Being a Manager in Italy
Cross cultural management in Italy is more likely to succeed if you understand the level of bureaucracy when attempting to conduct business in Italy. Italy is legendary for its maze of rules and regulations. Many businesses, including some large multi-national companies, are family-owned. Therefore, it is commonplace to find relatives working in the same company, often in the same department. Although business is taken quite seriously, the family and the good of the group are often more important than following the rules. In fact, knowing the right people may allow you to find creative solutions to bureaucratic challenges.
The Role of a Manager
When managing in Italy, it is important to keep in mind that each person has a very distinct role within the organization, and maintaining that role helps to keep order. People believe that their supervisors have been chosen because they have more experience and greater knowledge than those they manage, and it is, therefore, unnecessary, and even inappropriate for them to consult with lower-ranking individuals when decision-making.
In Italy, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude to their employees. They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace and strictly professional concerns.
Approach to Change
Italy’s intercultural adaptability and readiness for change is developing all the time. Italy is seen to have a medium tolerance for change and risk. It is important for innovations to have a track record or history noting the benefits if they are to be accepted and implemented.
The fear of exposure, and the potential of embarrassment that may accompany failure, brings about aversion to risk and the need to thoroughly examine the potential negative implications. While in risk-tolerant environments, failure is perceived as a learning process that encourages confidence in future ventures, failure in Italy causes a long-term loss of confidence by the individual as well as by others. Because of this attitude, intercultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made my participating individuals.
Approach to Time and Priorities
Italy is a moderate time culture and typically and there may be some flexibility to strict adherence to schedules and deadlines. Nevertheless, the expectations of intercultural and global expansion have caused the Italians to adopt relatively strict standards of adhering to schedules. Effective cross cultural management skill will depend on the individual’s ability to meet deadlines.
For effective cross cultural management it is important to remember that hierarchy in business is strictly observed. The status of the individual is based upon their family background and social contacts. These may often be more important than someone's job title.
In family-owned businesses (which include companies such as Fiat), most members of the family are involved in the day-to-day running of the operation.
Boss or Team Player?
Italians like working in teams and collaborate quite well. The communication within a team is generally quite collegial, albeit somewhat direct and blunt. Role allocation within the team is generally quite clearly defined and people will take greater responsibility for their specific task than for the group as a whole.
Successful cross cultural management will depend on the individual’s ability to harness the talent of the group assembled, and develop any resulting synergies. The leader will be deferred to as the final authority in any decisions that are made, but they do not dominate the discussion or generation of ideas. Praise should be given to the entire group as well as to individuals.
Employees follow the procedures handed down by their managers.
Communication and Negotiation Styles
In the north, people are direct, see time as money, and get down to business after only a brief period of social talk. In the south, people take a more leisurely approach to life and want to get to know the people with whom they do business. Allow your Italian business colleagues to set the pace for your negotiations.
Never use high-pressure sales tactics and always adhere to your verbal agreements. Failing to follow through on a commitment will destroy a business relationship. Heated debates and arguments often erupt in meetings. This is simply a function of the free-flow of ideas.