“God gives you nuts but does not crack them for you” – German proverb
Today, Indians are hoping like never before that the country is on the verge of a great turnaround. They are pegging their faith to their new leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been able to motivate the nation with a promise to deliver good governance. The world is looking at us with awe, probably and partially convinced that “Yes, They Can”. Several factors are tilted in our favour for this to happen.
Demographic dividend derived out of 1.25 billion people translates into more than 800 million people below the age of 35 years does not seem to be a rhetoric because these numbers are for real. No one can deny that India is blessed with natural resources, which very few other nations have.
It is also difficult to brush under the carpet a fact that Indians have great brains. We produced great scientists, doctors, filmmakers, engineers and musicians. Therefore, we on our own, could produce an atomic bomb, we are a space power, we created an enormous telecom infrastructure and we made more than a mark in the field of software and this checklist is pretty long and impressive.
If we had all this, then why couldn’t we become a super power till now? Can the prime minister alone change the fortunes of a billion-plus people? Can hope alone make us a great nation, a super power?
No. If India has to change, Indians have to change first. This is going to be the biggest challenge for us, because we ourselves are the biggest challenge. Somebody will have to push us. We will not be able to do it ourselves. This is one area where slogans and rhetoric fail. It is a hard nut to crack, because this requires sheer hard work.
These are a few must-haves, without which India story may not happen.
> Discipline: This is something we don’t have in us. We do not like doing things right and we are fond of breaking rules. We don’t respect law and we don’t care about it. We have yet to learn driving in the right lane, parking at the right place and even parking correctly. We need to be policed always and every time.
This reflects in our work culture, our social behaviour, which eventually affects our productivity quotient. An average Indian does not measure up to Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Japanese, Vietnams or our brethren from Singapore as far as discipline is concerned. How do we propose to compete with the Chinese who are highly disciplined and extremely hard working?
> Punctuality: When office workers in the central government started coming on time to their office, it became breaking news for the nation. We could not believe that any one can discipline us.
Disrespect for time runs right from top to bottom. Worse is, we are not even ashamed of it, we mock ourselves by ranting and chanting about ‘Indian Stretchable Time’.
We therefore miss our deadlines, deliveries and deliverables. In a competitive world, this won’t do. We start our seminars late, we get into meetings well past the given time and we reach our offices late. We are callous, in short. How do we expect the world to take us seriously?
> Responsiveness: It starts with picking up the phone and answering a call. It begins with responding to a missed call. It is all about responding to your emails on time. It is all about responding to a request or obeying an order.
Do we demonstrate a sense of responsibility through responsiveness? Do project delays worry us? Does it bother us if we miss a deadline? Does it bother us if we have a dozen files on the desk, which need immediate attention?
The problem is, it does not. It does not hurt us if this hurts others. The most dangerously depressive response from us is ‘we are like that only’. Then how do we hope to be a nation to reckon with?
> Sense of ownership and commitment: If you are given a job, then it is your responsibility to ensure that it is done on time and it is well done. Great nations are built by the people and not by leaders alone. Such people demonstrate a deep sense of commitment, they take moral responsibility, and they attach it to their pride, their self-esteem.
The Japanese, Americans, British and several others wear this commitment on their sleeves. Though the managers are responsible to run the show, every supervisor and every worker takes ownership of his task. This needs to be built not only in our work culture, but also as a part of our day-to-day life. This needs to be built into our DNA.
> Perfection and excellence: Excellence and precision are a part of a mindset. Germans, for instance, are hardworking, industrious and demonstrate excellence to the extent of being obsessed with this phenomenon.
It reflects in their etiquette, their personal life and their workplace. It is a 360-degree state of perfection and they take pride in it. To admit inadequacy is incomprehensible to them. Their behaviour is impeccable and their products are faultless.
We need to go a long way to achieve this. Cosmetics won’t do, we need a complete overhaul of our mindset where “Sab Chalta Hai” is at the centre of our social conscience. To many Indians, it is a shortcut to Nirvana, but for a competitive India, which hopes to become a superpower, this mediocrity mantra will not do.
“Man who waits for roasted duck to fly into his mouth must wait, very very long time” -Chinese proverb
> Entitlement attitude: Who minds freebies? We thrive on these and we want more of them, we want our rights, we want our entitlements, we want subsidies, we want reservations, but we shy away from responsibilities. In recent times, new mantra of empowerment is being mixed up with entitlement.
Can we make it without all this?
This seemingly difficult question has a simple answer. How do you beat the world that works twice as hard as you do? We cannot live on the hope that in the next few years, the world will grow old and we will beat them then.
We hope to supply manpower to the world, we dream of exporting teachers when we ourselves face a huge shortage of capable, committed workforce that can deliver. ‘Make in India’ requires makers in India first. Can we become a “competitive” manufacturing hub with ‘zero-defect and zero-effect’, as the Prime Minister thinks we can?
We make a mistake when we link our achievements and attitude to the date of attaining Independence. Our attitude developed over a long period of time, which could go back several centuries in the past.
The British including the East India Company ruled us for close to two centuries. They could teach us their language, they taught us how to dress up like them, and they taught us to eat with fork and knife. We picked up all this very quickly and easily. They failed to teach us punctuality, responsiveness and good discipline, which they amply demonstrated in their day-to-day work. We didn’t learn these things because they were difficult to imbibe and ingest. In fact, we refused to be disciplined and never ever tried to learn these things.
To demolish this legacy will not be easy. It can only happen if this becomes a national priority. Taming of the crew
Modi is the captain of the ship with a 1.25 billion strong crew. If the crew is not ready to put the sails up, even the strongest winds won’t help. You have a great captain, you have the weather with you. Can you let this opportunity slip out of your hands? If we can have a new ministry for skill development, it may be well worth an effort to have a nodal agency to correct our national attitude. Sounds weird, but this is the most urgent and important need of the hour. All the God’s resources will go down the drain if we can’t set this right.
Where do we begin?
It has to become a national agenda for this to succeed. We need to start right from the bottom of the pyramid as that is the largest and most accessible portion of human resource.
Schools and colleges have to be reined in first. Schools and colleges put together can target almost 300 million Indians. This is not going to be simple, because the teachers themselves badly fall short on these parameters. ‘Teach The Teachers’ programmes have to run for the entire teaching fraternity, with a single-point program of changing their attitude towards, punctuality, discipline, responsiveness and perfection. Ministry of HRD can be a major contributor.
To augment the resources, we need to think out of the box. The government can bank on NGOs. Specialised NGOs to cater to this specific need can be encouraged and mandated by the Government. Retired defence officers can contribute immensely and very effectively in this regard.
NCC should form a part of curriculum for every student in the college. We require “Disciplined Bharat” as much as a swachh one and government must build this as a national campaign through multimedia. This should also become part of the skill development programmes under the aegis of Ministry for skill development. Corporate India too can be asked to start training their people in this regard.
Skill development ministry and the corporates put together will substantially boost this number. If one can begin with a target of disciplining 400 million Indians out of the 800 million BTF (below thirty five), it will be good to go. Instead of well- begun is half done – “half done could be well begun,” and that is not bad at all.
(Virender Kapoor is the former director of a management institute under the Symbiosis umbrella and the founder of Management Institute for Leadership and Excellence. He is also the author of Leadership: The Gandhi Way, A Wonderful Boss: Great People to Work With and Passion Quotient-How it matters more than IQ and Innovation the Einstein Way.)