrong. 

It is about redesigning our organisation's work, and it can start with the meetings. I always suggest to people to understand the cost of a meeting. When you have 20 people in a meeting of two hours, you have an entire week of a person, 40 hours.

Unfortunately, I think we are just at the beginning of understanding that we must redesign our organisation. And that's also the challenge that we have in the next months and the years.

Nisha Pillai 00:12:42

That's very interesting. Indeed. Let's hope that we see a meeting revolution underway soon. We've been talking about the need for leaders and organisations in your opinion to focus and really listen to what their people are saying and demanding. So, I want to flip that question on its head.

Alessandro, what do you think people, what do you think teams, need from their leaders?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:13:05

When we speak of teams and leaders, I think we speak of the focal point of organisations. To me, organisations today don't need an operating system that is valid for the entire organisation. And don't need to focus on this single person. To me, we must focus on teams.

Teams are the core of organisations.

So when we speak of teams, we speak of something like a small company. And when you run a small company, you know that you must set the goals, manage the cash, manage the time of people, have precise goals, have continuous alignment, have continuous feedback, because that's fundamental, to train people to do their best.

And it's fundamental to create the right work environment to help people to do their best. And from the managers, we need continuous feedback. And when I speak of feedback, I speak of bidirectional feedback. It's not just that I'm giving the feedback to you, but you are also giving the feedback to me.

We need precise goals, and not just tasks. We need goals. We need the support of people to achieve their goals. And then we need celebration to say 'OK Nisha, that's very good that you achieve your goal. And you also did something different from what I thought and thank you for what you did, and thank you for helping me to learn another way of doing this thing.'

It's something that we must really appreciate, that we must learn from each other because teams must grow.

Nisha Pillai 00:14:59

We're living at the moment through hugely uncertain times. There's a possible recession out there on the radar. You can almost feel the anxiety.

What do you think is the role of organisations in a time like this, in managing these feelings and in managing their businesses and their teams?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:15:18

To say the truth, I don't know what's next. But organisations, managers of companies, must deal with it and must deal with that the anxiety and the fears of people. It means that mental wellbeing must be at the core of what we do for people and what we do with people.

It means that then, speaking of mental health, it's not anymore something that must be done out of the company, and something that can be transparent in the relation among people and between that people and companies.

I'm speaking of things that are at the core of the transformation of companies, are at the core of the new role of the companies, and are at the core of the ability of companies to build relations with their people. And so again, to attract and retain the best talents that they can allow companies to grow.

Nisha Pillai 00:16:24

Alessandro, as our conversation comes slowly to a close, I'm going to ask you a question, which is a leap of imagination, really. You have achieved a huge amount and in your career you've set up various companies, including a digital business school, published many books, become a thought influencer. 

What would you say going back in time if you were to bump into your 25 year old self?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:16:46

 If I could speak to the Alessandro of 21 years ago, I would say to Alessandro, enjoy what you are doing. Enjoy what you will do, and don't be concentrated on career, on the money or something like that. But be concentrated on your happiness, because through your happiness, you'll be able to do great things.

If you are happy of what you are doing, if you have the right passion, if you are enjoying the path, not just being concentrated on the results, but enjoying the path. If you enjoy what you are doing, at the end of the day, things are not easy, but then things happen and you achieve big successes.

Nisha Pillai 00:17:44

I like the sound of that. So I'm going to put a final question to you, Alessandro, and that is, what is your most remarkable memory, your most memorable memory, if you like, connected to leading people?

Alessandro Rimassa 00:17:54

I must go back to three year ago, and I was observing five, six people that I hired that I had to grow, and I was seeing them not anymore like my employees, or like young people that started a big project with me. But I was looking at them as managers, as leaders, as people able to help other people to grow.

And that's totally remarkable. That was the moment in which I understood that, OK, my job is done. What's the next challenge for me?

Nisha Pillai 00:18:38

Of course, you lived it yourself, didn't you, Alessandro? Why should I be surprised to hear that? It's such a pleasure having you on The Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us.

Alessandro Rimassa 00:18:47

Thank you, Nisha. It was a big, big pleasure. Thank you very much.