Management Lessons from Bihar Elections


Elections have always held a fascination for me. First of all it gives the feeling that Democracy is alive and kicking, but more importantly it reveals a lot of mass mobilization and management strategies. Also, the way different personalities succeed or fail to carry through a strategy due to their own unique attributes adds to the narrative. So for me, other than entertainment value and the way the results go, most elections are also about some kind of management lessons that I can draw from them.

Here are some interesting lessons to come out of the Bihar elections:

1) When it comes to career, there are no lifelong allies and rivals: It has always been said that Politics is the art of the possible and that there are no lifelong allies and rivals. I think that is also a lesson for young managers to learn. For Lalu and Nitish, this was the last rallying call. Had they lost these elections both would have been blown to oblivion. The fact that these two veterans could see the writing on the wall and decided to bury the hatchet is something to really appreciate irrespective of the fact how you individually rate these individuals. By the evidence of the results, they did not do a half way measure of things, but actually ensured that all the members of their alliance actually coordinated on the ground and thus fueled the success. Irrespective of how this alliance turns out in the coming days of governance, the result that they achieved in this elections is something worth learning from. Sometimes, for the success of your teams you need to reach out to other managers or teams with which you had serious differences in the past. Successful managers over a prolonged time period are the ones who are able to make such alliances possible.

2) When in a crisis, be practical and not idealistic: Again the Mahagatbandhan gets all the brownie points for making this adage true. First of all, after all the hype of changing the party in more ways that you can dream etc., Rahul Gandhi finally realized the status of Congress as a declining empire and was ready to be practical for a change. He agreed to be the junior partner in the alliance and maintained a low key in the alliance. The results were probably one of the best results for Congress in recent elections. Moving over to Lalu and Nitish, the former realized that he cannot be the CM due to the Fodder scam verdict and his image of jungle raj would haunt him if he went alone. On the other hand Nitish, realized that he did not have the mass mobilization required to win the elections, the first two elections were mobilized by the BJP army. So the two decided to be practical and use the Clean Image of Nitish as the face of the Mahagatbandhan and use the mass mobilization of Lalu in the engine room to drive the alliance. It worked splendidly. Often in life we tend to have a bigger image of ourselves than the reality of the situation. At times it is good for managements to re-evaluate its status and engage with the practical situation and not just look for the idealistic situation.

3) Bad news will not go away on its own: One of the key learning for the NDA is the fact that “Bad news does not go away on its own.” It has got smitten by it twice, first in the Delhi elections by the allegations of church attacks which turned out to be general vandalism and nothing related to the allegation of communal-ism. For a second time similar news related to Beef politics hurt NDA badly in the Bihar elections. The whole scenario of intolerance created by the opposition is also a key indicator for NDA of the challenges of taking on all the opponents at once. Loose cannons firing from their side did not help the cause and it is now for NDA to review its media strategy as to how to handle this situation in the upcoming elections. Similarly, often managements hope that bad news and tidings within the team will go away and try the Ostrich theory. Sadly more often than not these do not go away and sooner or later one needs to engage with the bad news to try and resolve it. Another rookie mistake is to try to address all aspects of the bad news in one go. While ideally this would be great, but in reality most of the bad news have so many dimensions that it might be impractical to deal with all aspects at one go, so managements need to pick and choose which aspects will they handle first and then proceed with a larger cleanup once things stabilize a bit.

4) Development is good, relationship is better: Another big lesson for parties in this election is that Development as an agenda is a very tricky one. Because development means constantly moving onto the next level. So if you provide people with electricity today, tomorrow they will ask for electronic appliances, day after tomorrow they will ask for the latest devices and so on. So development alone as a message can only take you to some level, after that you need a strong relationship with people to take the next big step. So while NDA’s message of development was appealing, the fact that it did not have strong local leadership of the stature of Lalu or Nitish hurt it. Most analysis point that the success of Mahagatbandhan was due to Lalu’s continued hold on the Yadav votebank. Similarly, through the 1990s and 2000s, most companies in IT sector used to throw money at employees in a bid to retain them. Most employees grew wise, they would take the good hike and then jump the ship next month and add another 30% on top. It is only in the start of this decade that companies realized that throwing money will not help any longer and started engagement drives with the employees and encouraged managers and HR to do that more and more. My personal experience is that salary is a very comparative tool and the more you give, the employees would find another person at a higher salary to be unhappy about. On the other hand, there are very small things like respect, engagement and a feeling of being part of something big, which keeps employees more satisfied if done in right way by the management. After all, we need to understand that at the end of the day we are dealing with people and not robots!!

So that’s some of my takeaways from the Bihar elections. What are your views on these points and were there any other takeaways for you… of course, other than the political ones?

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