In 1977 Pink Floyd released Animals, following two hits such as The Dark Side of the Moon in 1973 and Wish You Were Here in 1975. Their foresight lay not only in taking up George Orwell’s Animal Farm, but in using animals to divide the population into dogs, pigs and sheep. This is not the place to delve into Pink Floyd’s metaphors with respect to humankind, although the meanings of their division are obvious.
Why do we talk about this now, why does Roncucci&Partners touch on these issues? We have been working on organizations and people forever, but at the same time we ourselves are people, before anything else. The ability to live in a work environment depends on each of us having an awareness of the environment in which we live.
The pandemic first and the chaos following the war later (fuel costs, energy costs, raw or semi-finished material costs, transportation costs, and one could go on) changed companies forever, although it is hard to realize that today. And when we talk about companies we are talking about entrepreneurs and employees, people anyway. And to avoid any easy judgment, far be it from us to equate people with dogs or pigs or sheep.
The issue is a different one: has there been an understanding of what has happened and what is happening? How much perception is there of what has happened? Our observatory has outlined two scenarios, and we leave it to each person to make his or her own interpretation and assessment of the same:
- On the one hand, a substantial inadequacy of companies, organizationally unprepared, to face such a storm. The consequence is first the forced inactivity, then the desire for recovery, and finally today the mortification of the new chaos, to the point of thinking of selling the company while it is worth something. Defiance and simultaneous growth of liquidity in back accounts (Bankitalia data), testifying to the choice not to invest and wait for what will happen;
- On the other hand, the phenomenon of “mass resignations” of employees, often self-justified by the lack of enhancement by the boss. Much has already been written and will be written about this, no doubt with greater authority than we have.
But has it occurred to anyone that pandemic and war are at least as far-reaching as an earthquake, if not more so? Why did entrepreneurs and employees between Modena and Ferrara put up a united front to rebuild businesses while dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake?
In the face of a pandemic, and a war, why has the distance between entrepreneurs and employees greatly increased, where entrepreneurs seem to have become the ogres and employees the victims? Of course, the concepts are completely forced, but this is what we write about, what we debate, thinking that the topic is smart working. But what we think it is useful to point out here are the ways in which on the one hand people wait for events and on the other hand resign.
We are not sociologists, but the issue of human relationships is the basis of understanding between human beings. And understanding does not mean justification, but precisely trying to understand the why of actions, behaviors, situations. A kind of professional solidarity, where the word solidarity does not mean aligning and giving reason, but it means having the understanding that in the face of certain enormities not intended by anyone, we are all in this together even with legitimate different opinions.
We Italians are individualistic, with a good tendency toward selfishness, and this is a fact, certified by authoritative specialists in social behavior. It would not explain the 4.5 million companies in a country of 60 million people (including children), the illegal dumps, disobeying laws, not respecting contracts, trying to prove we are smarter than everyone else, the 200 billion in tax evasion, and so much more. Just as it is our common heritage to think that it is always the fault of others, never our own.
And on this humus has been grafted the pandemic, which among others has had the effect of depriving us of the freedom to do quite a few things. Of course, and we apologize for the speed of the syllogisms, those who do not possess a decent level of social solidarity immediately look for causes, which then turn into blame. And within companies, the faults naturally lie with the managers. Bosses who do not understand, bosses who do not value, bosses who do not raise salaries, bosses who do not motivate. During a pandemic that could have shut down the company, or really shut it down.
Again, let us not go into the discussion here, and much is being written about this as well, but how many times have these major resignations been accompanied by disloyal, sometimes uncaring behavior, unfair accusations or even clumsy attempts at blackmail? Let’s ask how many times people are forced to find replacements, reallocate responsibilities, appoint interim managers, reassign areas to roles, because of missed notice periods. How much energy is put into managing “handovers” and redistribution of tasks? Or how often do we have to leave tasks uncovered or defer deadlines because of these resignations? How much unnecessary work, how much wasted time, how much inefficiency is generated?
If the company can be compared to a narrative, of challenges, projects, and planned dreams, these major resignations represent a sudden interruption of the plot that is being woven. It is as if the plot is abruptly interrupted. A period in the middle of the story to which, for some time, no paragraph follows, because the protagonists simply disappear, today also abruptly.
