Contrasting Election Stories

Elections – what reaction does this word evoke in you?  For me, it brings out the words participation, self-determination, leadership.  But, that is too individual a thought.  From a larger perspective, this is about a mass movement, actually multiple mass movements all trying to outdo each other for success.

What does this mass movement consist of?  This, normally, belongs to a single political party.  The hierarchy begins with the senior party management.  Then come several levels of party leadership as the structure goes from the national level to individual constituencies.  At the constituency level, come the party workers.  They are the people who consist of believers, supporters, leadership wannabes and are the day-to-day touchpoints for common folk; the people who spread the ideology and belief; the people who eventually garner and mobilize the vote.  There is no successful politician at any level who can ignore this fact.

So, let us talk about contrast.  Is the election process identical everywhere?  Definitely not.  What follows is a comparison of the process that is used in India to what is prevalent in the USA.  Let us see what we can learn from these observations.

In India, the decision on who gets the ‘ticket’ in an election is through an interesting process.  The party high-command publishes a list of the winners!  What is this decision based on?  Winnability should be the sole criterion for party success.  But, rumors (maybe they are fact) sometimes point to familial, financial, quid-pro-quo or other similar instincts which on a pure analysis level, do not help the larger organization.  The base of the party – the workers, may or may not be consulted or satisfied through this process.  This process is not necessarily autocratic, but there is surely room for more transparency.

In the states, anybody can throw in their hat into the ring for an election.  The candidates then run a campaign to be elected.  However, this election is from multiple candidates within the same party – they are fighting to become the nominee for their party in the general election.  This process is called a primary.  The layers of party leadership along with the local party workers can show their partisanship by supporting their desired candidates.  However, the result is driven by the ballot, which is cast by the registered party workers or the general public (depending on the party constitution).  Given the transparency of the process and the involvement of the mass movement, this process is necessarily not autocratic.

What is the difference?  By being necessarily not autocratic, there is an involvement of all levels of the party in the decision on who will be the final candidate.  This improves the winnability of the seat for the party and benefits the larger organization.  Interested in examples?

How many of you really think that Mr. Obama would have run for president from the Democratic party without the primary.  His lack of experience and his color would have been huge barriers.  However, the primary allowed him to showcase his abilities which guaranteed 4 years for the party in the White House.

In India, Mr. Khanduri has resigned as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand.  This was because the party workers did not believe in his leadership which resulted in no efforts during the Lok Sabha elections on the party’s behalf.  The BJP failed miserably in the state due to this autocratic appointment.

Is the solution perfect?  Nope.  But it is an improvement in my belief, and a very important one at that.  But, then again, this is not a political column.  What can us 9-to-whatevers take away from this?

How many strategies have you either created or seen come down from senior management?  How many of these have been pre-synced with the people who need to implement them?  How many of these have met the original estimates of success?

We forget too often, who our “party workers” are.  We take our believers, supporters and executors for granted.  Strategies which have buy-in from them will always have a greater chance of succeeding.  This is because their inputs will ensure that the strategy is grounded in day-to-day realities which they are much closer to.  This is also because the commitment to the cause and motivation to succeed increases with their involvement in the decision.  We could try to be more necessarily not autocratic.

What do you think?

The IPL Bonanza

So, the IPL 2009 edition is finally over.  Was it more exciting than the 2008 edition?  Not entirely sure, but it was an incredible spectacle in itself.  While not really having the qualifications to comment on the quality of cricket, I think the take-backs from the event for those of us in a 9-to-whatever are interesting.  Not necessarily path-breaking, but interesting.

  • Organization Potentially fatal announcement to move out of the country.  Decision on location made in hours of negotiation.  Approximately 35 days of time to prepare for an event of this scale and length.  Take-backs: Courage to make decisions and belief in the team to pull it off.  Don’t you think more CEOs would benefit from this outlook?
  • Motivation Money was just the beginning.  Creating or maintaining an individual reputation became equally important.  But how about the team?  The team owners were ruthless in their pursuit of the best teams.  Big names were found warming the bench due to lack of performance or attitude.  The strategies which succeeded were where people were given an opportunity and evaluated based on the results.  The team behaviour award from the IPL has been a masterstroke in this effort.  Take-backs: Clear vision of the qualities that an organization wants to encourage, their articulation and appropriate felicitation.
  • Teamwork Which teams won?  The teams which avoided confusion, confrontation and panic – T20 is that kind of a game.  How was this done – clear division of roles and responsibilities.  There have been several examples of players playing specific roles that have been pre-decided in the dressing room.  This is not about specific strategies, but about getting the best out of the abilities of individuals, no matter what their weaknesses are.  Take-backs: Clearly identify the responsibility of every team member – no matter how small.  Then give them the space to perform within that boundary.  Reward based on role, not overall performance (can’t expect a #7 batsman to score a 50).
  • Transformation Incredible!  The #7 and #8 teams from 2008 meet in the final of 2009!  What gives?  However, if you look closely, DC lineup is almost identical to the whipping boys of last year, while the RC boys also have minimal changes.  The difference is based on a studied and strong application of the above principles which have transformed a 2-run loss into a 2-wicket win. Take-backs: Transformation of a team is not necessarily about the personnel.  A change in the management methodology and a re-iteration of team concepts can bring about wonders.
  • Branding So who is the most successful brand of the IPL?  Well, according to some market research, the honor belongs to KKR – the least successful team on the field.  The question then becomes which one is more important?  Was the KKR team looking to be the best brand and not necessarily the best team?  The media blitz does indicate a propensity in that direction.  The strategy is questionable, but that is not the point here. Take-backs: The aim of an organization should be clear – this is what needs to translate into the efforts of every individual on the team.

I think students and practitioners of management would do well to study some of the on-field and off-field activities of IPL organizers and teams.  This event has been a success, which was not a given at the start of the year, through these efforts.  I look forward to next year to see how teams refine their individual strategies based on the personnel they have – something that has not been mastered yet.