Divide, Plan & Impera

‘Divide et Impera’ as the Romans taught, but also ‘Plan’ if you want to rediscover the Leadership that sometimes seems to have been lost in our latitudes. Let’s reflect on the lack of planning, bureaucracy, inefficiency and lack of vision in the Italian context

Different, Trivial Situations…

Sometimes the combinations of life: in a few minutes I come across, in rapid succession, many small situations, only apparently insignificant and different from each other. They led me to some simple, yet natural, reflections.

Situation 1: Pedestrian Crossings

Coming back from Switzerland, I had really noticed those pedestrian crossings, “pretty massive”, I had said to myself. They gave the idea of ​​quality and reliability over time, streaked and slightly in high relief compared to the road surface. With a material evidently different from that used in Italy. I return to Milan, and the first thing I come across is a group of three technicians from the Municipality. They were busy repainting a pedestrian crossing on a busy street. In this case with simple white paint and a layer so thin that even the irregularities of the road surface were visible and evident. A little further on, at another intersection, the same signs were already faded, I would say almost totally invisible. They would definitely need a refresh too, and very soon.

Situation 2: Train Timetables

A little further on, I get off to take the railway link. Still fresh from the proverbial Swiss punctuality, I realize that from what appeared on the screen, not a single train was on time. I mean, literally, no one. A non-Milanese might think “how unfortunate!”, but no, for those who live it every day, it is absolutely normal. Which, alas, we are accustomed to.

Situation 3: the Company to be Saved

I get home and first the news starts describing the “year-old discussion about Ilva”. “Curious!”, I say to myself, “the same term that denoted the incipit of any report on the evolution of the Alitalia situation”. I immediately think: it may be old, but everything has remained unchanged for decades. As well as being ignored for years by the press (and consequently, by the vast majority of public opinion).

Situation 4: the Stadium Stands

To conclude, I turn to the sports channel to enjoy a football match in relaxation, and I immediately realize that it is a little too relaxing, also and above all for the few paying spectators. In fact, the stands immediately catch my eye, sadly half-empty… Here too I ask myself: why are only Italian matches, among the top championships of course, shown in this desolate spectacle?

Zebra crossings as a point of comparison on the Swiss vs Italian 'plan'

… a Single Thought

All trivial events, but so, in rapid succession, they stimulated similar reactions, reflections and conclusions in me. What do they have to share? In my opinion, a lot: they are all the result of a substantial lack of supervision, coordination and planning. Far be it from me to elevate such banalities to something exaggeratedly symbolic, they are simply yet another clear proof of the absence of guidance and direction.
Compared to the paint on the zebras, I asked myself: assuming that the material used in Switzerland cost more (at least I hope), is it really more convenient to regularly send three people to repaint, moreover leaving such poorly defined and therefore risky pedestrian crossings for weeks ? I discovered that no, absolutely not: in Switzerland they spend much less. So, why does Italy, a country that should focus on saving more than others, decide to opt for a more expensive choice? I worked hard to find a logical answer, I asked and found contacts… and the answer is both the most banal and the most surprising. It is not a choice: simply no one in the Municipality is responsible for determining the costs and risks of a choice. We proceed compulsively through bureaucratic, essentially blind processes.

Delay and Resignation

On delayed trains, the saddest thing is the substantial resignation of citizens, why has delay become normality, while elsewhere it is unacceptable? Simple, the citizen doesn’t even know where the problem really is… lack of resources, technical/technological problem? It is impossible for Italy to spend less than others, the technology available could be similar to that of other countries. The problem, again, is the lack of regular supervision of the objectives. Worse still, the impossibility of addressing the identified problem, suffocated in the depths of elephantine organisations. It goes without saying that no citizen, even more so, knows exactly where to turn (other than thinking that any protest is completely useless).
Regarding the empty stands: with all the billions in football, is it possible that no one realizes that abroad an empty stadium is the worst way to present a sporting spectacle? How can you expect to sell such a sad show for its weight in gold? Beyond the interest of the individual sports club, those who manage and have an interest in selling Serie A should have the power and ability to be leaders. And drive towards a solution that is advantageous for the Serie A brand in the world.
We are witnessing, in many fields, the absence of long-term guidance and guidelines: determining the final objective, benchmarking different possibilities, evaluating risks and costs, defining roles and responsibilities.

