Evolving an Indian model of management

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Dec 9 2006, 07:49am hrs
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for an Indian paradigm of management education and stressed the need for grassroot experience to reinforce management practise. His advice deserves not merely attention but some action as wellin the process, it has to be distinguished from what has been bandied about occasionally as the Indian style of management.

There have been several speculative and disjointed attempts at research, training and writing on Indian management over the last three decades. They have little to offer to the management world, unlike Japanese management, which has distinguished itself and contributed enormously in both soft aspects of people management as well as the hard aspects of quality, optimisation and productivity. Or Germany`s Mitbestimmung. Worse still, these have not resulted in any cogent models of organisational practice that can be adopted by Indian companies.

The main outcome in the hunt for Indian management or Indian style of management has been two-fold. One has been the lacing of quotes and episodes from Indian scriptures to management education for both MBAs and executives. The other has been loose identification of Indian success storiesparticularly highlighting grossly paternalistic approaches as being Indian management. Some results have suggested that management systems, techniques, structures and tools in Indian firms are no different from the Anglo-Saxon. However, the critical differences are in some important processes and style, which are borne out of cultural assumptions and attributes.

The advice from the Prime Minister is apparently different from what a casual management student or academician might construe. It is about an Indian model of management education that will result in meaningful socio-economic development for the country transgressing organisational forms and mindsets. It may lead managers and students of management to think and experience outside the restricted assumptions about markets, corporations, consumer segments and financial results. This may enable them to integrate and mainstream Indian needs and challenges with corporate aspirations. Some companies have already done so by thinking innovatively and integrating rural markets, information technology, supply chain management, and financial services. The challenge is to integrate the potential needs and learning opportunities from real India with the current management world that has had limited frames of reference and mental models.

Summer placements or project assignments could be a useful starting point. Replacing the current practice, management institutes must consider attaching all the students compulsorily to panchayati raj institutions to gain a wholesome exposure to real life situations and intense learning that truly reflects Indian challenges, social realities, values, cultural attributes and paradoxes at the grassroots level. As well as how the social fabric is sustained in the face of challenges that cannot be addressed by markets and contracts. There are many outstanding gram and taluk/mandal panchayats and zilla parishads in the country that have also been subjects of case studies and role models for other countries. These institutions may host small groups of students for a period of three months at a time, and help them understand how things work.

Students, managers and educators may note that the job description of the sarpanch of a good gram panchayat will be more complex than that of a typical CEO of a large corporation. This adds complexity to the job evaluation criteria. The sarpanch will have to exercise phenomenal participatory skills; reconcile conflicts of interests continuously; act upon trust in the absence of contracts; preserve and pursue the value preferences of the local community; trade off social necessities with economic rationale; offer advice, counsel and assistance to individuals on a daily basis on diverse matters; manage expectations; conduct meetings democratically of the gram sabhas; reconcile competing local necessities with the limited resources and mobilise additional resources innovatively; coordinate, supervise, report on multiple schemes of multiple bodies and agencies; engage and manage active stakeholders including the district administration.

This indeed may be the road to the vision of a genuine Indian model of management.