La Cosa Nostra

Just when I thought I had seen it all in the world of organisations, a couple of weeks ago I was told about the grotesque case of a company that has forbidden people who are resigning to send a farewell email when they leave. What is so frightening about farewell emails as to make this decision? In other words, what scares people who choose to use fear to run their companies?

By now we all know that fear is a powerful tool to manipulate behaviour and, unfortunately, one sector of the business world is no stranger to it. In his book Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux defines this type of companies as those at the lowest evolutionary level, identified with the colour red. Red organisations are those that use fear to control and where an unwritten code of loyalty and submission sets the tone. As if it were an episode of The Sopranos, all the usual characters of a mafia environment parade through red organisations: capos, soldiers, captains, lovers, consiglieri, … The organs of power are made up of individuals whose merits are not linked to their natural talents but to being close to the capo in one way or another, most of the time because they have sold their soul to the devil in exchange for being close to power. As in the movies, these companies use extortion, but this time it is not on frightened business owners, but on the company’s own workers. This extortion is fuelled by a narrative riddled with phrases such as “nowhere else will they pay you like here”, “you are in this position because of me”, “it’s too cold outside” and other similar expressions that gradually diminish people, who in the end are stripped of all their authenticity and capacity to make decisions about their own careers and about the real magnitude of what surrounds them. In these ecosystems, human resources areas become mere executors of the management will and much of their activity will be focused on recruiting non stop to replace the very high employees’ turnover they have.

What is it that most terrifies the management bodies of red companies? Undoubtedly, it is the people who are not afraid and do not play their game. Those who decide to be honest with themselves, those who do not accept emotional blackmail and those who do not believe the narrative of terror and epic that is woven and fed by the people who run the company (who, moreover, outside the four walls of the company are nothing). People who are not afraid either leave or are driven out of the system (hence the high turnover), which desperately needs to cling to the terror of those who stay as the only way to maintain its ancestral model.

What chance does an organisation based on fear have of thriving? At present, very little. Just take a look at the profit and loss accounts of the red organisations, which have to juggle financially to make them balance. In a situation like the current one, only organisations that create psychologically safe environments where their internal customer community feels supported to participate, collaborate, contribute and innovate with tolerance and authenticity will move further. Does anyone really believe that a company that prohibits sending farewell emails is going to stand out in the market? Please, this is the 21st century.

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