Lessons from the C-suite: Nicole Alvino

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Nicole Alvino has always loved business and the ability of companies to create positive change

I started out…

In structured finance and corporate development at Enron. Straight out of college I learnt a lot about ethics—the hard way.

As a member of the CFO’s SWOT team, my bosses gave me power of attorney and asked me to fly to the Cayman Islands to buy a $400 million Turkish power plant.

As far as I knew, it was all part of my company’s mission. Watching my bosses go to jail, I quickly realised that transparency and honesty have to be at the core of culture.

I knew this was the right career path for me when…

I have always loved business and the ability of companies to create positive change. My Enron experience led me down an entrepreneurial path so that I could define the culture and ethics of a business and ensure that situation wouldn’t happen again.

I founded Social Chorus, as I recognised that connecting and aligning employees is critical to transforming businesses, and that communication sits at the heart of that process.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way

The Enron experience was a huge lesson right at the beginning of my career. It helped me understand that a business is only as strong as its people - and that leaders need to be honest and transparent in order to build trust.

My proudest achievement…

Is building SocialChorus into a global technology leader used by millions of employees at the world’s largest companies across the Global 500.

My biggest mistake…

I think it was simply trusting the wrong people. The best part of making mistakes is learning from them. After Enron I took five months off and travelled. I ended up drafting business plans and returned to grad school knowing I had an opportunity to influence culture and ethics so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

My biggest inspiration…

Is one of my first bosses at Enron. She remains the only female boss in my career, and she was the only woman in a very male-dominated, aggressive culture.

She was also one who did not go to jail, as she always maintained her sense of ethics. She was incredibly supportive and gave me access to work experiences usually reserved for more senior people. I work to empower others the way she empowered me.

Keeping me awake at night right now…

Is wondering what kind of world my sons will inherit from us and contemplating how we can create more trust and understanding.

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years will be…

This year we’ve seen the proliferation of ‘fake news’ spill out of the political sphere and make its way into organisations. Companies are now battling new frontiers we’ve never seen before – from the fight against ‘deepfakes’ to ‘digital water coolers’ running rampant among employees, to the spread of social and collaboration platforms that make it easy for anyone to spread disinformation.

In the coming year, these forces will come to a head for business leaders as they look to combat the infiltration of fake news and deliver a unified message to employees.

I need my HR director to…

Steer the organisation to adopt a multi-generational, multi-channel engagement strategy in order to win employees’ mindshare.

It annoys me when HR…

Is stuck in its ways, simply relying on surveys, and pushing out the odd newsletter or diatribe from the CEO. It doesn’t work and is, frankly, an insult to their co-workers.

More HRDs would become CEO if…

They became a force for ethics. This year we’ve witnessed a myriad of factors forcing companies to recognise the importance of ethical leadership.

From employee protests and walkouts, to GDPR and the data privacy troubles of companies like Facebook, ethics has become the crux of both employee satisfaction and business success as employees demand more out of their employers.

What I’m reading right now…

I’m just finishing Sapiens and have just started Ben Horowtiz’s new book What You Do is Who You Are. I always check Bill Gates reading list for inspiration.

My top leadership tip…

Be transparent. This is the foundation of trust. And trust is key to culture. And authenticity is part of transparency. At the end of the day, business is people. And people want to work for people they trust, who listen, and who inspire them.

Nicole Alvino is co-founder and chief strategy officer of Social Chorus

This piece appeared in the April 2020 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk

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