Jan. 12, 2023

2023: Dare to Choose

Join hosts Matt Perez and Jose Leal in another rHarchery interview, this time with Iamena Crolla, Founder of CUMBIA, to discuss today’s musts for a positive impact in society and workplace transformation.

Join hosts Matt Perez and Jose Leal in another rHarchery interview, this time with Iamena Crolla, Founder of CUMBIA, to discuss today’s musts for a positive impact in society and workplace transformation.  


Jose Leal: (00:02)
Hello, and welcome to rHatchery Live. I'm Jose Leal with my partner Matt Perez. And today our guest is Iamena Crolla. Did I pronounce that correctly Iamena?

Iamena Crolla: (00:13)
Yes. Perfect.

Jose Leal: (00:15)
Awesome. It helps that I can roll my tongue.

Iamena Crolla: (00:21)
Your Portuguese. So, you have advantage .

Jose Leal: (00:25)
Welcome, welcome. Wonderful to have another conversation with you. I've had the privilege of having a pretty lengthy conversation with you, actually when we first met. Matt has not. So tell us a little bit about, especially how Cumbia came about, but why Columbia came about.

Iamena Crolla: (00:48)
Well, actually, it's a story that starts when I would say five or six years ago, I realized about the impact that changing the way we work has in the performance of the companies and also in the life of people. I was born, raised in Uruguay. I went then to Paris, and I started working in a startup company in 2007 specialized in the renewable energy world. And I grew up with that company. I stayed with them for almost 15 years. And in the last position, I was responsible for a team multicultural, international. And at the same time, I had two kids. And let's say that my life as a mom and my life as a leader were evolving. At the same time, I was asking me questions about what mom I want to be, what leader I want to be.

Iamena Crolla: (01:59)
And then I discovered the world about the theater organizations, the new ways of working. And for me it was like mind-blowing. And I had the chance to experiment everything in my last position. I was really lucky to be able to do that. And I saw in three years the power of transformation, the power of applying these principles to teams, to companies. And I had a little voice since maybe two or three years that was telling me, you have to change this rhythm of corporate life it's too much. I wanted to get closer to the earth and to have also more impact in other areas of society. And in 2020, I felt I was ready to do that change. I had a “b” plan that was let's say contributing to, to the revolution of the workplace.

Iamena Crolla: (03:04)
And that's how we moved to Sicily, because my husband is Sicilian. So, we found a new home here. And at the same time, I founded Lia, which mission is to contribute to the workplace transformation by supporting companies, any kind of companies, to transform themselves to align their interests of the persons, of the companies with the interest of the company itself. So, helping the companies to thrive in this new context by engaging everyone that works for them, let's say. So that's how Cumbia was born.

Jose Leal:  (03:49)
That's great. So, what would you describe when you, when you started Cumbia, when you were having that energy to do that, what did you think was the problem that you wanted to address? What did you see as the problem within work today?

Iamena Crolla: (04:09)
I could say that the problem is that the problem actually is complex, is diverse, and it's global. So, the world has changed a lot in the recent years. And we are still working with an old parroting with an old, let's say, mechanistic view of the world, of the universe. So, the problems we have now are complex like climate prices, covid, and the ones that will come in the future migratory crisis work. So, the challenges are daily evolving, and that's the market in where companies must live in and must thrive. So, I could say that the main problem is that the companies, and I mean the people inside the companies, and the companies are not comfortable with that moving status. We are still stuck in this way of seeing the world while everything is black or white, where if you press a button, you have a predictable result.

Iamena Crolla: (05:13)
We could divide problems in smaller parts. We could solve an independently, I mean, we know today how to manage and how to solve very complicated things, but we are lost when it comes to complexity. When we have in front of us, like a plate of spaghetti, we are lost. We don't know how to find the solution because we have not been educated in that way. So, let's say that business as usual does not work in this new context. So that's the main challenge that I see. And that's the, in this context, that's what I think there is a lot of work to do in order to help people and companies to get used to that, because it's the future, it's the present, and it'll be the future

Matt Perez:  (05:59)
Okay. So, one thing came to mind as you were talking, there's a company in Spain called Quesos K-R-I-S-O-S. And I will introduce you to the woman who started the whole thing. And she's worked with k2K are you familiar with k2K in Spain?

Iamena Crolla: (06:24)

Matt Perez: (06:26)
In northern Spain. And she works there for a while and you guys should meet because it is kind of the same thing of transforming companies and but they're more into not just consulting, but, you know, buying company and transforming it and then sending it back to employees and stuff like that.

