Lack of managerial commitment and low organisational motivation are the tweedledum and tweedledee of the Indian Public Sector work culture, which have been plaguing it since inception. Acting in concert, they have brought about a sort of permissiveness in the public sector ethos that has come to impair its functional health. However, its revival to normality, save privatisation, should be the national concern, but none of the efforts so far, over the decades that is, seems to have met with any perceptible success. The problem is one of the correct diagnoses of the ailment, though the symptoms of the malady have shown up with sufficient clarity, and, needless to say, the ever eluding prescription for its cure.
Well, I would say that the Indian public sector folks can be divided into three distinct categories – a crowd of picnickers, a group of mourners, and an assortment of loners.
The picnickers club is membered, in the main, by those for whom the job is only a means of minor occupation with their major engagement lying elsewhere, which is augmented by the carefree gang with no care in the world, save the bother to keep themselves in the company’s payroll.
The mourners, on the other hand, are the promotions starved people with deep convictions about their self-worth and their potential to add value to the organisation, who feel aggrieved at the management’s inability to envisage their intrinsic value in the higher administrative echelons, thereby failing to upgrade them to suitable positions.
The loners, carrying their lonely ploughs, are mostly level-headed and self-motivated people, who take their lot philosophically and strive to contribute their best in the gloomy environs. It is this silent minority of officers, staff, and workers, who virtually carry the entire public sector burden, with its deadwood and all, on their spirited shoulders and suffering conscience. Thus, it is to them that the country owes for having kept the public sector edifice in the present, though shaky, form, which, otherwise, would have crumbled for good, so long ago.
It is this motley crowd that a ‘stakeless’ management is called upon to motivate, and given the disarray in its own rank and file, the task, by no means, is an easy one. More so, it is the lack of managerial commitment to the public sector causes that catalyses the low worker morale, which in turn compounds the poor performance in this sector. Ensconced as they are in the inviolable reality of ‘job security’, the workforce, perforce, are not amenable to Douglas McGregor’s theory ‘X’ that advocates control by coercion and punishment, as a way of motivation. Besides, to bring the best out of them as per ‘Y’ theory ‘through proper motivation’, there are not many motivators around in the motley crowd in the disjointed setting. In fact, it is the irony of the Indian public sector, in that, those whose job is to motivate need motivation themselves.
All the classical theories of motivation were developed by western minds and, thus, are imbibed with the western social ethos and work ethics. True, basic human nature is the same across societies the world over, but the history and culture, unique to each polity, I feel, occasion perceptible differences in their social genius. The promise of success could prove to be a great motivator in the success-driven societies of the west but it has doubtful value in the Indian cultural environment, steeped in the traditional concept of karma though being increasingly lured by the allures of artha, in a sort of ‘caught between two stools’ phenomenon.
Likewise, the appeal to national pride can be an irresistible motivating force in countries, especially like in Japan and Germany, of late in China to trade shaking proportions, but not so in India, which, in spite of its rich and ancient cultural heritage, does not have the kind of historical experience to provide motivational appeal to its people on the nationalist ground. Even otherwise, every society is subject to dynamic influences and what at one time could be a potential motivating force at another time, owing to altered circumstances, might lose that motivational edge. This is best illustrated by the historical development of the British society over the years; a strong sense of nationalistic commitment in its people that once made this tiny island kingdom transform itself into a vast global empire on which the sun never set, had given way, in the pre-Thatcher era, to an unremitting labour unrest leading to national economic chaos. It is thus clear that the human proclivities and priorities, in every polity, are unique to its genius, and is subject to historical changes, in due course, that is.
Hence, it is imperative that our behavioral scientists, rather than playing the pipe to western motivational tunes in Indian public sector corridors, should analyse our social ethos and accordingly reckon our cultural attributes that are amenable for organised motivation. Besides, it is worth noting that most of the theories on motivation have emerged at a period of social transformation in the western societies, the precepts of which do not hold water ever after, even there.
