There Is Only One Right Path. And That's Your OwnMAKE PLANS FOR YOUR CAREER, BUT DON'T BE BOUND BY THEM; CULTIVATE AGILITY AND BE PREPARED WHEN THE LUCKY BREAK HAPPENS: THIS IS THE ADVICE OF MONICA POSSA, ALUMNA AND GROUP CHIEF HR ORGANIZATION OFFICER AT GENERALI
"My career does not arise from some kind of hyper-rationalist meta-plan, but from sticking to my passions, starting from a humanistic interest in people and the desire to have an impact on society. Even if at first I was not clear how to put all this to good use”. Monica Possa, Generali's Group Chief HR & Organization Officer, goes back to the past, summing up the succession of different experiences that took from her classical studies in high school and economic studies at Bocconi, where she also worked as a researcher in international economics, to the top echelons of the Generali insurance group. "If today I had to give advice to a young executive, I would say: be curious and seek your own path, without being afraid to swerve along the way, because there is always a better path and it is different for each one of us".
When did you feel you were leaving the beaten path in your career?
For example, when, as an economist, I left academic research to throw myself into the field of consultancy, a completely different environment in which you work with a practical approach on the issues that are critical for companies, with tight deadlines, in extremely merit-based teams. For a manager, consulting remains a context full of challenges, in which your skills are refined and you come to understand a lot about yourself. After a few years in the consulting industry, for example, I realized that the organizational model and people are essential to build competitive advantage in a company and that from then on I would follow this aspect closely. And then my career took a major turn, when Vittorio Colao called for the role of HR manager at Omnitel, even though I didn't have any prior experience or the specific background that was needed. I made a choice that no consultant at the time would have considered smart, but which turned out to be right one for me. And to those who say that luck also counts, I answer that it does, but when the opportunity arrives, you must be prepared. This is why I think it is right to make plans for one's career, but without the rigidity that I often observe, otherwise it becomes a constraint, a limit. Instead, we need to cultivate agility, work on constant reskilling and let what happens inspire us.
Are there still functions that are more strategic than others for targeting important roles in a company?
Yes, but less and less. Client fronting functions are certainly very important, but also technology, finance, legal, human resources and all other functions because the business organization is increasingly fluid and the boundaries of roles and functions are less and less defined. The ability in a manager that today brings real rewards is knowing how to develop a vision, gather the right people around him and inspire them towards change, because all sectors are undergoing profound transformation. The role of the CEO, in essence, is also to aggregate people around transformative projects and this ability is found in people, not in functions. Unfortunately, the labor market in Italy still operates according to old paradigms and gives little incentive to young people to do projects with courage and become entrepreneurs of themselves.
How are the remote working context and the lack of physical relationships affecting career development?
Even well before the pandemic, Generali had the goal of adopting smart working in all of the group's organizational entities. This, together with a profound process of cultural transformation started some time ago, has certainly made us readier to face this emergency situation. Being able to leverage remote work as the only way for such a long time has forced companies to trust their own employees much more. The fact that in most cases performance had not been affected confirms that, with an adequate work of empowerment, a context can be created in which people work better. In short, career opportunities do not seem to have worsened. Furthermore, as a manager, this situation paradoxically pushes us to greater closeness. If earlier exchanges with colleagues or employees were driven by chance, like meetings by the coffee machine, today I have to look for them with awareness to fill with humanity the void left by technologies. And this opens up a great space for dialogue. The optimal thing for companies would be to integrate this dimension with the essential one of the office, which remains the key place to build a sense of belonging and carry out transversal creative activities.
How complicated is it to get to the top as a female manager?
The gender gap with men exists, the numbers say so. It is a thorny issue, a problem but also an opportunity for executives who manage a company. Women need a longer time horizon to emerge and the conditions must be created for this truth to be accepted and lived serenely by all. I am convinced that the new post-Covid normality will favor the access of women to top positions because there will stronger emphasis on performance and a meritocratic culture will be established in which many of the current distortions will tend to disappear.
A Bocconi graduate in Economic and Social Disciplines (DES), Monica Possa is Generali's Group Chief HR & Organization Officer. After nearly a decade of consulting at Gemini and Boston Consulting Group, she worked as HR manager at Omnitel and RCS Mediagroup. “When I chose the DES I didn't have any of this planned”, comments the manager. "However, in the program I found a stimulating environment, already open to internationalization, with extraordinary scholars and teachers such as Mario Monti, Piergaetano Marchetti, Fabrizio Onida, and course on topics like logic or epistemology, as well as economics and quantitative methods, which have shaped me as a person and then as a professional. After graduation, I was so enthusiastic for Bocconi that I decided to stay at the university as a researcher at CESPRI (the then Center for Studies on Business Internationalization Processes, now part of KITeS). After two years, I actually realized it wasn't my thing. I needed to move into an area in which to put my more relational and less academic skills to good use and I chose consulting: that was also a leap in the dark, but at that point I really felt I had all the tools to carve my own path".
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