Plan and Impera with different effects on train punctuality: the Switzerland-Italy comparison continues

The Courage to Stop and Change

It’s like what often happens in life: sometimes you have to have the courage to stop, see objectively the limits of what is happening, find awareness and force yourself to see things objectively, from above. Processes perhaps born virtuous, over time, without the necessary control, derive from the objectives, we find ourselves in a river that flows free and without direction. This is how the most harmful and suffocating bureaucracy is born, which ends up becoming a burden.
Each activity should have its own, streamlined, external supervision, which, regularly over time, verifies the efficiency of the process in the implementation of fundamental steps, such as the aforementioned “cost and risk assessment” or that the resources are well distributed and in line with the defined roles.
In Italy we often, if not always, come across the phrase “due to the lack of resources”. Many problems are explained through the lack of funds to dedicate to various needs. But is this really the only reason for so much inefficiency? Are the funds really that much higher in other countries? Or maybe there are other evaluations to do? Perhaps these could explain why Italy is the nation that is least able to exploit the many funds allocated by the European Community to the most interesting and strategic projects? Why is it so complicated to go from concept to actual execution of an idea? However, many intuitions and proposals are appreciated, so much so that they are convinced to allocate considerable sums to them. The problem arises later, due to (non)implementation.

An Engine witout a Transmission

The risk is to find ourselves faced with out-of-control machines, magnified by bureaucratic entities and useless, not to mention harmful, structures that proceed by force of inertia, without providing added value. Often there is even the doubt that there is a plan behind it, a malignant intelligence that prevents the positive development of a job, a company or the entire society. But the reality is even worse: certain situations indicate that the boat is adrift, without anyone guiding it, or really knowing how to indicate the route. Unfortunately, there is no guide in bad faith: in reality, there is no guide.
A good indicator of this, in all complex societies, from medium-large companies to the entire nation, is the realization of the almost absolute impotence of any person placed at the head of the organization itself. If good intentions do not turn into facts, there is obviously something that is not ‘running’ as it should, it means that the machine is no longer manageable. It is an engine that runs idle, the movement does not follow the command, or rather the intention of command. It does not create value for users, or citizens, employees, stakeholders.
In such situations, the only way out is to have the courage to stop and rethink a deep and radical restructuring, at the cost of facing losses, even considerable ones. The restructuring must necessarily also be managed by external entities, specifically “empowered”. They must see, objectively and without conditioning, the flaws of a structure that has degenerated over time and is no longer efficient.

'Impossible' written: in the absence of divide, plan and impera there is the risk of organizations that are impossible to manage

Divide, Plan & Impera

Create streamlined and efficient sub-structures and follow-up supervision steps, with a continuous and candid bottom-up approach. Where the people involved are listened to, there is a greater chance of success.
We should remember that the first, true driving force of a company, at all levels, is the satisfaction of the people who work there. It is now proven by reliable statistics: where there is a respectful, ethical work environment, ready to listen to proposals, the results are visible. It is those who work personally who, appropriately stimulated, are able to understand the possible areas for improvement and above all the risks and gaps to be filled. Returning to the metaphor of the boat, the direction is adjusted with each stroke of the oar, without necessarily having to wait to realize that you are in dangerous waters, when, perhaps, it is too late to avoid damage.

In the Spirit of the Ever-Present ‘Divide et Impera’

The division into more streamlined and easily supervised structures helps managers make decisions and, at a higher level, allows continuous coordination and supervision.
There is also another, indisputable advantage in this model. Reorganizing also means recreating a two-way channel, bottom-up and vice versa, in which the passage of information and feedback (from below) and guidelines and rewards (from above) is real.

In this sense it is useful to remember what has now become a ‘mantra’ in many work environments. It is in an environment where the worker feels security, clear and shared guidelines, that the worker performs to his full potential. It is when the individual feels appreciated that he is able to do his part, with creativity and concreteness.

