189 Monday Musings: The AAP phenomena and organisations
The victory of the political novice AAP in Delhi will be dissected for quite some time now as it must be. The so called middle class shot to economic prominence in the last decade of the previous century with its colossal purchasing power along with consumption power. Every producer of goods and services paid homage to the likes and dislikes of this block of consumers. Choice was a bad word till then because the consumer had none and the producers had no incentive to give one – from scooters to TV, from telephone to clothes the gloom of choicelessness was all pervasive. Economic emancipation fired and fanned by the forces of liberalization finally changed that. Business writing started to recognize the collective might of the middle class and perhaps the best work on this came from the bureaucrat Pavan K Verma who wrote ‘The great Indian middle class’.
Economic emancipation often makes way for a need for political and cultural emancipation. The AAP dent in the political universe must be seen in that light. A group of people wanted a voice, wanted to be heard and taken notice of – and when the traditional system refused to do that they made themselves heard by taking matters in their own hands.
Let us examine the lessons for organizations from this.
#1. Recognize the shifts in the voices for all segments/functions/departments. With time the prominence of departments change and the voice available to them must be commensurate to their emerging criticality. Backbenchers of yesteryears may be at the vanguard of tomorrow.
#2 Provide organized and formal avenues of expression to teams and individuals. It is foolhardy to believe that the system ‘knows what ails itself’ all the time. The power of self correction is often overestimated in systems however desirable it might be. One never knows when a minor thread of discontent becomes a short fuse for a revolt.
#3. Change the nature and the idiom of discourse with the changing times. Speak in metaphors of the times and not of a bygone era. When the corporate geriatrics (read 45 plus) rule the Gen X, fault lines will emerge. Similarly each function has a different idiom and when the conversation within the organization takes place in the idiom of the dominant department then we are sowing seeds of discontent. The organizations must have an amoebic ability to reach out and engage in ‘local’ idiom of every unit, function and department.
#4. Finally, never underestimate an upstart. Do not ridicule early voices for or against an idea or a policy. Isolated voices gather momentum because, to borrow Voltaire’s words, ‘it’s time may have come’. Organizational movements are messier than political revolts because they are rarely visible. They can paralyze a system, rob it of its ability to create what it can and be what it can be.