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?

8 thoughts on “Contrasting Election Stories

  1. Interesting take but with all due respect false analogy. Comparing Corporations to democracies is comparing apples to oranges. Each has different objective, one for the people, by the people and of the people. Whereas the other is For-Profit period. Corporation can do social program / services out of their own volition but those thing should never be part of their mission statements.

    A more appropriate comparison would have been Shareholder of a corporation to vox populi. Or A Corporation to Armed services. Inherently For-Profit Corporations cannot be managed as democracies. Upper management of any corporation (as well as its employees) should put the shareholders interest above their own. It’s after all the shareholders who own the company. Employees of any corporation, much the same way foot soldiers of any army, should put faith in their management and follow orders (or people die, it’s that simple :), or shall I say employees loose jobs ). You get the point.

    Now, coming back to running corporations much like democracies would definitely lead to putting employees interest above shareholders, and we all know what happens to those companies.

    • Comparing Corporations to Democracies is comparing apples to oranges – completely agree. However, that was not the attempt I was making. The text is related to the working of a corporation to that of a political party implementing a strategy for success. This is an observation on organization, where often the implementers (lower rung of management) are forgotten.

      Also, the thought is not about democratization – if one is looking for consensus or majority building at this level, the definition of strategy will not happen. The thought is about involvement and getting buy-in. This happens frequently among the stakeholders in any organization – I am trying to identify a forgotten stakeholder.

      Would like to comment on the part about the army. The purpose of the army is very specific and the organization is created to support it. In a corporate world, those principles cannot be taken without customization. Blind faith in management, for example, will ensure that there is no creativity in the foot soldiers. As far as the shareholder comments go, could not agree with you more – they are the owners and their interest needs to be paramount.

  2. Ah! ok. I agree they are an afterthought, if not completely ignored. Consensus building, by virtue calls for compromise. I feel that’s an impediment for creativity. Conformity and creativity doesn’t always go hand in hand. Maybe we are getting completely off track here.

    Managers should take leadership roles and be change agents , which involves buy-ins from their staff on any initiative. But imagine that buy-in/consensus becoming mandatory standard procedure – that’s the scary thought of labor unions.

    There gotta be a better way of encouraging creativity yet getting the staff to buy-in to the management initiatives. Much like what’s google been doing.

  3. Being in the ’employee’ segment of a corporation myself, i can assure you that even we usually have the best interests of the company in mind when we suggest things, as we understand it is akin to our personal interests. What we would like to point out is possibly an ardent effort can be taken to try and understand our point of views and percolate it up for once. I understand it is not practical to expect the senior management of a company to have an open house every other time to listen to his/her employees, but it will possibly make sense if each strata in the hierarchy can listen to the strata below him and filter up anything useful.
    When the employee understands that his/her views mean something to the organization, at least they are taken note of, he/she will start having a more integral feeling towards the organization and that always affects the productivity.

    • The first point I would like to make, Satyakam, is that all of us are part of the ’employee’ segment of a corporation. The level or title does not really matter from this aspect. It is our responsibility and accountability to forward the agenda of the corporation and this is what we get remunerated for.

      I hear your frustration. It is an unfortunate tendency within corporations, especially large ones, where the voice of an individual gets suppressed. In my view, it is not necessary to implement all the suggestions coming from the employees, but it is necessary to evaluate them honestly. The corporations which do this tend to be more agile and more inventive – resulting in better profitability. This is, however, not an easy task for any corporation. Any haphazard implementation of this process will result in undue burden on already busy departments and managers. A clear mechanism to review, evaluate and provide feedback needs to be put in place first.

      For this level of planning and investment, the first thing that is needed is commitment from the decision-makers. The question maybe to ask then, is what will encourage that commitment?

      • Possibly a realization that any employee within the organization can provide a meaningful feedback. As long as the decision makers keep believing that employees are best commanded, not listened to, as articulated above, i guess things are not going to change. I have a limited exposure to the corporate world, but i would really like to know if such a notion is prevalent in all corporates throughout the world. If yes, then it looks pretty scary.

      • Just like any other set of people, the abilities of different firms in different competencies vary. This is partly out of choice (core competencies) and partly out of the ability to execute on that competency. If a firm does not desire agility and innovation as a core competency (manufacturing of a well-established product for example), then it will delibrately leave out this part.

        However, I do believe that a lot of corporations are in this situation due to ommission, negligence or sub-optimal management. As an employee, it is important for you to figure out which parts of a firms culture are important to you and find an organization that at least cares about delivering on those.

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