The reason creative individuals flock to private sector companies is that they generally get a chance to showcase and implement their creativity
Chronic problems cannot be solved by trying the same solutions at different times. Out-of-the-box thinking is usually the solution, and unfortunately, in India, it’s rarely practiced.
Take the case of agriculture where farmer suicides or a crop failure is met with the same – band-aid -- solution of a loan waiver. Similarly, banking sector woes recur with expansion and contraction of the credit cycle as the government’s stock solution is a capital infusion or bail-out.
In this context, the government’s move to hire laterally from the private sector into the senior ranks of the civil service is an idea worth trying. Who would argue with the idea of Air Deccan founder Captain Gopinath being called in to turn around Air-India, or, sometime in the future, when the railways ministry is included in this scheme, Flipkart founder Sachin Bansal potentially bringing his nous to run the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, the country’s biggest e-commerce player?
The reason creative individuals flock to private sector companies is that they generally get a chance to showcase and implement their creativity. The most obvious and visible case of how creativity works in the private sector and fails in the public sector can be seen in media. Doordarshan and All-India Radio (AIR) are all but forgotten, especially in the urban and semi-urban areas. TRPs in almost every slot are captured by the private TV or radio channels.
The differentiator is the people who are manning these organisations. Where a public sector media company still plays safe and generally toes the government line, private sector players are not scared of exploring new avenues.
The same goes for almost every field where the government is present, be it agriculture, finance, commerce or even sports. It took a private coach, Pullella Gopichand, to help a number of players reach world ranking or the small independent clubs in Haryana to continually churn out international quality players in wrestling and boxing.
Thankfully, the government of the day seems to have realized that they need new blood to find a way out. Therefore the recent advertisement seeking applications from “talented and motivated Indian nationals willing to contribute towards nation building”. One can now become a bureaucrat at the Joint Secretary (JS) rank without going through the tough Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) exams.
The ministry of personnel has advertised 10 openings for outstanding individuals with expertise in the areas of financial services, revenue, economic affairs, agriculture, cooperation and farmer welfare, road transport and highways, shipping, environment, forest and climate change, new and renewable energy, civil aviation and commerce.
This is no doubt a good move which will bring in new ideas to resolve old issues and also help rejuvenate the existing machinery to bring it on par with global standards.
While the benefits of the move are obvious, the challenges are manifold. The challenges are mainly from the existing staff who are resistant to change.
Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys who became chairman of UIDAI, the body behind Aadhaar, had this to say for his stint in the government: ‘It is a complex situation in government because you have many people who have different viewpoints, different ideologies, different aspirations and different measures of success. The key is investing a lot of time and getting them to buy into your ideas. You should have the patience to work with a lot of people and get them on board, and that it is one fundamental difference. The best thing is that if you can get your ideas and embed them in the system, and the system treats those ideas as their own ideas, then you are successful.”
Nilekani’s tenure as chairman on UIDAI has many lessons for the present initiative by the government. First and most important being that Nilekani was given a specific project to handle. His experience in handling large IT projects came as a big help in rolling out Aadhaar across the country. Second is the level of freedom to implement the project with a clear deadline. And third is that the government should be covering the backs of these private sector individuals. There will be a lot of bad blood both internally as well as externally when these individuals set about their task.
There is little point in bringing these individuals in and making them work on existing projects. There are many unfinished agendas and India has a number of areas where work is always in progress.
The government already has two secretaries who are on contract and have done commendable work. Swachch Bharat Mission and the Ayush mission, which looks at development and propagation of Indian systems of medicine, are handled by these secretaries.
In fact the Maharashtra government has set up a war room which is manned by people from corporate India who monitor and manage large projects in the state and particularly in Mumbai.
Will bringing in one person and giving him the same creaking bureaucratic machinery to work help improve the system? The government ministers have at various times said that they are facing bureaucratic resistance. In a country where asking government employees to come on time makes headlines, making a private sector individual work amidst such employees will be a Herculean task. The individual's leadership qualities will be put to test.
As though the environment was not challenging enough, the pay package is anything but alluring. A salary in the range of Rs 1.44 – Rs 2.18 lakh per month for a person with an established track record and 15 years of experience is well below the lowest salary slab for this level in the private sector. On top of it, the job is for a contractual period of 3-5 years. In other words, the candidate will not only have to take a salary cut but also be ready to face an uncertain future after his tenure is over.That said, it’s not the money that will excite the individual but his or her sense of participation in nation-building. Having taken this first, positive step, India owes these new recruits an environment in which their skills can be best put to use.