Thursday, December 1, 2011

Team Anna may want to read Al Ries’s and Jack Trout’s theory of “Focus”….

The Lokpal debate has been in the media every time the Parliamentary Committee has met to discuss it. One of the points that has now come out is that the Committee has recommended exclusion of Group C government employees from the ambit of the Lokpal. On the face of it, this looks like evidence that politicians are insincere about eliminating corruption from India. On the other hand, there is this powerful concept of “Focus” that Al Ries and Jack Trout propounded in their book with the same name – a book that is one of the Bibles (or Korans or Gitas if you wish!) of brand builders around the world…..

The concept of “Focus” is crucial to brand building. What Focus means is that a brand should not attempt to be “everything to everybody”, a common temptation that marketing professionals face. For eg., a particular brand of shampoo in India has chosen to focus on its anti-dandruff capabilities; even though it provides a fantastic wash as well. It could have called itself the “perfect shampoo for a great wash and with anti-dandruff properties”, but it chose to drop the great wash claim. Not because the claim was wrong, but because it chose to Focus on Anti-dandruff. Likewise, a hot-selling brand of antiseptic liquid focuses itself on the “No pain” platform – because it is targeted at those who dislike the sting associated with its competitor. It could have attempted to cover many other virtues, but it dropped all of them. The makers of a global car brand focuses on “safety” even though it can lay as much claim to superior design, great looks, its European engineering; as any other major car brand. There are thousands of such examples in the world of brand building. The reason to Focus is that in a cluttered consumer mind, only a tightly “positioned” brand fits in. A diffused one is lost. Focus gives a brand its mojo.

Now let’s take another example. In any hierarchical organization, there is a limited reporting relationship that is provided. A sales head may have 5-7 people (mid-level bosses) directly reporting to him/her; even though there may be many other juniors reporting to these mid-level bosses. A sales head could insist that the entire sales organization report to him/her out of enthusiasm, but if that were done, none of the team members would get any attention, direction or mentoring from the sales head.

In short, a tighter focus helps to get more efficiency into the operation. There are now doctors now who prefer to be super specialists – doing only one/two types of surgeries so that they can make the least possible errors in the procedure. It’s not like Sachin Tendulkar cannot bowl, but he chooses to focus on batting. Even in batting, he prefers to drop the T-20 format whenever possible, and focus instead on Tests/ODI. Rahul Dravid prefers to focus on just Tests. A Mahendra Singh Dhoni is currently riding a high; else he would also prefer to focus on one or the other format. Its worth noticing that the life of a focused player (batsman or bowler) is usually longer than that of an allrounder. Wonder why? Because of Focus!

The lesson for Team Anna is that the Lokpal as a concept and as an organization must focus, rather than dilute its focus. The more it focuses, the more successful it will be in achieving its goals. The focus must clearly be on the most impactful of all areas of corruption. If Team Anna believes that the highest level of corruption is at the Group D level, then it should give up the other three Groups. In my view, culture “starts at the top”. It is because a department head is corrupt himself/herself, that others in the department are tempted to be corrupt. If the head was clean, he/she would act against corrupt people in the department. And corruption would vanish or at least reduce. My view is that the Lokpal should focus exclusively on Group A government employees and of course, the politicians. Even though the aam aadmi suffers corruption at the very low levels of bureaucracy, it is the big players who indulge in high level corruption. In the first step, it is important to send the right message by nabbing big perpetrators of corruption; even though it may look more romantic to have jurisdiction over millions of low level officials.

But from the position that Team Anna has taken, this could be seen to be a big climbdown. If the government “concedes” only to include Group A officials, then it will be thought that Team Anna has been “snubbed”. It is our habit of using such poor words that makes any meaningful discussion on any topic difficult. Besides, Team Anna should be under no delusions that they and they alone care for corruption; and that they and they alone are intelligent enough to make laws. They should also not think that all politicians are corrupt; and all that they are interested in is in saving their skins. In any case, by excluding Group B, C and D employees, how does a politician save his skin? He/she is not asking for the Lokpal to exclude MPs or MLAs or even ministers.

I think the government should not include Group B officials also. Different levels of bureaucracy can be handled by different watchdogs. Also, if there is a need felt to amend the Lokpal Act later, it can be taken up again at a later stage. I am not such a pessimist as to think that a weak law cannot be amended later. Laws are amended all the time in this country.

Of course, all this discussion on which groups to include and exclude now look like being unnecessary at the moment. There is no chance that Parliament will be allowed to function and there is very little hope that the Lokpal Bill will be passed in this session. Abhishek Manu Singhvi has already said that it will take 10-12 days to introduce the bill in Parliament. Will that leave enough time to discuss and pass it – even if Parliament starts to work? I doubt it. If there is no Parliament – there are no bills. Period.

My sincere suggestion and request to Team Anna is to read this book. It will provide them deep insights into something that they seem to be unaware of.

The real truth is that a Lokpal which handles everything is bound to fail. Politicians would actually love it if the Lokpal were to get distracted with cases at lower levels and not have the time or energy to look into their shenanigans! Team Anna should avoid grandstanding; get their heads together and focus on the big fish…..

No comments:

Post a Comment