The story goes that with great fanfare, India decided to participate in the annual international boat race. After the usual selection drama, the Indian contingent of 9 boatmen and 90 officials went off to the US, the venue of the race.
On D-day, during the qualifiers, the Indians were last, losing to the American team by 5 miles, in a 6 mile race. Obviously, everyone was down in the dumps. The 90 officials decided that they needed to find out what had gone wrong. So, a team consisting of senior officials was formed to investigate the issue and make suitable recommendations.
The report indicated that the Americans had 8 people to row, and 1 to steer, whereas the Indians had 1 to row and 8 to steer. The Indian team management was perplexed. They hired the most expensive consultants for advice. The consultants examined the issue for 2 months, and concluded that there was not enough rowing being done by the team. Hence, the team management decided to reorganize the team structure. They promoted 4 of the members to Steering Managers, 3 to Steering Supervisors, and 1 as Head of Operations – Steering. In addition, the rower was issued a warning letter telling him that he needed to improve his performance to save his job.
The next year, the Indians were last again. This time, they did not even complete a 100 metres of the race. Humiliated, the management fired the rower, and dissolved all investments made in the field of boating. They used the cost saved to give a bonus to the management team, and rehired the consultants.
No doubt, that seems like a far-fetched story. But in truth, it is quite close to the way some organizations function. In fact, if one uses the above parable, some possible issues could be:
a) Flawed organizational design – In a world obsessed with designations and fancy positions, it is easy to lose sight of objectives and just focus on building a hierarchy. Top-heaviness is a syndrome that many modern organizations suffer from.
b) Lack of performance management – Yes, the organization, like our boating team has a macro goal – to be the best. But, someone needs to break that down into simpler pieces for each individual to know his/her role. (To use some typical jargon, this would be MBO – management by objectives)
c) Improper planning – The organization here was committed to its results, but then you probably cannot build a world-beating team in such a short time. Without deciding on how long they were prepared to wait for results, the reactions of the management were simply knee-jerk.
Ultimately, in the long-term, no one gained in this scenario (except the consultants, probably). But, if they had done a little bit of homework, they probably could have given the American boatmen a run for their money, instead of ending up like the Titanic – sunk.