Conversely, it is in a poorly organized society, characterized by gray areas of not well defined roles, the place where the egocentric component takes over. If I see everyone going their own way, my only goal becomes defending my position, elbowing my way, making room for myself in spite of the common good. In this case where the influence of the manager, in a broad sense, is increasingly distant, to the point of resulting in total detachment. It is in similar situations that fear takes over creativity and proactivity.

The Importance of the Working Environment

It is a mindset to be created and grown: all these considerations are valid in any area, from a small company to a start-up, from a single project to a sports team. I was very struck by the interview of a footballer who played both in our Serie A and in the Premier League (the highly decorated English top division). The player admitted that in Serie A there was a conservative mentality, aimed at safeguarding the status quo, dominated by the fear of losing, of failing, all focused solely on the defensive success of the individual, on “not taking them”. In England, however, a stronger and more structured League had succeeded in achieving the highest objective: to sell more. So putting on a show, wanting to win until the end to satisfy the paying public, in the stands (precisely, see initial example) and on TV.

The ‘Impera’ of a Solid Organization

A simple example of how a solid organization is able to give a direction, superior to the interest of the individual, with the consequence of making everyone work better, selling a quality product.
Remaining in the football metaphor, the team “feels” the environment. It is never a mere question of technical performance, many have underestimated this aspect. For decades the focus has been on tactics, on the individual player, as in a company on the individual worker. It’s not really like that. The country in which you operate is even important. If you know you are in an organized and loyal environment, it automatically becomes something more intimate and extended within you. In this way, you perceive security in your means, you know that there is a solid organization, which helps you as it is helping your companions, your colleagues. This is the task of a manager, a manager, even a Head of State: to create the conditions for the creation of a structured and stimulating organisation, in which everyone feels at ease, able to perform at their best and be creative.

From Start-up to UN

These are now well-established truths up to the bodies responsible for managing issues at a global level. The world is faced with many global challenges, which are impossible to manage without thinking about shared planning. Let’s think, for example, of global warming and the related energy transition, or the resolution of conflicts involving nations that are only apparently distant, in games of increasingly intricate alliances that are difficult to interpret and manage. More than ever, the Planet needs shared guidelines and a more systematic bottom-up approach, in order to allow real power of supervision, organization and coordination.
Medium and long term planning will be a natural consequence.

Workflow design

There is no ‘Impera’ without ‘Plan’

Allow me to conclude with another coincidence. In recent days we are witnessing farmers’ protests, mostly supported and considered ‘sacrosanct’. In Italy we rightly complain about the fact that our prices must necessarily be higher than other competitors who do not have the obligation to respect certain regulations regarding work, health, safety and various tax burdens. All right and sacrosanct. Then my eye falls in the supermarket regarding the origin of ‘quality’ mandarins, and I read ‘SPAIN’. And so I ask myself: ‘but how, Spain doesn’t have to respect the same rules as other EU countries?’
Of course he must respect them, but why should it be more convenient or ecological to import Spanish mandarins into Italy? After a brief investigation, I realized: “What distinguishes Spanish citrus production from ours are mostly management aspects, such as greater mechanization and the larger size of the companies compared to what can be observed in Italy.” (cit. https://www.fruitjournal.com/agrumi-una-panoramica-sulla-spagna/).

Beyond PMI: ‘Impera’ without ‘Divide’?

Few underline that, even in the agricultural field, Italy pays for its inability to plan in the long term. Growing your own micro-businesses, beyond family-run, as happens abroad, should be an absolute must. The PMI, the engine of post-war growth, is now proving to be a limitation. We have already discussed the advantages of multinationals. In today’s global world there is a need for networking, economies of scale through strategic alliances. This should also be the task of the Ministry of Economic Development. It’s all too banal: larger companies with the ability to network would have much greater bargaining power over large-scale retail trade. Here’s a trivial way to increase your margin.
There is no need for such an in-depth analysis: organizational inability in the medium and long term inevitably becomes an inability to grow, to scale, to have a voice at an international level.

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