We have heard many times that management salaries are above what is reasonable and fair. That, in fact, the differences between the highest and lowest paid in a company cannot be infinite. And in fact they should be very finite and limited. It is unreasonable to think that in a company there has to be someone who has infinitely more responsibility than the rest of the workers. But if we look at reality, we see that we accept the opposite. And is that a good thing?
If we look at companies that have gone bankrupt mainly because of the irresponsible actions of a few, we see that in general they cannot be made to pay back what they have taken, or repair what they have damaged. In some cases certain liabilities can be criminally prosecuted, but these are minimal, as excessive greed or greed does not appear to be a criminal offence in the criminal code. In fact, being greedy (but calling it ambitious), is behaviour that is quite generally encouraged in companies.
But it is not always the case that the negligent manager is driven by greed when he or she engages in behaviour that can lead to disaster. And often these behaviours and decisions of people in charge of high-risk situations cannot be detected in time to avoid undesirable consequences. We could find recent cases, such as those where the economic future of people with retirement savings is at risk (bank failures) or even more important, those cases where human lives could be lost (for example the recent case of the train accident that we have in mind these days).
- More control, fewer problems?
We wonder how it can be that such important matters are sometimes left in the hands of a single person, and that the negligence of a single person (due to excessive greed or possible carelessness) can be the sole cause of an unavoidable misfortune. These cases make us think about how the situation could be resolved in order to avoid such dire consequences. Could controls be put in place that would make it possible to avoid these consequences? And what should these controls be? But more importantly, does it make sense that certain decisions, actions and behaviours are in the hands of a few managers? Is this the most effective way to exercise control in order to avoid what is not wanted at all?
It seems clear that in a system where those who have responsibility are rewarded too generously, and made responsible and infallible, it is not good for anyone. In the long term, not even for the manager himself, although in the short term it may seem so. It creates a false aspirational, pyramid-like motivation, where everyone wants to get to the top. But when they get there they must be infallible: zero defects and no chance of failure. In case he has no bad faith it can end very badly, if the consequences of his action or omission are disastrous. And despite acting in bad faith, if he measures the consequences of the action well, and they are not punishable, he can wipe out the welfare of many people and go unpunished. And incorporating formal controls is not feasible since creating controls that can foresee everything is not possible. So how can we do it? It seems that one way would be to foster a culture of co-responsibility. We can all be greedy, but if we all have to reach a goal together, and we have to support each other, the temptations are lessened. In the same way, human errors are compensated for, because it is possible for one person to be negligent or overconfident, but for all of us to be so at the same time, it seems more complicated. The pressure is reduced, checking on each other makes us more cautious, and also, and very importantly, we have to share the credit when things go well. This helps us to realise that one person alone will not get as far as a well-knit team.
- Sharing to tap people’s potential
Organisations work best when people give their best and do so motivated beyond the salary they receive or the status they get at work. And they do their work without following the fine print of their employment contract, and therefore have an involvement that goes beyond their contractual obligations.
In times of difficulty, companies can succeed if workers have internal motivations that make them go beyond their obligations, providing that quality that cannot be measured, but which is key to creating a work climate that facilitates collaboration and where work can bring satisfaction to everyone. It seems utopian to say this, but it is clear to many employers that their companies work when people are valued in the workplace and can fulfil themselves professionally. And therefore, they actively encourage this atmosphere of trust where employees are willing to contribute that extra that is neither financially remunerated nor specified in an employment contract.
Solidarity has a spontaneous and voluntary nature. Encouraging it should be based on the recognition that the worker does it because he/she wants to, and that it has merit precisely because he/she does it that way. What is spontaneous on the part of the worker can be recognised. But it must be by recognising its spontaneous nature, never through an incentive associated with the fulfilment of an objective. This must be kept in mind so as not to lose that special quality that requires genuine recognition, without forcing it to be there.