Iamena Crolla: (06:48)
Yes, I've heard it's they're linked with corporate rebels.

Matt Perez: (06:53)
They're in corporate rebels is one of the partners.

Iamena Crolla: (06:57)
Yes, I've heard about them.

Matt Perez: (06:59)
Okay. And you grew up in Uruguay and I guess that's Montevideo? Okay. It's based on Uruguay that's why in the capital. So that's why I guess that the other thing is you mentioned impact, and that's an important word for us. So that companies, I don't know exactly the context, but you mentioned the word impact, and but I think we're sent in the way of impact is this have individual, you know, an individual or a group of people, or whether having an impact beyond what the company wants, you know, the straightway all that stuff is the system. So, the system, the mindset that assumes that things can be done a certain time in a certain way, blah, blah, blah. It's not, you're fired, you know, that kind thing. So, what are you doing with Cumbia? And I don't know if you have any clients here, but where are they going and I'm more interested in what's actually happening going forward towards the more impactful world.

Iamena Crolla: (08:26)
Yes. Well, first of all, I would say that the important thing, and that's why I wanted to title this call, dare to choose. I think that the, the important thing is that we, we start taking responsibility on our own lives. So, we start thinking about how we can contribute. And that's like my definition of impact. I mean, my definition, one definition that I like to use of impact is how I can contribute, even if it is small, even if it is at home, even if it is in my neighborhood, at school, at work, how I can contribute to make someone else life better, starting by my own life better. And then how can I share, how can I impact someone else's life? Sometimes when we talk about impact, it's so big and the challenges are so huge that it seems like impossible and too far, too difficult.

Iamena Crolla: (09:30)
So we say, okay, it's not our fault. It's someone else's fault. It's my boss. Oh, I see. It's the shareholders. It's, so, I like to see impact, and I like to see this this these challenges I like to address, let's say, or face the challenges we have now in this way, in starting by ourselves saying, how can I change something about my daily life? How can I do something to say, stop to this colleague that's treating me in a way that's not okay for me? How can I speak up to say that I want to do a training? How can I speak up to say that I need to leave early the office because I have a boy or a small girl, or whatever. So, I like to think about impacting this way because it's everyone can have impact, even if it's not changing the world of being the president of some country and having a huge impact in everybody.

Iamena Crolla: (10:28)
But if we all have a small impact, then the impact is financial. So that's how I see impact, and that's how I see responsibility and the importance of thinking about how oneself can be responsible, what's not going on in your life. I mean, what's not going on in your job, thinking, what's actually important for you? What's important for your company? What gets you moving? What do you really care about as a leader or as an employee, or just as a citizen. And then try to build a plan around that. So concretely, that's what I'm doing with the companies that I am working. That's what I'm doing in my life. That's what I'm doing. Also, in other projects that I have is trying to help people, finding their vision, their purpose in which they can have impact. And it's not necessarily changing the world, but it's maybe changing someone's world. And that's already a lot.

Matt Perez: (11:33)
So, you are actually Jose can speak more to purpose because that's the thing that you got to start somewhere and then you get to work and you're no longer an individual anymore. So, the company has changed, but your thing is purpose and having people change their mindset, and that changes. So, what are your clients doing? What are you doing, and what are your clients doing?

Iamena Crolla: (12:05)
So my clients start by accepting that they have to change something, that they have to put themselves in the middle and challenge themselves and all their certitudes they have. So we start questioning yourself, the certainties, listening, accepting from a leader's perspective, because my first approach to a accompanies the leader or the leadership team, and they have to accept that they do not have all the answers. That the complex, the diverse challenges that we have in front of you can only be raised by a complex and diverse team. So the strategy should be driving by the values of the team should be driving, but what really matters to everyone? So, the starting point is having everyone on board and starting from a clear shared purpose of the company. So why we do what we do? Then what do we do to contribute to this purpose? Then we work on the values. We work on what's really important for us.

Matt Perez: (13:07)
Let me understand. We start, we were talking about individuals and purpose, and that changes everything. So you're saying that my purpose changes the company's purpose, or because you, you said about company's purpose and that's throw me off.

