I wanted to write this post in collaboration with Elisa Conti, the ST Microelectronics training manager. Over the past years we have been working, reflecting together and doing field research about how to empower people and culture in organizations in an attempt to transform training contexts into opportunities for personal and professional evolution, discussion, change and new starts.

FV: Over the past few weeks Netflix and its “innovative” approach to talent and culture have received great media coverage: treating people as adults, using good sense while at the same time setting high result standards were their basic tenets. On the contrary, Italy has just issued the Jobs Act, which has contributed to spread the idea that employers and employees have counterposing interests and necessarily show conflicting dynamics. On this basis, many people see Netflix’s choice as a marketing strategy or as the utopian case of a company that “can afford to do it”.

FV: Yet, in Italy there are many cases of virtuous companies that, despite their contradictions, are moving towards an increased recognition of their employees by providing them with instruments and opportunities for enhancing their responsibility and autonomy. Elisa, we’ve been working with you for several years and, over time, we have contributed to the training and empowerment of several people and teams and our work has affected the whole organizational system.

EC: we started off in 2007, after a few considerations we made on our senior professionals. At that time we weren’t offering any structured training path, however, we wanted to support them as best we could. Also because these people are called to manage complex projects and relationships, even though from a strictly technical point of view. The acquisition of generative behaviors and attitudes is therefore key to them. We developed a training course based on the self-empowerment approach to support each participants’ willingness to evolve and feel better and to provide them with the instruments to achieve these goals. Throughout the years, the program gained appreciation, in particular on the managers’ side who had asked us to take part in the courses, integrating those they were already offered. This allowed us to have a broad impact on the organizational and management culture.

FV: This has definitely been a courageous project. It had been challenging at first but, over time, the personal, and perhaps social, evolution has been enormous. While once rather reluctant, nowadays people are increasingly willing to challenge themselves and they proactively look for feedback, incentives, instruments. We are talking about a greater shift, further accelerated by that particular moment. It was about fostering the development of a generative alliance between the company and the individuals. This is a great shift, especially if we consider that companies are most often places where people are faced with and project their own discontent, deluded expectations and daily frustrations.

EC: Such an alliance is possible and we support it with suitable instruments, provided that people commit to entering authentic relationships. This entails making an act of trust, that needs to be verified over time. Being authentic does not mean being transparent or consistent at any costs, it rather means being true to oneself in the encounter with the other. Such openness is at the basis of any virtuous relationship and it releases an incredible and, until then unexpressed, amount of energy. In order to achieve such goal we are working hard to foster individual abilities to give feedback, above all on the managers’ side.

FV: Actually, part of the practicality of self-development programs lies in directly involving the managers’ supervisor, who is contacted since the presentation of the program. Moreover, at the end of the first self-development phase, the trainee his/her boss along with a representative of the trainers’ staff meet to assess the situation and share an action plan. This provides grounds for dialogue on the collaborator’s potential and allows the creation of a new pact, oriented towards self-development and experimentation.

EC: In this way, managers acquire new point of views and instruments to observe their collaborators and assess their progresses. We, as members of the training staff, move from a technical role to a process-oriented role. We are bridges, we provide scaffolding and support, sometimes we even play the role of provokers in order to help trainees overcome the ideal (and sometimes self-defensive) barriers dividing the training room from real life. This has been our challenge, one that a constant support from a group of consultants helped us face. Consultants aimed at supporting the growth of HR staff members, sharing methods and instruments and giving developmental feedback.

EC: This is not an easy path, however, paradoxically, the crisis is favoring us, as it leads people to listen more carefully, be more open and it predisposes them to challenge themselves, experiment and explore. Today, the image of a wild, breakneck run gives way to that of a more measured, conscious movement: from doing to being, from skills to potential.

EC: The challenges for the future are the ones we are facing right now:

  • How to further implement the use of feedback?
  • How to give value to a management culture based on authenticity?
  • How to develop more genuine and involving communication exchanges within our company?
  • How to assess the impact of our interventions?

With regards to this last point, we are developing spaces and computer tools in which the assessment of training impact will become an opportunity for feedback and for the planning of new ideas at the same time.

FV: Elisa, I would like to say goodbye to you by citing Kjell Nordstrom and his Funky Business, because all of this is extremely funky, vitalizing and intriguing. We all know that this path is not linear nor simple but it is worth trying to walk it to the end.