Everyday Politics: The Professional

responsibilityBeing a successful and cunning businessperson does not necessarily mean that one is a professional. Why’s that? Because what’s good for a moneymaker may not be equally good for other people – and exercising one’s profession while ignoring its social repercussions falls far from leaving a positive mark on the commons.

Definitions of success and sound entrepreneurship constitute a long-standing challenge for the academia as well as business associations; at least those who genuinely feel responsible for the ethics and sustainability of their sector.

The crisis in the Southern Europe plus the hiccups in the growth rate observed in mature European economies and elsewhere, inter alia point towards a set of similar issues that have remained in the sidelines of corporate strategies. Definition of success is one thing; another is sustainability and the real meaning of social responsibility. The latter is associated with any type of economic activity that explores -and exploits- the resources offered by the society that hosts one’s moneymaking activities.

Globalisation’ has clearly played a role here. It is common ground that big corporations have moved to developing countries to reduce production costs. Usually, they cite low wages and lower cost of resources. However, is this only about the inputs? Obviously not. Many countries appear attractive to international corporate activity because they ‘offer’ loose regulatory rules in terms of the environment and more relaxed health and safety standards (originating obviously from a lower value attached to the human life) – corporate jargon easily places these parametres under the ‘competitiveness’ notion in the general context of free enterprising. All these are quite obvious when the same company operates in production sites in the homeland or in neighbouring countries of similar culture. New media platforms are very effective ways to disseminate distress messages coming from factories usually in the Eastern part of the globe that excel in the dark side of business – e.g. exploitation of minors, work-related illnesses etc.

So, it is worth wondering: do corporate people have double standards as regards home activities and profits earned in other parts of the world? The question is clearly rhetorical, open to different interpretations, most of which are viewed through the cultural prism; another parametre that needs to be added in the equation is profits.

Greek crisis has shown that foreign money holders are willing to enter even older (and thus more expensive) economies providing the opportunities are real and ‘rules of engagement’ are clear. For the time being, Greece does offer the former, lacking the latter. Moreover, the traditional tendency centre-left rhetoric had to move against entrepreneurship and corporate profits -in the past- has driven away many business plans along with billions of investments. Hostility against entrepreneurship fed bureaucracy and turned public white collars into rulers who had no hesitation to pocket the occasional bribe or explore opportunities themselves usually in the sidelines of official economy. Those who know the field argue that various state positions were measured according to their potential grabs, and as such were being secretly auctioned amongst various candidates. Quite recently, it was revealed that more than 5,000 Greek civil servants are under investigation for transferring about EUR 1.5 billion to foreign banks since 2010.

As most analyses on the Greek problem have argued, Greece does not lack regulations; and if rules are followed, the result (and its image) can be quite professional – take for instance 2004 Olympics (despite the overspending and the lack of the sustainability factor). What’s missing is a consistency of implementation and strong monitoring practices, namely the ability of the average public servant to practice their job in a professional way and at the same time be protected by managerial authority against partisan pressures. Similarly, in the private sector, employees and self-employed professionals need to concentrate on practices that secure proper delivery of service and respect both towards the client and society at large.

In Greece, professionalism has a long way to go in the private as well as the public sector. If in-depth research could look at the circumstances of employment in the Greek public sector, a great deal of so-called public servants would had some personal story to tell that included a political party and a relative or acquaintance in a key position.

Clientelism is in bed with lax recruitment criteria, even fake credentials -as recent inquires have revealed even in the case of high rank ministry staffers- therefore, professionalism amongst public servants is not part of a strong organisational structure and culture – it is largely a matter of individual responsibility; part of which is the unwillingness to push oneself through state hierarchy based on fake university degrees. Greek public sector has suffered a lot throughout the years acting as a partisan asylum, ruled by the lack of meritocracy and transparency, as well as by ad hoc management practices evolved to deal with the absurdity of the job.

In contrast, in mature Western economies, corporate and HR practices developed amongst academics and fine tuned within professional environment guarantee -by default- a level of professionalism that is supported by responsibility, accountability and a field organization at an individual and collective level. These are characteristics most part of the local corporate world continues to read in textbooks, lacking the ability to match theory with practice.