Iamena Crolla: (13:27)
Yes. I mean, when I work with the companies, that's the approach I propose. We start by saying, why does this company exist? I mean, what's the sense why? To what higher purpose does this company contribute or want this company to contribute? So, then we think about how this purpose is aligned with the purpose of the company's employees, about the team. And we draw as a purpose that is shared by everyone, that everyone feels inspired by it. So, it's not again, for example, I work with a communication agency right now, and their scope to their purpose is to contribute to professionalizing and contribute to the growth of the Italian network of companies. I mean, I don't have it in English, I have it in Italian. So, and then they are a communication agent. So, what they do to contribute to that is that they work on the communication strategy, on the image of this network. And that's where we start from. So it's something that inspires having impact on something else that just the work you do every day.


Matt Perez: (14:49)
Okay. So that's the company, that's the company purpose, right? Not, so it sounds like he proceeds from a company purpose, you talked to the leadership or the CEO or whatever, I don't like the word leadership, but you talked to CEO and the executive and then come up with a purpose, and then people are inspired by that. Is that about right?

Iamena Crolla: (15:18)
Well, actually, the purpose is written by everyone. Not, it's not a top-down process. It's something that takes time, can take a lot of time depending on the size of the company, but it's not something that's decided by the management. It's something that is okay, built by the whole team. Usually, it's started or kicked off by the management that someday founded the company and had their own stories. So, it's the input of the founders, of the top leadership, if it's the same, it's really important. But it's not the only one. I mean, to build the purpose of a company, its mission, its values. We need all the team because the main challenge is having everyone feeling part of it and feeling that their own personal purpose is aligned or as aligned as possible to the company's purpose. So that's a huge challenge. And that's the first step of every work I do .

Iamena Crolla: (16:25)
So without that, you can go, you can move forward. Sorry, Jose.

Jose Leal: (16:30)
No, that's all right. I'm sorry for dropping in there. But I mean, that's somewhat similar to the traditional mission type of work, right? Where we define a mission or a vision for an organization. How do we then, how does that alter the way that we organize and the way that we work and the way that we govern the organization? What changes from there?

Matt Perez: (17:03)
Well, let me, let me jump in and make your direction. It didn't sound like the traditional, the boss tells you what the mission is, good luck. I don't know about the good luck, but the boss tells what is, she says it takes a long time, and I imagine

Jose Leal: (17:21)

Matt Perez: (17:22)
More of a process is talking to everybody and coming with something. But it’s still very company oriented. And okay, that's it. I'm sorry.

Iamena Crolla: (17:37)
So the how does this alter, I mean, this is one part of the puzzle. This is the, for me, the starting point, because it's like the compass that tells you where we want to go and why we are doing what we are doing, actually. So, from there, we build a strategy with the well goals. So, what it's needed to ensure that everyone has the needed autonomy. And then we work about we work around the co-management. I've stolen one, that one from you, Jose, because I really you have the copyright. I like much more that that concept compared to self-management. And that's the key also. That's another key of the, of the big transformational path that we can promote in companies is how do we structure the company, again, starting from the purpose, but how do we structure the company in order to ensure that everyone is autonomous in doing their work, their job while they grow?

Iamena Crolla: (18:46)
And why they feel free to do it, but free with limits that are defined by the structure that they have coil. So, the whole one very big challenge, and I think that's probably one of the main challenges is how to structure this autonomy in order to ensure that the company's co-managed, so everyone is able to do its own work according to rules of the game that are built by the whole team. And that's a really big challenge because I think, and I've seen that sometimes we kind of do how you say new working, new ways of working washing just by making the good names. But at the end of the day, it's the same. Like, you use the good model. You put the names, you put everything in circles, but at the end of the day, you see the same parroting, like people having to ask to their boss to spend 1000 euros or things like that, you know? So, I think that's a very big challenge. And I think that that's where we have a, a lot of work and a lot of potential in order to ensure that everyone is really engaged around the purpose and with the necessary tools in order to contribute to it, actually. So there's a lot of work.

Matt Perez: (20:26)
So, you're saying that people have to be aligned and definitely people have to be aligned? Particularly in our model, which is no bosses, no hierarchy, no titles. Then what do you do? Which way are you growing? Right? And people have to be aligned to pull in the same direction.

Iamena Crolla: (20:46)
So yes, but they also need to know what they can do and what they cannot do. I like as I said at the beginning, my first approach to these new ways of working was being a mother and asking myself, how do I want to raise my kids? And my first approach to autonomy and responsibilities was with my kids. And then I used it in the companies that I work for. But autonomy is being free, but knowing where you can go and where you cannot go, and give

Matt Perez: (21:23)
Us an example of that. Can you speak about your kids and how that works in that context?

