Daniela Bandera, sociologist, is the CEO of Nomesis and past national president of EWMD Italy (European Women’s Management Development). She is the author of the essay “L’impresa coevolutiva, le quattro sfide del management”, a theory that combines suggestions from the various schools of organizational sociology, as well as from other sciences and disciplines.

In your book “L’impresa coevolutiva, le quattro sfide del management” you present management as having four major challenges: where can an organization start looking to determine the degree of their own coevolution?

To understand management challenges, it is helpful to clarify what is meant by coevolution. Coevolution is the result of negotiation efforts made by the organization of the enterprise to simultaneously accommodate and influence the outside organizational environment. With this action, the enterprise negotiates with the players involved in its sphere of influence to establish a relationship based on interdependence and co-adaptation in order to create win-win opportunities.

Coevolution is therefore a process involving the whole company, that is able to produce not just adaptive or reactive changes, but ones capable of affecting the entire surrounding context and all those variables that can influence the life of the company itself, through actions that may also involve more than one company. This process can encompass a range of possible options, including the one of relocation, in order to find a less hostile environment for the organization to operate in when the current environment is detrimental to the efforts being made to achieve the firm’s objectives.

Coevolution is therefore a rational and intentional process of directing the economic, energetic and psychological resources that move the company towards the vital goal of maintaining results over the course of time (an ongoing sense of direction) and innovation (the sense of discovery). To create the conditions that will enable this, the management must motivate and maintain high levels of engagement and evolve and coevolve within its own organizational environment. It is important to emphasize that when we speak of the organizational environment, we are not referring to the geographical environment in which the company is located, but to the managerial environment.

The context in which businesses coevolve or attempt to coevolve is characterized by the speed and unpredictability of change. I believe it can be correctly defined as para-chaotic, in order to distinguish it from the static or dynamic contexts that have characterized the periods prior to the one we are currently experiencing. It is clear from what has been said so far that executives and managers can no longer live off of the knowledge they’ve gained through experience, and therefore must rise up to meet the new challenges.

1) Moving from change management to coevolution management. Change management approaches change as if it were an exception, while coevolution management constantly governs change, because change is not a door that opens up and then closes again, but is rather continuous. Hence, it is necessary to think of it as a permanent aspect of the company and manage it as such.

2) Managerialize the organizational environment to manage the company in every aspect: following the reasoning and suggestions of the SAFs (Strategic Action Fields) theorists, in my book I suggest a vision of the organization that incorporates common fields of action with social and economic actors within its own organizational environment. This way, the company expands its ability to act outside its own boundaries to create an organizational environment whose management can be made more effective, capable of producing stimuli and actions that can support it in achieving its objectives. In this sense, coevolving does not mean adapting, but rather interacting, within a strategic field of action with the actors who operate there and who can influence the life of the company with their actions, developing collaborative relationships aimed at achieving common win-win objectives.

3) Create the “breeding ground” for a collective intelligence, then work on the organizational atmosphere and culture to enhance the enabling factors of coevolution through organizational interventions.

4) A Smart Leadership Model that can be collective, connective, and coevolutionary, useful for neutralizing the “selfish gene” that undermines the forms of leadership required to develop the leadership model needed for coevolution.

However, in addition to the theoretical formulation of the process of coevolution, companies need to understand their own level of coevolution in more concrete terms. In the book I report the results of one survey done on 150 companies, carried out in order to understand the level of coevolution and the aspects that characterize the companies that are highly, moderately, minimally or not at all coevolutionary. From the analysis of the data collected it is clear that the discriminating factors are the type of strategic approach used in the definition of objectives on the one hand and the specific characteristics of the model and style of leadership on the other.

A company is coevolutive when, in the process of defining its strategies, it considers not only the internal aspects of its own organization or the external market and its competitors, but also asks itself about a multiplicity of factors that can influence it - from social to political factors - and implements appropriate strategies to influence them. In everyday practice, it is possible to discern whether management is oriented towards coevolution by inviting managers to design the field of action. If only those elements that characterize the economic relationships of the company (clients, collaborators, suppliers, prospects) appear in the field of action, we find ourselves in front of a weakly coevolutionary company; if, on the other hand, other subjects that influence its life and results (such as, for example, institutions) also appear, it is considerably coevolutionary oriented. The difference is made when the field of action also includes those intangible factors that condition it, such as culture, the organizational climate, the quality of territorial relations, and reputation: all intangible aspects of the context capable of modifying finality and results.

Organizational analysis has made it possible to identify an additional aspect that allows us to measure the extent of coevolutionary leanings: the inherent characteristics of the leadership model and the mix of leading and managing functions within the various top roles. A management’s high degree of specialization in expressive activities (leading) on one side, and in functional activities (managing) on the other, produces levels of organizational rigidity that make the company poorly oriented towards coevolution. On the contrary, in those realities where leading and managing are distributed in a balanced way, both horizontally – on the first level of managerial functions – and vertically, permeating the whole organizational structure, graduating the mix according to the level of the function, companies are more flexible and more able to coevolve with the organizational environment.