Thus, any attempt to implant the western theories in the Indian public sector ground is like trying to push square pegs into round holes, and that apart, there is another vital and valid difference; the theories on motivation, by and large, have addressed themselves to the individuals of the organisation as functional units, and proceeded to assume, perhaps rightly so, that the sum total of the individuals makes the organisation whole. However, the individual, though, retains his primacy in the public sector organisation structure in India, his freedom in his own working sphere is subject to the trade union or officers’ association pressures and pulls. This has brought about a radical change in the motivational setting in the public sector organisations in that the individual has transformed into a compound entity from being a basic functional unit as envisaged in the classical theories.
Moreover, motivating people of a numerically compact organisation is one thing and injecting motivational spirit into public sector behemoths is another. Well, even in our ‘advanced’ times in which human rights and individual liberties are at a premium, the manpower of small and medium entities can be effectively motivated with the mantras contained in the western organisational scriptures. This is due to the possibility of close interaction of the top management with all the individuals of the enterprise, and the easy communicability of the organisational ethos. Here, constant reviews, aided by direct feedback, are possible, which, in turn, will enable the management to correct the deviations, if any, and constantly steer the organisational ship on the committed course.
However, when it comes to large organisations, the size of the show makes it physically impossible for personal contact of the top management with one and all, whereby, the resulting communication gaps in their innumerable functional folds enfeeble the entrepreneurial force. Moreover, the social assertiveness and the public commitment for minimum wages takes the sting out of Maslow’s theory of basic needs satisfaction as a means of motivation. And ironically, what was once a motivational tool has become an obligatory cross for the managements to bear with.
What then are the available options to deal with the tattering Indian public sector enterprises, envisaged as the temples of modern India and perceived as a means of its ambitious transformation into a modern industrial nation? As already observed, rather than shopping overseas for foreign formulas to formulate native motivational prescriptions, we should look into our rich cultural heritage and identify those strengths that in times of yore made our society a remarkably prosperous country in the history of mankind. Some of them that are deep-rooted in our culture and are relevant for adaptation to our motivational mechanism can be identified as – an attitude of life governed by karma siddhãnta, a sense of dharma coupled with the fear of the Almighty, a worldly outlook tempered by contentment, an ingrained respect for elders and superiors, a high level of tolerance for others’ viewpoint and a general sense of fairness in thought and action.
It is true that most of these cultural values that formed the corner-stones of the Indian way of life for ages have been on the wane for long which is owing to the onslaught of our slavish consumption of the coarser strains of the western materialism sans the finer aspects of its work culture. Be that as it may, the opportunity to blend the best of our ancient wisdom with the worldliness of the times might not have been lost altogether. Let us examine how we can pick modern motivational tools from the pack of our cultural attitudes.
Take the case of our ingrained respect for elders, which however had a rider to it, in that the elders are expected to be upright so as to deserve being the objects of veneration. Though in this lies the emotive key to open the floodgates of Indian motivational current, sadly most of the superiors in the public sector organisations do not measure up to the tests of moral strength and integrity of character to be able to win the respect of their subordinates to meaningfully motivate them. This is owing to the affliction of our dharma to perform by the lethargy to work, which gave raise to organisational bodies sans entrepreneurial souls. Thus, the public sector ‘deadwood syndrome’ can be defined as the phenomenon of the higher echelon lethargy effectually paralysing the lower rung activity in an organisation.
Maybe, all is not lost if we consider the beneficial effects of the concept of group solidarity in the workforce, wherein each individual of a group could be motivated to imbibe a sense of group pride, a la an army regiment. Whereby, members of a group can be motivated to enhance their individual output to buttress the group performance, which caters to the ego gratification of the individuals of the group. But what we have in place for a motivational tool is the farce of a periodic wage revision, supposedly a monetary incentive for motivation, which, any way, is well and truly lost in the endless bouts of bargaining between the workers unions and management bodies, only to culminate in a compromise. Such a wage revision, devoid of magnanimity by the giver and lacking in grace of the beneficiary, can hardly be a motivator. This one feature of the public sector management alone, just about, illustrates its inability to operate the motivational levers available to it in the ordinary course.
So as to infuse the right motivation in the public sector workforce, before all else, the top guard should first exhibit its own commitment to the organisational well-being.