5 Takeaways Lean Leaders can Pick Up from India’s Dynamic Prime Minister – Narendra Modi – PT I

Narendra Modi
To exemplify what lean lessons can be learnt from top politicians, Debashis Sarkar, author, Phil Crosby Medalist and one of the world’s leading lights in the space of Lean Management, uses a case study of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s first year in office. This is the first of a two-part case study…
Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister of India, has just completed his first year in office on May 26th, 2015. His party, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), came to power with a thumping majority and over the last 12 months he has taken the reins of the nation; the faltering economy is back on track and the Indian people feel a new energy in India’s transformation program. The world sees a confident nation under a determined leader who is seeking greater heights. As someone who follows Narendra Modi closely, I see him as the world’s Photo by United States government work via Flickr biggest lean leader.
Why is he the world’s biggest lean change agent? It’s because he is trying to transform a nation of 1.2 billion people. Like any other holistic lean transformation, this one too has process, people, technology, leadership, behaviors etc.
While a lot can be written about his approach, there are five key distilled takeaways which lean leaders can learn from him from his one year in office:
1. Successful Lean Transformations begin with a vision:
Narendra Modi has laid out a vision for India which seems to have engaged the entire nation. With an objective to create "Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat" ("One India, Excellent India" – Modi’s message of unity), he has laid out a vision for areas which will take India to the next level. To give you a peek into some of the elements of his vision:
  • By 2020, Modi wants India to be a "global supplier of skilled workforce".
  • By 2022, when India celebrates 75 years of independence, there will be "housing for all Indians", "electrification of all villages", "employment for all youth", and the "construction of 100 smart cities" etc.
It’s not that earlier Prime Ministers didn’t have a vision but here is a leader who has been able to excite the entire nation on where he is taking India moving forwards. The difference this time is that he has been able to connect viscerally with the bulk of Indians on what he is trying to do. This was not a one-time exercise but something which is he and his group of ministers communicate on all occasions. This is also one way of putting his neck on the line and holding himself and his team accountable to the nation. His proclamation about vision is just not lofty words but focus on things which every Indian can relate to. None of these objectives are easy but what gives one confidence is that there are well defined plans and metrics for each of the above areas and one already sees actions.

Takeaway for Lean Leaders:

Before embarking on a transformation it’s imperative to script a vision which everyone impacted by change can relate to. This can’t be wordy fuzzy stuff but something which all can understand. What’s most important here is it’s just not sufficient to explain the reason for change but making sure all get connected to it emotionally. Also, if you want the vision to be successful there has to be a solid action plan. Communicate it in public and hold yourself accountable.

2. Successful Lean Transformations are more about people:
Narendra Modi knows that if he has to transform a nation like India, he and his group of ministers cannot do everything by themselves. He has to change the moribund culture of government bureaucracy which is the engine for execution. As a matter of fact, a survey done by Political & Economic Risk Consultancy a couple of years back found India’s bureaucracy to be the worst in Asia among the 12 countries which were surveyed. These officers are lazy, lack discipline and were not held accountable for what they do.
Over the last 12 months his efforts have been to discipline and revitalize these teams. He has made it mandatory for all of them to be in their office by 9am, stop extended lunch and tea breaks, which were spent resting in parks, playing cards or on golf courses. To drive punctuality, he has ensured a biometric attendance system to ensure 1.23 lakh bureaucrats across 54 ministries come to office in time and clock the mandatory 8 hours in the office. He has made it clear to all of them that their performance will be tracked and he will himself monitor critical projects. The Prime Minister’s office monitors progress through an electronic platform called eSamikSha and even raises alerts if required. This keeps bureaucrats on their toes. He also holds regular video conference sessions with states to ascertain progress.
He also told all senior bureaucrats that if they have a good idea and aren’t getting an audience with their minister, they can directly pitch to him. His mantra to this sprawling force that they should move away from ABCD ("avoiding, bypassing, confusing and delaying) culture and adopt a culture demonstrating Responsibility, Ownership, Accountability and Discipline (ROAD).
A week after winning the election he hosted 77 of India’s most senior bureaucrats urging them to work fearlessly and proactively. This was followed by presentations from each one of them. He gave his personal number and email to them so that they can get in touch with him anytime. He also urged them to question processes and rules which have become outdated and come in the way of governance. He also told them to be fearless, bold and decisive for which he would back them. He urged them to make sure no files are kept pending and all follow his motto of "Minimum Government, Maximum Governance" which is about simplifying official procedures, using technology supported by a small group of talented bureaucrats.
Modi is a strong believer in meritocracy and knows teams are more engaged when teams use their full strength to help accelerate performance. With this objective in September 2014, he shuffled the portfolio of 50 bureaucrats based on past performance, experience, strengths and potential quite like the way any corporate would do.
He and his ministers have been applying innovative ways to engage the bureaucracy right: from giving them Sir Alex Ferguson biographies, to organising yoga camps, to sending senior bureaucrats to places where they had served as young officers. For the last case, on their return they are told to submit a report on what had changed and what could be done better. Given the changed work environment, he knows bureaucrats are spending time in the office and the workplace has become more demanding. He has urged them to take it easy, not take undue pressure and balance priorities at work and home. He has also told them to inspire youngsters at schools and colleges on why they should join the bureaucracy instead of more lucrative jobs.
All of these initiatives have energized these bureaucrats. They believe their work is being looked at by none other than the Prime Minister. What’s also satisfying for them is that good work will be recognized and they have a leader who cares for them and doesn’t want to use them as robots. This was best summarized by a tweet from a senior bureaucrat: "1st time in my career free, frank & fearless interaction with d pm of d country. Highly motivating! Gr8 flow of ideas!"
Takeaway for Lean Leaders:
Beyond the hard stuff of process, structure, technology and tools, which are an important facet of lean transformation, what’ important is to focus on people engagement and their behavior. A change transformation will be incomplete if the leader needs to practice tough love, hold people accountable and reward them for good performance. Those impacted by change need to shun an ABCD culture and demonstrate behaviors around Responsibility, Ownership, Accountability & Discipline (ROAD).
Want to find out more? Stayed tuned this week with PEX Network for the final 3 takeaways, which will be published on Thursday, 4th June, 2015.