For this month’s interview, we have had the pleasure to meet WIL Talent Viola Zazzera, Chief Marketing Officer at Jacobacci & Partners. We discussed the company’s actions to reassure clients and colleagues in the face of the Coronavirus crisis, but also the importance of gender education both at the home with her children and in the workplace, as well as the successful response to her 4T-Tech Transfer Think Tank.
The Covid 19 crisis is unprecedented. The speed with which it has spread, and its effect on families and daily lives, have led to a deep sense of fear, anxiety and confusion. How did you work and support your teams and colleagues across the business?
The second half of February 2020 was, for me, a period of huge changes that turned me upside down - sometimes even now I wonder how I survived!
In fact, more or less in the same few days, I began to actively participate in the meetings of the Executive Committee of Jacobacci & Partners (the company in which I have been working for 7 years in the role of Marketing and Communication Manager), and then the situation in Italy worsened and we entered into lockdown. It was a bit like finally having a sedan available, but without fuel for refuelling: I had been promoted to the company's management team, but in one of the darkest and most uncertain times possible.
I remember the first meetings we had on the COVID emergency, where we were evaluating possible scenarios, only for the most catastrophic of these to come true a few days later. Thankfully, due to our daily contacts with China, we knew where all this was going to lead. Then, on March 13, the company entered lockdown, with accelerated widespread smart working for all employees of the company. We were scared, distanced and worried about the future. Indeed, we had in mind that, as Executive Committee, we had to protect both the health of people and that of our company, to guarantee a future for all of us.
There have been many initiatives aimed at our people to reassure, motivate and involve our teams and our colleagues. We have written over 40 newsletters (one a day) to keep the sense of belonging alive, organized aperitifs with art to tell the strategic and artistic aspects of our corporate collection, offered mindfulness breaks for adults and yoga for children, and launched other initiatives to bring people closer such as asking our people to send a photo of themselves working from home or to share a story. The memory of these actions will be remembered with a book delivered to each of us, to be kept and reread in the future. Our colleagues have greatly appreciated these initiatives, and we have created the basis for transforming ourselves from a professional legal services company of the advanced tertiary sector, to a real community which puts people at the centre.
We have created the basis for transforming ourselves
from a professional legal services company
of the advanced tertiary sector to a real community,
which puts people at the centre.
With so much changing so fast during this difficult time, you have a critical role to play as companies shape their response. What actions do you advise brands to take to serve and grow their customer base, mitigate risk and take care of their people?
The situation that arose during the pandemic has changed our order of priorities and has put communication at the centre of our actions, whether they are directed inside or outside the company. While internally we had the aim of informing and reassuring, externally we had to make our clients feel that they could trust us with their strategic assets, that we were operational and that we continued to work with our usual standards as market leaders. Even though we were distant, we were reachable, because the first thing we did when we saw each other on a video call or heard each other on the phone, was reassure each other. Our clients knew that whilst we were present to assist them with their business needs, we could also be there for them simply to just listen to their fears, which differed depending on their sector.
The lockdown, for better or for worse, has given a great boost to all digital communication activities, both inside the company and outside for clients. We have launched several projects to stay close to both our regular clients and to approach new clients. There have been - and still are - many initiatives in progress: sending regular newsletters, launching a detailed and well-structured editorial plan on our social channels, webinars on in-depth topics, and various collaborations.
What is your opinion on the widely spread argument “use the lockdown to…”? Is it a good marketing strategy or a mistake that shows a lack of empathy and transparency from companies?
I really love the words of Domenico De Masi, sociology professor at "La Sapienza" University of Rome, about Covid-19. In short, he interprets it as an extreme attempt by nature to remind and teach humans that they are mortal beings and that homo sapiens are not as wise as it is believed. It is an attempt to teach and remind us that health comes before democracy, and democracy comes before economics. To teach us that planet's resources have an end; instead of fighting each other, we would better to be united against three common enemies: viruses, global warming and inequalities.
In fact, in Jacobacci we have not limited ourselves to managing contingencies, but have launched many new projects, all with an eye to the environment. Personally, the attention to the environment was a theme that we had been pursuing for some years together with Enrica; from the plastic free and paperless, through to the carpooling company, we have relaunched these issues together with others in our communication and integrated them into company strategies.
If the lockdown is a big jolt to warn us that we need to change course, that we don't need to go back to life as before, it's a great opportunity to review our values and reconsider our goals. It was a hideous jolt, but we can rebirth our ideas and leave our children with a better world.
If the lockdown is a big jolt to warn us that we need to change course,
that we don't need to go back to life as before,
it's a great opportunity to review our values
and reconsider our goals.
The crisis also brings a lot of uncertainty about the future and will likely influence how consumers behave for years to come. What actions did you take at Jacobacci & Partners and how are you preparing for a post Covid-19 world?