Iamena Crolla: (21:30)
Yes, of course. We have, in our house, we have the rules of the house. They are in the walls, and we all know them. We are not always happy to live by them. And if we need to update them, then we update them. We do a meeting, we discuss, and we change them. My kids are six and eight years old, and we've done them for some years now. And in the company, in the company is the same, more complex, probably because we have processes, because we have steps, we have other rules outside of the company that we need to respect, but it's actually more or less the same.

Matt Perez: (22:16)
But, but I'm interested in how it works in your house, a six year old, nine year old and you agree to a set of rules and stuff like that. So, I'd like you to walk into that. So, it lets the kids be autonomous within that boundary. And but how's work? I'm fascinated by that .

Iamena Crolla: (22:42)
Well, I could show you the board that we have , if you want. I can take it. I can ask my children to take them out. They could present it to you, not sure in English, but

Iamena Crolla: (22:56)
in Spanish or Italian. But it's actually knowing what's important for us. So, for us, it's important to respect timing. So, it's important to know at what time we are getting out of bed, what time is it breakfast, what time we go to school. And if we don't then we have no more time. If we are late into breakfast, then we have no more time, and we might go to school without having breakfast. So, it's like teaching them that they are rules that we agree on them, and that if they don't respect those rules, then there are consequences that come just naturally or logically. So, it's not punishing them just as in a company, it's not punishing, it's just assuming that if we agree on something, then we have to respect it. So, we have rules about how we speak to each other about the fact that that we don't have to raise the voice or to use violence between brothers and sisters. Sometimes it can get, it can get tough. So, these rules we have always put them on the wall in at home, and they have evolved with time. Some years ago, it was the pencils are for coloring and not for eating.

Iamena Crolla: (24:22)
So we always, we kept them like we have them stored because I think we will laugh a lot when they will be grown up. But it's like that. And that's life. I mean, we need to live by rules. If we want to have safe and strong bonds, we need to agree on how do we want to manage those bonds.

Jose Leal: (24:44)
So yeah. I have a different perspective, and I wonder if you would entertain me for a second. So those rules that you called rules were co-created.

Iamena Crolla: (25:01)

Jose Leal: (25:02)
And so they're in agreement.

Iamena Crolla: (25:05)

Jose Leal: (25:06)
They were co-created agreements.

Iamena Crolla: (25:09)

Jose Leal: (25:10)
And, my view is that when we look at a rule imposed by a ruler, then that's a rule that's imposed, right. And I didn't make it. Whereas, and it's actually our mutual colleague Doug Kirkpatrick, that introduced this idea to us we don't impose rules. We impose agreements on each other, and we honor those agreements, right? And so, the idea for us has been that the concept of imposing rules always makes someone feel like they're being imposed on, whereas agreeing to the terms of engagement, whatever the engagement happens to be, in this case, living in a home together, makes for a different role. So, I like that language better myself. But I think it, what you're saying is what you're dealing with is not rules by the traditional term definition of rules. But agreements that came and emerged together. And we very much agree with that as the types of agreements that we make within organizations and across each other as well working together.

Matt Perez: (26:55)
Yes. She's talking a lot more the limits you have to get to schools to a certain time, etcetera. So, what are we going to do about it? And I mean, one of the rules could be win until they turn 17.

Iamena Crolla: (27:12)
Because I'm not saying hurry.

Matt Perez: (27:15)
Because then the rule would be, who cares about that timing? I'm going to go whenever I feel like it. And so yeah, it is going to get more complicated, but there, you know, school starts at a certain time and ends at a certain time and stores closed and open and stuff like that. So and my feelings that she was putting a lot of emphasis in that boundary.

Jose Leal: (27:43)

Matt Perez: (27:44)
There's more of a boundary rather than what's inside the circle, which is what Jose was talking about more about and what are we going to do about it? What are, that's our agreements to show up on time and leave on time and stuff like that.

Jose Leal: (28:04)
We've got a

Matt Perez: (28:04)
Couple of minutes being aware that there are rules imposed by the system. So

Jose Leal: (28:10)
Yeah. We've got a couple of minutes left, and I'm wondering if maybe we can ask a minute to talk a little bit about whether she thinks that the work that we're all doing in this space of future of work and Cumbia and, and k2K and all of the other folks that are working on this are, what's missing? What do you think is still missing? What hasn't really been tackled?

