I wrote this article in 2001 and it was published in the Management section – “Avenues” of the reputed Deccan Herald newspaper. The editor had published the article unchanged but had changed the title to “Delegation of Powers”, more of a buzz word at that point of time. I still feel that given the content, my title for the article was more suitable. Now the article as it was written. Allowance may kindly be given for the time warp…
Most Indian companies have been functioning more or less like the traditional Indian families – the head of the family having total control of everything. Nothing shall be done without his approval. It is like the family/ organization is his kingdom and he is the king of all he surveys.
Although over the years a lot of changes have taken place in respect of the family, the change in the corporate world have been slow to come by. Managers have been reluctant to give any freedom to the people working with them. While in a family a father no longer expects his son to abide by everything he says, a manager expects the employee to jolly well do what he is told. Even in the public sector, where there is seemingly a lot of freedom and employees may take a questioning stance to evade work, but they would hardly ask or suggest why a particular job cannot be done differently or in a better way. The fact is that the manager may even tolerate refusal to work but is very uncomfortable allowing his people to use their heads.
So much so you find human beings who are responsible persons in their personal lives- running a house, conducting marriages, giving a suitable education to their children find it difficult to take the simplest of official decisions. Constant control in anything and everything over the years has created fear and diffidence in the employee who has become unwilling to take any risk.
Interestingly, the head of the family mind set is prevailing not only in respect of the managers and the management but also in respect of employees’ unions. Unions are as bureaucratic, autocratic and non-communicative with their members as managements. I am reminded of an incident narrated by my colleague, an HR chief in one of our production divisions in Mysore. When a serious accident was reported to him, he immediately wanted to refer the injured employee to Bangalore for appropriate treatment. However, his juniors dissuaded him saying “Sir, you are still new to the company; for making a reference for medical treatment the union leaders will make a formal request to management. As top leaders are out of station, we will have to wait, if not the leaders will take strong exception if it is done without their knowledge.”
Organizations may have got away with such functioning yesterday but they would be living in a fool’s paradise if they believe that the same style will see them through in the days to come. The funniest part is that many managers still prefer to give lip service and not do anything to build the confidence of employees for speaking their mind or involve them in the day to day working. The false sense of security that nothing will happen to me, it only happens to others or that everything will remain the same at least till the time of my tenure seems to encourage them to continue in their ways. Perhaps it is due to inertia coupled with a seducing need to conserve power and importance.
The time has come to realize that the party is over. The one and only way to be effective and survive is by involving employees- communicating to them all matters pertaining to their job and creating a sense of ownership in the employees.
According to Ricardo Semler, CEO, Semco (one who has actually practiced what he preaches and recorded his experiences in the celebrated book “Maverick”), “There is no way to treat employees as responsible and honest unless you let them know and influence what is going on around them.” Semler further asserts that “the advantages of openness and truthfulness far outweigh the disadvantages- a company that doesn’t share information when times are good, loses the right to request solidarity and concessions when they are aren’t.”
As a first step in the process, managers need to give up control in a phased manner and share more and more information about the company with its employees. This would be difficult initially as “old habits die hard.” Conscious effort is also essential for creating an encouraging environment so that confidence of employees is adequately built up- sufficiently for them to first start speaking out their views and then be able to accept risk and take more responsibility.