I have been fortunate to see the process of building up of great institutions from the beginning stage itself and also be able to play a key role in it.
In my student days, I have read a lot on various subjects. I am not sure whether they gave me any better insight or clarity. May be perhaps they prepared me for life. Many books or speeches address macro issues or abstract thoughts. Role of a leader, role models, character building, patriotism, ideology, etc. They are very attractive to read. But I have found through actual work over a few decades that all these have little relevance.
I am finding similar situation in India even now after over four decades which have past since my college days. Even now we have many panaceas being rolled out :
Â· Fix a goal and work for it unflinchingly
Â· Hard work pays in the end
Â· Any many buzz words like Vision, Innovation, Knowledge, Leadership, Creative thinking, policy framework etc.
Most institutions grow or drift along without being affected by many of these words or speeches. Perhaps they are like sleeping pills to the minds troubled by the fast pace of changes on the one side and the routine processes one faces in day to day life.
I used to share my experiences and the resultant hypotheses with others during such hype-seminars or workshops or even at closed door meetings. One major point I used to emphasise is that changes within institutions or introducing of innovations in products through knowledge sharing/technology transfer etc or launching of creative projects etc., take place at the micro-level of people who populate the institutions. (I use the word institution in a broad context of working systems which have an organically independent existence). It is the â€œmicrosociologyâ€ of these people, which decide whether the macropolicies or vision statements or reorganisation or restructuring, etc work. One young lady academic strongly suggested to me recently that I should write these ideas down and place them in the public domain. Hence this write up.
Microsociology comprises elements such as: how people at micro-levels of implementation hit off with each other or how they trust or respect each other, or how much they are committed to try the changes. Such personal relations are very important. Often at the â€œlowerâ€ operating levels there is an utter cynicism about the functioning at the top (this is true of public and private sector) and directions or vision statements from the top. They may applaud or say â€œyes sirâ€ â€œyes madamâ€ many times â€“ but in their hearts they are determined not to try.
When I say lower levels, I do not necessarily mean â€œclericalâ€ or â€œworkerâ€ level. I mean all those who are really left out of real (emphasise real) decision making process. I have many times come across professors of prestigious academic institutions who behave this way. They accept to take projects because the â€œoverallâ€ management or top level wants it so and not taking on projects may put them at a disadvantaged situation. They build up mental alibis to protect them against failures, even before they take up the projects.
The complicated processes especially in public sector adds an additional advantage for them to shift the blame to â€œsomebody out thereâ€.
What I describe here is not necessarily limited to big organisations where there is little contact between the top management and the operating levels. I have noticed them even in small and medium level organisations and industries (public and private).
So far I said more about the failure or non-performance. I have found that even for success and excellent performance such microsociology is crucial. In fact without the right microsociology at the operating levels (be it for project implementation or technology transfer or R&D or new design etc) it is not possible to have success. Often times I have seen that people who do not worry about their own personal rewards, work together to make it happen, despite the troubles of processes of the macro organisational set up. Why does it take place? Charisma of the top boss? Often, not necessarily.
I share with you some of the real life experiences I had in the developed world, India and other developing countries, through which I learnt about the existence of microsociology as an important force.
I had worked with a NASA satellite ATS0F project at a crucial position during 1970-1973. I was placed with the NASAâ€™s Project Office at Goddard Space Flight Centre (which had the key responsibility for the project). I also worked closely with prime contractor who was responsible for overall integration as well as sub-contractors who developed various sub-systems. We used to go often for reviews. I almost daily read up a few hundred pages of documentation. (I was at that time 26-29 years of age. Before that I had 6 years of experience in ISRO 1964-1970, as a research scholar, development engineer at ISRO in India, where I have felt the forces of microsociology though at that time I did nothypothesise about it. I was good at swimming through, sometimes fight against them ! But at NASA, though there was a microsciology operating at various levels, its impact on the work was much less than what was at ISRO. Now I look back, it is perhaps due to the fact for NASA projects be it at NASA or prime contractor or sub-contractor levels there was a continuous churning of personnel â€“ most people have met each other only at the project and unlikely to continue with each other even for a decade).
Later 1974 â€“ onwards I have worked in India and interfaced with all forms of Indian institutions â€“ laboratories, academic institutions, industries (public sector & private sector), central and State government departments, defence services, industry associations, cooperative societies, farmersâ€™ groups, NGOâ€™s etc. I have seen in all of them the workings of microsociology much more dominating for end-results rather the hypes, promises or written agreements/contracts. Is this particularly an Indian phenomenon? Is this because there is very little of systems and processes geared towards monitoring end-results.
