For those of you who are not familiar with the game of cricket, I apologize! I also must apologize for the somewhat cynical tone of this post, to all those who like it uncynical! Now, cricket is quite a game, and in India we play lots of it. Given the fact that there is so much money that is being poured into the game, it appears as though we do not play any other game in India. The cricket boards have been taken over by politicians and by powerful people who control the money. On the other hand, our hockey (and we ruled the world for about 50 years) is down in the doldrums. Our cricket captain, MS Dhoni is being blasted these days for his defensive captaincy in the longer (5 day match) version of the game, and despite his string of failures, he is retained as the captain. This, they say, is due to his proximity to the head of the Board of Cricket Control for India.
We did have some successes in test matches in India, against teams that were in the doldrums at the time, and in conditions that suited us. However, we have been miserable (losses in England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand) in conditions away from home. Yet, no one dares touch the captain. So, I started to think that this, maybe, is a parable for organizations in general. Now, I need to go back to one of the best training sessions that I ever attended. This was a week-long event that shattered many of my preconceived notions. The last session was on performance management, and was done via a game. In this game, practically all the observers decided to “fire” the three who were performing the task, because they did not perform well. Now, this was despite the fact that the three protagonists did better than the targets the observers had set for themselves! The lesson was that, 90% of our performance rating is based on perception and emotional factors, and only 10% of it is based on actual performance. While I never forgot this intellectually, I did tend to forget this emotionally, leading to much heartburn in my later career.
Now, our cricket captain has been losing for the last two years. Yet, we persist with him. Why? Obviously, because there are factors that go beyond the actual performance appraisal. This is something that has been observed in many organizations, and a few years back when a manager in an organization I have been following, was promoted despite the fact that his division was losing money, cynical eyebrows were raised. “The CEO wants a patsy”, was the cynical feeling amongst the people down the line. This then happened again, a few years later, in the same organization, and most people were convinced in their earlier feeling. The problem with such practices, is that they breed cynicism, and a culture of low-performance. This is not just an issue with corporates, but is an issue with most organizations. Power centers attract sycophancy, and when the power turns the head of those who wear the crown, the crown-bearer does not like naysayers.
The patsies rule.
Now, to return to cricket.
1. We were thrashed in Australia and England. We also lost to England in India. The press bayed for the head and the blood of the captain. The country was on fire.
2. We then we beat a weakened Australian and West Indies team in India. The press crowed, and the captain had miraculously regained his golden touch. Suddenly, he had rediscovered that strategic edge.
3. Now, we have lost to South Africa and New Zealand. The press bayed for the head and the blood of the captain. The country was on fire.
He who controls the flow of information, controls the mind of the masses. It is difficult indeed to stay centered in the rush and the din of all the media hype that surrounds us. Yet, this is one of the most important things that any of us can, and should, do.
1984 was not that far-fetched after all.