Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Chapsticks -- Chappell with a stick

Random thoughts on the latest potboiler starring G. Chappell and S. Ganguly, running in the national theatre.

This thing presents an interesting case study from the point of view of corporate governance and the role of change in it.

You have a classic case of a corporate body in disarray (Indian cricket here) and a high-profile CEO (Chappell) is brought in to bring about a radical turnaround. The CEO comes from a different cultural background, and is either not aware of the workings of his new workplace, or is not willing to put up with the ways.

His ideas are too revolutionary -- opting for upheavals instead of gradual change. The existing mass of the corporation resists the change, because it conflicts with the cocoons of comfort that people inside have built over the years.

It's nothing new. It happens all the time. It's not a question of motives - everybody has the best of intentions. It's a question of methods - skill at negotiating change, and the dexterity to deliver in a complex situation.

The point is: do you attach greater primacy to the goals you have (how to take Indian cricket to the top?) or to the ideas that you have of going about it? Being too rigid with your methods, and thrusting them down the throats of people, without first achieving a complete buy-in from the people who have to adopt those changes, could easily backfire, and defeat the very purpose you had your ideas for.

This is what we need clarity on first. Whose responsibility is it to finally deliver? Is it the players'? Is it the coach's? Is is the captain's? Is it the administrative body's (BCCI)?

Depending on who shares how much ultimate responsibility, the distribution of power has to be accordingly achieved. And the spoils should be divided in that proportion as well.

In a game of cricket, it is the players (led by the captain) that ultimately matter. All the rules of the game are made for the players. There are no cricket rules made for a coach. No coach can ever be penalized with suspension for slow over rate. The coach cannot declare an innings.

Contrast this with football, where the captain goes only for the toss. The rest of the show is managed by the coach. He can withdraw any player as per his wish from a game in progress -- even the captain. The coach is the boss there. And usually if the team fails, it's the coach's head that rolls first.

Also to be considered, is how foreign coaches have traditionally fared in the Indian sporting scene. I remember about 6-7 years earlier Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi (equivalent of Dalmiya in football) brought in a Soviet coach for the Indian football team. This coach was considered the third best in Asia at that time. He began with a bang: bringing it radical ideas in terms of training, game strategy, player's positions etc. But ended with a whimper as the team couldn't cope, and the results got worse than they were to begin with. He had to be promptly replaced with Naeemuddin, who though a strict taskmaster himself, was more conversant with the workings of Indian football and the players' psychology. The foreign coach, in fact, sank without a trace.

Don't go that far. Remember what happened with the German hockey coach the IHF appointed amidst much fanfare just about a year or so back, before the Olympics. He found the existing stars too difficult to mould and fall in line with his ideas, confused them further, fought with Dhanraj Pillai and other seniors, and I guess had to be replaced even before he could make his Olympic debut.

The bottomline is: you need to be culturally sensitive. Or else failure is guaranteed. You can't get Ford's managing director to come and turn around Ambassador's fortunes. The trade unions will make life miserable for him, and he will end up complaining why the Indian Parliament is not doing anything to rein them in.

Your better bet to improve HM's fortunes remains the boss of Telco or Maruti perhaps.

So does that mean change is impossible or even undesirable? Quite the opposite. There can be no growth and forward movement without change. And there can be no radical forward movement without radical change. And what's more there can be no radical change without excruciating pain either.

So where lies the crux? It lies in one's skill in *negotiating* the change rather than trying to inject it intravenously. Warm up first, before trying to sprint. Whip people into running for their lives, and they'll all end up debilitated with cramps.

The other important aspect here is shareholder patience and the ability to oversee. The shareholders here are the Indian public. If you bring in a CEO to deliver, give him some room to deliver. And be aware that the fruits of radical change cannot be had overnight, or even in the short run. The short run here is: World Cup 2007. The fruits will be there for all the world cups to come therefater, if the changes are finally made to enter the system. But in short run, one is in only for pain, and loss.

If you go for change and abandon it once the results get negative in the short run, you lose both ways. Lose now and lose in the future. You have to stick through it.

It is very much like what happened with the liberalization of the Indian economy initiated by Narasimha Rao's government. You'd face crisis initially. But as long as you know it's the only way out, you reap the rewards in the long run. Everyone does. Though some might lose their jobs when the first few desi mills close down facing global competition.

But make sure you have a Manmohan Singh overseeing and executing the change. Don't get an American Treasury Secretary to do that, or you crash and burn, if he tries to do things as they are done in America.

The question is totally independent of which personalities are involved in the matter. Ganguly is only symptomatic. He's doing what any incumbent would do. Chappell, if he has been given a mandate, should try to see how best he can achieve it without shaking heaven and earth. Shaking heaven and earth might be quite against his professed objectives as well, which will end up sapping his own as well as everyone else's energies, to no good end.


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  2. Well...on one side what you have said makes sense. But then, we have given chance to such approach for ages and we know it doesn't give results. Heres a chance to try an alternate approach. Lets give it a try.With all due respect for Ganguly(He has done wonders to Indian Cricket), its time for him to retire. He doesn't deserve to be in the team. You can't have a captain who can't find a place in the team. Ganguly has been given a long time to make a place for himself. He is a good captain, but again, finding a place in playing XI is very important.

  3. Well written (love the title), but I do not agree with the analogies provided and the inference that foreign coaches will need lot of time to get the job done.. You are comparing apples vs oranges in your analogies.. We have had John Wright as a foreign coach for 5 years.. The cricketers have international exposure, so its not right to say that foreign coaches won't do well.. Pakistan has Bob Woolmer as coach and they are doing exceptionally well after he took over.. SL won a world cup with Dav Whatmore as coach.. Both nations can be compared to India with respect to culture and all.. Also, it is important that the captain must deserve a place in the playing eleven, and if he does not deserve all fault is of the selectors..

  4. Proloy, welcome to the blog world

    - Ripul