At this point I should add a caveat. I have dealt with projects and actions in the context of some change: R&D, or application of satellite communication or remote sensing as a replacement or supplement to the existing system or transfer a technology or knowledge which was not fully or partially existing with a system, etc. That is, I was involved in projects which involved a change in the existing mode of working: those projects or activities were change agents, either big or small, either incremental or drastic. To have the intelligence agencies within the defence services or central govt. accept satellite based surveillance systems during the seventies and eighties even for an experimental basis was a change. (Now it is a part of many systems). To make the govt. agencies or private sector who build roads or bridges accept use of FLY ASH as a part of building material during the early nineties was not easy; it was change; they used cement and sand or mud. Now use of fly-ash has become common place in many agencies. It has become a GREEN business as well !. To introduce newer technologies (not necessarily breakthroughs but those which were used worldwide but not in India)to sugar mills or SMEâ€™s was change Or for that matter introducing new processes (albeit simple) with farmers in Bihar, Uttaranchal, Tamil Nadu etc (especially utilising multiple agencies) was a change or make a national laboratories to develop a process or product to meet the specific needs of an industry in a timebound manner was change or working to introduce a MOBILE DIAGNOSTIC UNIT at Uttaranchal giving regular service to people. (Now it is a success working well more than five years serving more than 100,000 persons) etc.
Perhaps for systems where most actions are routine and time-tested like production lines, regular administrative offices etc effect of microsociology on end results may not be high :
What about the post-1995 Indian institutions especially IT companies, KPOâ€™s, BPOâ€™s etc. there are a few crucial differences: Processes to be used by them were well laid out by a foreign customer; the teams were very young and euphoric due to much higher pay packets; also churning of personnel due to new opportunities and fast growth of organisations.
But when Indian companies get into real innovation generated through internal R&D and then transferring them to regular mass production or application, they will face the issues of â€œmicrosociologyâ€ when they do so.
But again the question as to whether these â€œmicrosociologyâ€ issues arise for other countries, for such change-inducing projects or activities ?
With my limited experience with international projects (i.e. India â€“ other country joint projects and I have experienced with many developed and developing countries), I can only infer the following :
In the institutions of the developed world effects of microsociology are much less (for example even those who hate each other manage to work on projects by giving their agreed parts of contributions)
In developing countries, such effects are as marked as in India, in some of them even with worse effects than in India.
Is it because of the fact that personnel in developed countries have seen many changes introduced right from their youth and also because the institutions including their microstructures churn more often than the permanent stable state they acquire in the developing country ? Is it due to the incentive-disincentive mechanisms of their societies? I do not know. I guess both reasons are valid.
If one operates in a developing country, India included, in a project which induces changes, then one has to attend to microsociology of the implementation levels in some detail and keep monitoring them to make it positive.
At a top management levels or policy levels (which have their own microsociology working at very aggressive levels!) there has to be attempt to churn up institutions often. For example Indian S&T institutions, academic institutions etc which are supposed to be pioneering change agents, there has to be drastic reorganisation, by breaking many existing hierarchies (including the hierarchies of those who have â€œformallyâ€ retired but recycled !) and creating more competitive situations. The existing central coordination mechanisms which only strengthen existing hierarchies and thus create more cynicism at the micro-levels, ought to be dispensed with. Central coordination is antithesis to creating competitive situations.
In other words in order to remove the deleterious effects of resistance and cynicism at the operating levels (i.e. microsociology being counterproductive to the stated goals), it is necessary to create more transparent, less hierarchial, competitive organisations. Changes done at the microsociological levels should be visible and seen to be broadly â€œjustâ€ and â€œfairâ€ and not done to suit some persons at the top.
Yes, the transition will not be easy. But it may be required if Indian institutions and Indians working in India have to be leaders in innovative changes (otherwise Indian and Indians will be followers, as we are today.)
Such changes at the top and operating levels of social service delivery systems which have to be necessarily in the public sector or supported by public sector, for example public health delivery; primary and secondary school teaching; lower level skill education systems etc. are vital as these systems are blocked by toxic microsociology.
Also such changes are required if the economic benefits are to be reached to the poor and socially under privileged groups. Today all these programmes suffer because of various microsociologies at the policy making and implementation levels. Because such changes requiring long term commitments and also results visible only at the long term, require public interventions â€“ â€œpure market forcesâ€ donâ€™t work. Hence, it is necessary that we change the current systems while microsciologies are disoriented or chaotic.
The challenge before India is not Lead India compaigns â€“ but change Indian institutions and change the way the sociologies operate at top and bottom levels in small clusters (i.e. microsociology) with severe disconnects and often chaotic.
Will this be a topic for serious research by Indian social scientists? What I have given is my impressionistic and experiential account. Serious researches may show different facts and may provide better clues to reality.
Y S Rajan