The theme of collective intelligence introduces us to a highly connected future scenario. How can the individual draw on the intellectual resources of the surrounding community?

“An intelligent organization is an organization open to a continuous circulation of knowledge and know-how at a social, scientific and technological level so great as to make knowledge a new infrastructure” (P. Levy, M. Serres, Collective Intelligence, Perseus Books, 1999). In this definition by Lèvy and Serres, I would like to underline the idea that the intelligent organization is open and not closed, and therefore able to metabolize the information that arrives from the outside but also to filter it in order to absorb the information that is useful to its own objective.

But openness also means accepting multiple kinds of intelligence that can stimulate reflection and additional apertures. The networking tools at our disposal now allow us to have unprecedented experiences, even in areas that seemed to be inaccessible to companies: I’m thinking of the world of the arts, which can stimulate out-of-the-box thinking.

The individual, by frequenting the many facets of the society that surrounds him, should expose himself to stimuli that may also be unrelated to his work, and be curious. This allows him to absorb the context, precisely because the processes that we use when we are confronted with something “other than ourselves” are based on selective attention. We focus on those aspects that hold meaning for us in relation to our experience, and therefore also on aspects that can be useful to our work. Think about how today’s new forms of Smart work make the exploration of the environment and its opportunities possible: it is a shift that lets the individual open up to the intellectual resources of the community and selectively introduce them.

This is where the organization comes in: a collection of brilliant, knowledgeable and competent employees does not always produce equally brilliant results. When we say that knowledge must become a new infrastructure, we are referring to the fact that the company learns through people. But in order to make knowledge “useful” to pursue its goals, management must take decisive action in the form of a business process that I call SEVO because it stands for the actions necessary to sediment individual knowledge and make it a collective asset: selecting, eliciting, valuing and organizing knowledge. This embeds knowledge in people, making it available, transmissible and usable in organizational life.

How much does the vision of its managers affect a company?

The vision of executives and senior management is critical to the success of the business. Paraphrasing Seneca: There is no favorable wind for those who do not know where to go, and managers must know where to go and where to take their business. Vision shows the way forward. To be effective, vision cannot be the prerogative of individual managers, but the result of a profound journey into organizational identity: because vision is what determines the mission, the characteristics of the management model and its organizational processes. For this reason, it must comprehend the sense of the value chain that characterizes and distinguishes the individual company, even in how it is verbally represented. In a context of great complexity such as the one we are currently experiencing, the vision must encompass the long and strategic view, and be collectively shared. This is especially true if the objective is coevolution. In this case the vision must adequately embody openness to the outside world and awareness of the interactions that characterize this openness.

Unfortunately, companies do not always have a focused vision: when this happens, the individualistic visions of managers prevail, which often do not meet the need for organizational integration and finalization. Some companies develop superficial visions that are not really useful in setting up a strategy to deal with the complexities involved. Other companies have an aesthetic approach to developing their vision: for these companies, the vision is an attractive and expendable wrapper, but it does not represent the essence of the company.

What happens when there is no solid vision? Typically, finalization is less efficient and social cohesion is not able to produce the strength needed to meet the challenges that enable businesses to grow and thrive.

To what extent should a company go to differentiate itself in order to evolve without losing its identity?
The phenomena of institutional isomorphism are a common occurrence in companies. But under the coevolutionary approach, proper boundary management allows companies of the same type to maintain a specific distinctive identity. Distinctiveness and differentiation go hand in hand. Distinctiveness represents the specific essence that is built into one’s imperfect evolution made up of passion, feelings, perceptions and rationality, as well as mistakes and successes in organizational life, while the development of systems through differentiation occurs through self-reference. In order to accomplish the process of differentiation, the organizations that intend to coevolve must be able to operate on three levels: the cognitive level of knowledge, the internal and external experiences of employees and the core business.

The level of differentiation of an organization is not obtained by the sum of the three levels of differentiation but by the interaction and dialogue among the different strategies that distinguish them. This makes it possible for them to stand out from their competitors and earn specific recognition in the environment in which they operate. Therefore, it is precisely those companies that have a strong identity that are able to have a strong level of distinctiveness and differentiation. Conversely, pursuing a strong level of distinctiveness and differentiation allows for the construction of a strong identity.

Daniela Bandera
A sociologist, Daniela Bandera is the author of numerous articles and essays on the organization of work and its progressive change. She co-founded Nomesis - Ricerche e Soluzioni di Marketing in 1989, of which she serves as CEO. In 2019 she published the book "L'impresa coevolutiva" (Franco Angeli).
An expert in smart working, she conducts research for public and private organizations. In addition to being an Innovation Manager recognized by MISE, she is a past president of EWMD Italia - European Women's Management Development International Network and Co-Chair of the Technical Group "Le Imprenditrici" of AIB.