How an Electric Culture Transformed this Colombian Energy Giant

Maria Saldarriaga and Pedro Mejia · October 13, 2020
Celsia Culture 1
Courtesy of Celsia

Celsia, the energy company of the Colombian conglomerate Grupo Argos, boasts an innovative service portfolio based on energy efficiency and a drive to contribute positively towards sustainability in cities, productivity in companies, and improving the everyday quality of life in homes.

They operate in Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Costa Rica and have a fully integrated business model in energy generation. Celsia has 30 energy production centers, 27 of which are for renewable energy sources like hydroelectric, solar, and wind power plants, accounting for a total installed capacity of 1,852 MW. To put this into perspective, 1 MW can power 650 households per year on average. Celsia has 47,690 km of transmission networks, longer than earth’s equatorial circumference, and serves more than 1.2 million clients on a daily basis.

In 2019, Celsia made over $1 billion in revenue through a team of 1,900+ employees that live the culture of innovation and service and make sustainability principles a reality at all stages of the business.

The Org talked to Claudia Salazar, VP of Human Talent at Celsia, to learn how the company has relied on a deeply ingrained culture of togetherness to drive transformation and overall success.

Winter is coming

When CEO Ricardo Sierra, a big fan of Game of Thrones, took over the leadership of the company in 2015, one of the first things he highlighted was that “winter was coming,” referring to the disruption the energy industry was about to face.

By competing against multiple large players in the industry, many of whom had more resources and technology than Celsia, Ricardo and his management team concluded that the only way they could have a competitive edge was to rely heavily on their culture to remain relevant and eventually get ahead. Celsia then embarked on a three year journey to make their culture their biggest asset, and that decision saved the company.

To reiterate this decision and what it has done for Celsia, Claudia said that competitors, “Could copy our pricing and processes, but they’ll never copy our culture.”

Symbols to break paradigms

One of the key factors to making the culture permeate deep inside the organization was to make it tangible through actions and symbols. In Celsia:

  • There are standard office sizes. Regardless of position inside the company, office square footage does not vary.

  • There are no doors anywhere and all physical access restrictions have been eliminated to make the company an open space for everyone.

  • All internal company titles and role levels in the org chart have been eliminated to encourage collaboration. There are only two kinds of roles: collaborators and leaders. Claudia mentioned that, “Ricardo always introduces himself as a leader in Celsia. When asked if he’s been demoted, he then presents himself as the CEO -- the Culture Energy Officer.”

  • Collaborators are re-skilled if they are having a hard time with their current role.

Culture is so important to Celsia that every collaborator receives the orange book; a compilation of company information created in a dynamic way for people to learn about the company’s culture via comics, activities, and fun facts.

Culture as a motor for change

For Celsia, culture is not something that is expressed just in a PowerPoint presentation or their mission statement. It is quite literally something that people embody in hallways, meetings, and company related-decisions. It is a greater force that helps align individual efforts with company-wide results. The company’s culture is based on four pillars:

1. "We are agile and trustworthy"

They encourage a startup mentality within their individual teams to emphasize ‘trial and error.’ Failing is part of the process and the client is always at the center of the decision making process.

2. "We do our best to grow together"

They understand the importance of relationships before transactions. The company talks about clients instead of users, allies instead of suppliers, and collaborators instead of employees.

3. "We dare to be different"

They understand the value in finding new ways to communicate and connect with people via podcasts, newsletters, and in true Silicon Valley style, Ricardo hosts a monthly live meetup to update all the collaborators on the company’s progress.

4. "We enjoy making life easier"

This mindset has allowed the company to eliminate 80% of the antiquated formats and processes they used in 2015, and all new and existing processes are now digitized.

As Claudia said, “Celsia’s heart is its culture. People carry the culture from the moment they start working in the company until the day they leave. Everything we do is in reference to our cultural pillars; we live them and enjoy them.”

This has led Celsia to understand that their business goes way beyond the power meter. They continuously strive to innovate in their three main verticals by serving households, companies, and cities. One of their main goals for 2025 is to have over 50% of their revenue coming from non-traditional energy sources and living the culture is setting them up for that innovation.

Sustainability

As an energy company highly focused on renewable energy, it’s no surprise Celsia has a big commitment to sustainability.

ReverdeC is an initiative to plant 10 million trees in 10 years. So far, they’ve planted four million trees since 2016.

Celsia is the best-positioned energy company in Colombia according to the Dow Jones MILA index that measures economic, social, and environmental practices in companies in Chile, Peru, Mexico, and Colombia. They were ratified for the second consecutive year as a member of the Global Index of Dow Jones Sustainability of the Latin American Integrated Market, MILA, and Pacific Alliance.

Celsia is tenth in the worldwide ranking of companies in the utilities sector that are part of the Dow Jones Global Index.

The results: What culture brings to Celsia

For all this work, they have been recognized as a Great Place To Work for the third year in a row by Great Culture To Innovate 2019, 2nd place in the Equity Ranking PAR in 2019, and most recently, they won the CHARGE award 2020, which recognizes an energy brand that stands out from the competition as the best-established brand.

But beyond recognition, Celsia has achieved some crucial milestones. They became a safer place to work, reducing the frequency of incidents from 26 per year in 2016 to 11 in 2019. They have the lowest employee rotation index in the industry. They became a more agile company for collaborators and clients by eliminating all physical formats and leveraging digital.

And from a financial perspective, they went from reporting financial losses in 2015 of $15 million to report a net profit of $172 million in 2019 due in part to its important cultural transformation.

As Claudia stated, “Culture isn’t just nice stories and good branding, when well-performed, it translates in productivity and profitability for the companies.”

Celsia Culture 2

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