Talking about smart working, talent to be retained in the company, and new ways of working cannot be separated from a common matrix of behavior with respect to the issue of people-to-people relations, which, with some serious exceptions, cannot escalate because there is a pandemic or a war. The new organizational balance must be the result of mutual give-and-take. However, it is necessary for the new internal relationship to be based on respect, education, a sense of responsibility, understanding of contexts and tolerance. On the part of managers and on the part of collaborators. This is the only way to recreate a fabric capable of looking to the future.
The pandemic has brought inside the companies problems, frustrations, tensions that have an origin well before the pandemic itself, but which now feel free to express because having deprived us of freedom in everyday life will have to be vented somewhere. And that individualism and selfishness with which we are permeated turns into rudeness, in engaging in behavior that has little to do with daily living together.
This is our observatory, without sectoral or latitude distinction. The risk is high, the impoverishment of the industrial fabric is very fast, and the loss of jobs is very real. Especially in weaker territorial areas.
Our conviction is that there should be explicit actions in the PNRR (Piano Nazionale Ripresa Resilienza, meaning National resilience recovery plan) aimed at recovering what we have called professional solidarity, that is, the fact that in the face of dramatic events, while respecting roles, we try to reason for a common goal and not on what suits us individually. Massive resignations are a social phenomenon, well before a corporate or microeconomic one, and should be addressed as such. Reasoning about what change management means, what smart working really means, where and why it can or cannot be done, what it means to respect roles and take responsibility, is perhaps the rationale with which we will have to start again, all of us.
The topic is certainly not simple, but perhaps starting again from the basic themes of working together and adding new ones we believe is the way to ensure a future that is definitely social before being environmental and digital.
Education is the basis for understanding what it means to respect the environment and the use of new technologies. Among these new themes, we place the recovery of concepts that are not so new but find today the urgency of being put at the center of organizations. We speak of the responsibility of individuals, the centrality of the talents that each person has and that as such should be enhanced and valued. We are talking about a laboriousness that needs to be encouraged and channeled into the processes of our organizations. We speak of places, occasions, spaces, events, and corporate rituals in which the human overrides hierarchies and brings to bear the inherent potential of each person. So, we talk about “respect for the workplace” and not just “right to work.” Not in an antagonistic way, but by elevating the issues and integrating the values that underlie these concepts. We talk about rediscussing ignorance, envy, and individualism.
Italy is a great country, where the ability to build is matched by the beauty of our surroundings. If only we realized how much all this can translate into an engine for real development if we were a professionally supportive country, perhaps we would have achieved the most important goal since the unification of Italy was made. We have all the elements to start again, to do it in the best and most successful way, we are a great country.
If being an entrepreneur means regaining the will to invest, and being an employee means regaining the will to contribute, that piece of the future we all eventually want perhaps can be achieved. The tools are there: business organization, training, project management, change management, strategic planning, methodologies, and more. And for entrepreneurs: we cannot change the mindset of our employees, but we can change our own. The fore-mentioned tools can be truly effective if we relocate to the center of our actions that professional solidarity we feel is lacking today.
Professional solidarity is the ideal that must be at the center of our plans for the future of our companies and that will be able to give us the strength of moving forward beyond the hardships and chaos of these days.
And that ideal will find concrete language in daily living if with rigor and method we can apply to our company the tools of business organization, training, project management, change management, strategic planning, methodologies…and listening. What is lacking is perhaps the will and ideal tension. Let us try to think about it and try to confront each other in a “kind” and “constructive” way, not afraid to show true feelings such as passion or concern.
We know that this contribution will cause discussion, just as we have discussed among ourselves looking at what is happening. But we would like it to be, precisely, a contribution to a reflection, to a moment of intellectual suspension from the bombardment of an everydayness that too many times we struggle to understand.
But do we feel like dogs, pigs or sheep, as Pink Floyd put it? Or lions or butterflies? Or simply women and men who perhaps learn to smile again while they work, and that quote is from Elena, a young Roncucci&Partners employee who was born in Italy from Chinese parents, and whom we are honored to have among us and who some mornings brings us croissants because they certainly don’t solve problems, but they do help to smile.