Iamena Crolla: (28:44)
I'm not sure that I have the answer for that because I'm still experimenting a lot. And I think that if we keep experimenting with what's already has been done, and we keep having more impact on more companies, it'll be already a lot. I would say that what I see sometimes lacking is might seem strange, but it's more listening from the consultant side, let's say more empathy with the company, more empathy with the real life they face more empathy with the complexity of the businesses. Sometimes we are so also as consultants, so focused, so convinced, so, you know, fun of what we do, that we forget that for companies it's part of the solution, let's say, or part of the, of their time. And it's not always easy for them to have the availability they need. So, I would say that what we need is to remember that even if we might be sometimes more aware of some things and, and sometimes more informed about this kind of the impact that this kind of working can have, we should be much really humble and really listening to the company's needs also in terms of business and very pragmatic aspects. So I feel sometimes that's lacking.

Jose Leal: (30:35)
We're run out of time, and I'm not sure if that's the alarm or if that's a phone call from Matt.

Matt Perez: (30:40)
But just, just a phone call, but it could as well be an alarm. I have one last question that I want to let sneak in. So, I founded and we're part of, I was part of a company still, I for 17 years, and it was self-managed because the co-management thing hadn't come up. But it co-managed. And what I discovered many years later with Jose's help is that even though it's self-managed, the other big part of the thing that you had to, you and I have, have the result is the ownership. Because you may not be the boss, but you're the owner. And that made a huge difference in our ranking. So I invite you to consider that at some point.

Iamena Crolla: (31:38)
Yes. That's, I don't know if we have one minute more or…

Jose Leal: (31:43)
We can stretch it a little bit.

Iamena Crolla: (31:45)
Yeah, we can stretch . So, I really thought a lot about that because after our discussion with Jose, that was something that kept in my mind. And I really think that the key element is of course the governance and how do you structure the way that you can decide in a company. But I think that there is a challenge. I'm not sure about the answer of that. I would say that for sure if you have co-ownership, it's great. But the challenge is that if you have co-owners that are at different level of, of awareness, different level of consciousness, let's say evolution. It might also be a challenge because co-ownership could be like the ideal system, the ideal way of functioning, but you need all the co-owners to be at the same level or very close level of alignment, purpose, vision. And I think that's a huge challenge. I'm not saying it's possible,

Matt Perez: (33:00)
But I think it's very difficult. It's a huge challenge. And I mean, it took me over a year to figure it out, so it wasn't, oh my god, it is ownership. So no, it's a huge challenge in general. So, yeah. With that, that's the end of interview, and we thank you very much. It was really interesting. Thank you talking with you. And the next interview is with Paul Aller co-founder of Impak Finance. And he's going to talk about E S G and gain transparency. I don't know, those two are related. Be, well anyway, I got my own opinion on E S G. But anyways, and E S G standing for environmental, social and governance investing. But we'll see what he has to say. It is a complicated thing. And my own position, our position is that once things become encase in law is more of an, it always protects business as it is, not businesses shipping. And we're stuck with it, and we have to fight that as well. So, we'll work around or resisted or whatever the right word is, without killing anybody. I don't want to kill anybody. So with that, Jose, do you have anything else?

Jose Leal: (34:35)
No, just thank you Iamena, it is a pleasure again, and I look forward to future conversations. And I'll send you the bill for co-management.

Iamena Crolla: (34:46)
No, no, no, no.

Matt Perez: (34:50)
She's laughing.

Iamena Crolla: (34:54)
I'm Italian. You know, it's like I'm Italian Uruguayan. So, I laugh when we talk about money.

Matt Perez: (35:01)
It was a joke. With that, thank you very much and

Iamena Crolla: (35:05)
Thanks a lot.

Matt Perez: (35:06)
We'll see you next week.

Iamena Crolla: (35:08)
Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Iamena Crolla Profile Photo

Iamena Crolla


After 14 years of experience as part of the top management of Akuo energy, supporting the company's exponential growth and leading a multicultural and international team, Iamena decided to change her life, move from Paris to the Sicilian countryside and share her experience with people and companies that want to change the way they work and live.
Her mission is to help people and companies in a transformation that will enable them to raise the complex challenges of our today's world while positively impacting their environment.

With this purpose and mission, she founded Cumbia, free & performing people.
Iamena also collaborates with Change Makers Factory (https://www.changemakersfactory.com/) as member of the core team and she is developing with her family a project around sustainable tourism, permaculture and positive education in Sicily.