It is very common amongst Greeks to point at a person who is doing his/her job in a ‘professional way’; they give credit for something most civilized countries around the world consider part of the job description. Professionalism -when met- is praised in the country’s both private and public sectors.

Greece’s late entrance into the digital age and further delays that occurred during the crisis years have led to the continuation of the dominance of the paper kingdom and the subsequent monarchy of the public servant; thus, citizens still need to queue in tax bureaus or government agencies in order to deal with their affairs. Even in this bureaucratic chaos, some civil servants -usually younger in age- appear professional, doing their job in an efficient way, utilizing modern digital tools, adopting a less arrogant style towards their citizen-clients.

Other instances do stand out in Greeks’ daily lives; more and more we tend to speak nice of taxi drivers, who act as ‘professionals’, shop owners who seem to understand that they need to provide a service they strongly believe in, improving the so-called ‘customer experience’; that is from the moment clients enter their premises until the last instance when they depart. Transparency is important here. For instance, an online application that allows people to locate nearby taxi drivers offers not only their personal contact data but also comments from previous clients who describe their experience with taxi drivers who are members of the network.

In the public sector, ‘Diavgeia’ online platform has been a breaking ground initiative on transparency issues in Greece. It carries all decisions carried out in ministries and public agencies, including appointments and spending. Although it is a step forward by default, the platform contributes very little to the fight against bureaucracy (the country has improved its ranking in the latest Doing Business chart from 65th to 61st position among 189 countries). Quite characteristically, the areas of jurisdiction of the former deputy minister of education were uploaded on the platform the day after he was kicked out of government due to tasteless remarks in Parliament, sixty days after his appointment to office.

In Greece, there is a saying: “not even the gods fight necessity’ – well, this is the case now with the average Greek professional (shop-owner or business person), who finds themselves more and more in a position to understand what analysts -who see the glass half full-, use to argue from the very beginning: that ‘the crisis is an opportunity’- for self-evaluation, adjustments, improvements and -why not- further exploration and study of new aspects of one’s professional turf.

Those who had adopted this type of behaviour from the start are now a step further, have improved themselves, adding more tools and services, even monitoring competition in order to become even more efficient. Internet made things easier, cutting costs and liberating ideas and niche activities.

However, red tape, digital or other, is still around. With the exception of Taxisnet (that is also suffering by serious limitations), we are still in the beginning of the journey towards the real eGovernment that makes life easier (and more meaningful) for citizens and corporate people alike. Remember when you first discovered the internet? After a while, you found yourselves living amongst piles of printouts; the average user was so astonished by online discoveries that s/he was genuinely cherishing the moment by ‘immortalizing’ online goodies on paper. Greek digital bureaucracy is still struggling to escape from the embryonic stage. For instance, for the time being, a company cannot be inaugurated online, a service already being offered in European countries for a decade now. Moreover, the One-Stop Shop service is still in its infancy. Professionalism in both private and public sector relies heavily on this.

When eGov is incomplete, the emerging digital bureaucracy may prove more aggressive -and sometimes significantly less humane- than their paper-based ancestors. Built on usually incomprehensible philosophies and content architectures, they are destined to make the average user-citizen suffer. At this point, the average public servants turns ‘professional’ by permanently citing the rigidities of ‘online environment’ as the ultimate guardian of processes.

In its definition of professionalism, Oxford dictionary talks about competence or skills; it is time we start talking about responsibility too; especially in Greece…

Demetris Kamaras

Journalism Professor and journalist, primarily online. Political analyst and communications specialist. Previous studies in economics (BA), communications policy (MA) and journalism (PhD), mostly in London. Born in Hove, Brighton. Lives in Athens, Greece. Blogs when necessary. Founded and running dailyGreece.net Private Information Network and alyunaniya.com [The Greek]. Occasional articles of friends are published on PostNews.eu. Interested in political communication, next-gen web apps, digital R&D, internet ethics and social networks. He taught journalism and communication at University of Indianapolis Athens (1999-2013). Published numerous analyses and op-eds, online and in print and his first book was titled: Digital Communication (Zenon Publications, London, 2000 – co-authorship). Recent publications: Crisis Talk; Greece (2012) – iBook/Avaialble on iTunes. Elections and the Internet, Digerati Publications (Athens, 2014) (in Greek).

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