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Cesar Palacios – Inkia Energy

HR, comms leader puts his faith in cultural transformation

Over the course of a long career in human resources, Cesar Palacios has become a believer. After working for companies like Warner Lambert, Pfizer, Cadbury, Gloria and, at present, Inkia Energy, he’s a bit of an evangelist for the key role HR plays as a partner to the business.

“Why I consider that crucial is because it helps any organization to focus on what is important in sustaining a business, and preparing that business for the future,” Palacios says. “And one of the things that I have been working on, first and foremost, is cultural transformation.”

For Palacios, that means everything from establishing key principles to standardizing and digitalizing HR processes at Inkia. The Peru-based company generates and distributes electrical power across nine Latin American countries. Inkia is currently working on a divestment which, with the help of Palacios’ department, will be finalized next year.

Cesar Palacios | Chief HR & Communications Officer | Inkia Energy

Cesar Palacios | Chief HR & Communications Officer | Inkia Energy

Whatever he does, Palacios is guided by three goals: create a vision, empower managers and design policies that facilitate environmental, social and governance initiatives.

He says he’s grateful to have been part of organizations where he could realize a vision and craft a mission and values to steer the company. He also believes that part of HR’s role is to improve managers’ people skills and help them establish standard HR processes—in effect, making every manager an HR manager for their team—so the company can be one cohesive group. Finally, he feels it’s HR’s duty to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, especially nowadays.

“Through diversity, people feel that they are included,” Palacios says. “It helps us to enhance what I consider very important for every employee in each organization, and that word is engagement.”

Laying the foundation of company culture

The foundation of any cultural transformation is a set of guiding principles, Palacios says. He’s developed them collaboratively at Inkia and believes they are a prerequisite to attracting, developing and retaining talent.

“What I like about my company culture is that it has been created through a process that goes with the participation of practically the whole organization,” he says. “And one of the things that I like about the work on this is that we captured the best about both [merged] organizations [that formed Inkia Energy] in order to align the people behind our purpose and also what we call our key principles.”

Cesar Palacios | Chief HR & Communications Officer | Inkia Energy

Those principles include empowered teamwork, value creation, transparency, innovation, integrity and ethics. According to Palacios, through those guiding principles, HR has been able to maintain the company’s culture even as Inkia underwent major changes to operations processes following the COVID-19 pandemic and a major merger.

Palacios has also implemented rewards for performance, such as the annual short-term incentives program and the Inspira program, which recognize work carried out by employees to continuously improve operational processes and excellence in the safety, social, environmental and exceptional achievements categories, respectively.

“At the end, as part of every HR role that I have performed before is, you need to reward the best in order to create within your culture a high-performing organization,” Palacios says. “So, reward and recognition are a key part to reach a high-performing organization.”

Digitalizing HR mid-pandemic

That’s not to say the cultural transformation has been easy. The pandemic proved a testing ground for Palacios and his team’s ambitions to transform Inkia’s HR operations. He was in the middle of standardizing and digitalizing HR processes when COVID-19 struck. Suddenly, he couldn’t hold regular meetings with colleagues, and everything seemed to be up in the air as the company scrambled to shift to remote work.

“We began the process in 2020, and we were able to begin and implement all the modules that facilitate our process of digitalization—performance, compensation, talent planning and learning,” Palacios says. “We were successful in that implementation, no matter that we did it in the middle of the pandemic.”

Cesar Palacios | Chief HR & Communications Officer | Inkia Energy

He coordinated across eight Latin American countries and the HR departments of multiple business units, working virtually to ensure the digitalization process went according to plan. They transitioned to new software that allowed them to increase interactions between managers and their direct reports—thus improving decision-making agility and getting better results—and worked with a vendor, HCC Seidor, that helped to direct the implementation.

“We were not able to have people meeting together, especially the people that we have in Guatemala down to Argentina,” Palacios says. “But we were able to launch at the end of 2020 this HR system that is now helping us greatly.”

Rising to a strategic role

A graduate of Peru’s National University of Engineering, Palacios also completed a human resources program at Harvard Business School in 2002.

He began his career at Chrysler, working his way up to senior purchasing rep, before becoming a salary administrator at Warner Lambert in 1983. He rose to human resources director there, then global rewards system director.

Cesar Palacios | Chief HR & Communications Officer | Inkia Energy

In 2000, Palacios became an HR director at Pfizer. He moved to Cadbury in 2003, where he held the HR leadership role for South America, then became a partner at Amrop Peru, an executive search firm, in 2009. In 2012, he joined Gloria as corporate director of human resources, and in 2018, he took over HR and communications at Inkia Energy.

“My role is strategic in this process since we are not only selling turbines and transmission lines,” Palacios says. “We are also transferring human capital, and for this to have a robust culture, it is key that it be a successful process where employees are committed to the organization.”

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