Firstly, we established a commitment to maintaining and safeguarding jobs. I believe that we are a rarity amongst Italian companies as we have used this period not as a layoff, but rather to hire people as a more concrete way to support society. Then, we created special packages to support services which had declined in various sectors – for example, in the design sector or related to innovated start-ups. During this period, we have undertaken many actions at the company-level, and we have several more in mind for the autumn months to come. All our actions aim to take the most advanced digital world power, which is even more important following the most recent boost of the COVID-19 emergency.
One of these actions we are taking to support the brand is Jambassador - a pilot program devoted to the selection of colleagues. This project aims to create a group of company value "ambassadors", who can provide an authoritative voice on Intellectual Property issues via the social channel Linkedin. After all, who would be a better candidate than ourselves to speak well of our company! With the right tools, you can see the results. In fact just last month our page on Linkedin reached 10,000 followers and continues to grow!
You have recently been promoted to the company board at Jacobacci & Partners which makes you one of the three women holding a management position. How does your companypromote shared leadership? Could you tell us more about this concept and why is it important?
The founder of the shared leadership in the company is our CEO, Enrica Acuto Jacobacci; among other things Enrica is also the Italian representative in WIL. In a company that represents the evolution of a renowned professional firm, Enrica has adopted the governance of a large company. Enrica has established an Executive Committee (composed of the chiefs of various company functions) who interact to: create a value chain; to share responsibilities and guidance together; and to amalgamate and respect each other's skills. Eight people actively involved in the management of corporate strategies who easily put into practice all the actions necessary to run the company.
Shared leadership is not just an organizational issue, but it is a management culture and a mentality which is more easily found in a female leadership. It is this approach to management that helps to overcome the obstacles that traditionally separate company employees, especially when it comes with highly professional business. This more collaborative and sharing climate is truly fantastic: a leadership approach that gives the managing team a wide responsibility for the management of the company, whilst attracting talents and retaining people. Paradoxically, having worked in a crisis like the current one, it united us even more and increased mutual trust.
Decision making and responsibilities are distributed, but of course our CEO maintains a unique role in the entrepreneurial and strategic management that cannot be delegated. She has an exceptional vision and the business acumen to help us frame issues accurately, putting them in the right perspective, helping us decide together a course of action and then implementing it.
Shared leadership is not just an organisational issue,
but it is a management culture
and a mentality which is
more easily found in a female leadership.
On a more personal level, you are also a mother of a boy and a girl aged 12 and 8. How do you educate your children for gender equality? How do you prevent your children from acquiring strong gender biases and stereotypes?
It was a great stroke of luck to give birth to representatives both of the male and the female world, to be able to educate them in the same way, without any gender disparity. All children should have the freedom and the opportunity to discover and explore their own gender identity, without conditioning and without feeling judged. I have read them non-stereotyped stories, without princesses to save and courageous princes, from an early age. I let them play with what they preferred, and not with dolls and pots or tractors and bolts. I have always avoided repeating certain phrases that were said to me: “don’t behave like a tomboy” or “crying like a girl”. This behaviour perpetuates and strengthens a rigid and distorted vision of reality, in which there is no room for the child’s own experience; if we perpetuate these ideas, these children end up growing up with the belief that they are wrong.
Gender education is useful to create a freer and more balanced society, to create more tolerant individuals and to prevent others from experiencing their condition with difficulty, as something problematic, just because they do not correspond to what is accepted and considered as "normal in the society". Now that my children are older, as soon as they see a gender disparity they are the first to point it out to me with disappointment. This is a great satisfaction as a parent!
Of course, we try to maintain this approach also in Jacobacci & Partners, for example by using an inclusive language, which values diversity, or by creating transversal teams that enhance people's skills.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
In general, the balance that I have reached between work and family life - certainly made possible also by the Jacobacci & Partners’ company policies which are attentive to these aspects, in particular in support of women and mothers who represent 80% of our human capital. This attention was certainly inspired by our CEO who has made ‘Work-Life Balance’ her personal and professional mantra.
But my "child" at work is certainly 4T-Tech Transfer Think Tank, the event on innovation and technology transfer that we have been organizing for seven years now. It is a great challenge every year to make it grow and evolve in content, format and interaction with the public, whilst remaining faithful to its original formula. And we see the fruit of our labours reflected in our turnout: more than 500 participants every year, and the success of an event that has now become the main in Italy.
For those who want to learn more about this event: https://techtransferthinktank.jacobacci.com
Gender education is useful to create a freer and more balanced society,
to create more tolerant individuals
and to prevent others from experiencing their condition with difficulty
as something problematic,
just because they do not correspond to what is accepted
and considered as "normal in the society"