Sunday, January 13, 2013
India Needs Politicians Who Are Good Managers TOO
India needs politicians who can be good managers
Published in Economic times Today 14th Jan 2013
By, Arun Maira
Frustration of citizens with the apathy and inefficiency of India's government institutions is spilling on to the streets. The first rallying cry was corruption. Now it is the safety of women. Police, justice, administration and public services, essential for good governance, are corroded by inefficiencies and corruption. They lack the grammar of good management: accountability to stakeholders, efficient use of resources and respect for deadlines.
Citizens want leaders who are not merely good politicians but good managers. So, chief ministers who campaign on a credible platform of good management, like Narendra Modi and Nitish Kumar, will win polls. While aam aurat and aam aadmiare protesting on the streets, our economists are raising alarms about the state of India's finances.
They demand political will to reduce fuel subsidies, increase power tariffs and re-engineer the food subsidy system. However, politicians without a credible record of good management, anxious to stay in power, are wary of risking voter anger by imposing good economics on people. One cause of India's simmering political and economic crises is bad management of public institutions and citizen services. India has many professional politicians and many good economists. What it lacks is good management of public institutions.
Good management practices relevant for India's governance can be found in China, Malaysia and Japan, amongst other places. The popular perception is that things get done in China because a single strong political party enables the centre to control top-down in a way that India's political leadership cannot. The truth is that there is much greater devolution of powers to the provinces and cities in China than in India. In China, the centre sets targets and gives considerable freedom to provincial and local leaders in implementation.
Then it assesses outcomes, learning from experiments and rewarding good performers. But Indian states and cities are struggling to be rid of micro-management from the centre, one-size-fits-all solutions and management of inputs rather than outcomes. Large organisations, as governments everywhere are, have to be divided into more manageable parts: ministries, programmes and schemes. They generally lapse into silos and boxes, with impenetrable walls around them, making collaboration very difficult.
Therefore, processes to ensure convergence must be installed and managed. In India, the approach to convergence is to kick problems to the top, which then becomes the bottleneck for coordination, or to attempt convergence by committees, whose recommendations are implemented desultorily, if at all.
The Malaysian government operates a system for convergence through lateral coordination, called the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu), whereby stakeholders in any large issue co-create plans and fix shared responsibilities and targets.
The stakeholders, from industry, civil society and government, come together in 'laboratories' in which they analyse the national challenge together. These professionally-facilitated laboratories conclude only when a best-fit plan for action is signed off by all stakeholders, which happens in nine weeks or less. The outputs of these laboratories are shared with the general public, for review and feedback, in facilitated town hall'-like events called 'Open Days'.
Transparent tracking mechanisms for progress are agreed upon. Thereafter, problem-solving meetings of stakeholders are convened when necessary to find solutions to roadblocks. If the key lesson from China for management of a large country is to get local, and the key lesson from Malaysia for the management of multi-stakeholder systems is to build lateral connections amongst stakeholders, the lesson from Japan is to institutionalise rapid, widespread learning.
The Total Quality Movement (TQM) transformed the capabilities of Japanese business and public sector organisations after World War II. TQM is an outcome-based, action-oriented, learning-driven system. Applied by people at many levels in Japanese organisations, they helped to transform Japan.
The architecture of large systems' governance, in all three examples, is based on three principles: three 'Ls'. The first 'L' is to devolve responsibilities and build capabilities of 'local' units. The second 'L' is deliberate creation of 'lateral' coordination processes, in the Malaysian example.
The strength of the TQM movement in Japan also was in its lateral connections. The movement 'scaled up' by creating forums in which many organisations, including competitors, learned from each other. The third 'L' is a systematic management of the process of 'learning', visible in all three examples. The test of a good learning system is its ability to learn and improve faster than others.
Even poorer countries in Africa and Bangladesh in our neighbourhood, and developing countries like China, Malaysia and Indonesia, have improved social indicators faster than us. We have a lot to learn about how to learn. In conclusion, we should stop making the country's size, federal structure and democracy explanations for poor governance and tardy implementation of projects. India's governance needs a strong dose of good management. We must learn to get things done.