Autonomy, trust and the “Collective Conscious”

Hiware Bazaar, a small village in Maharashtra is an unlikely case study for management students. Yet what this village has accomplished is nothing short of remarkable, and therefore makes an interesting case study.

In the 80’s this village was plagued by violence, there was little agriculture due to water scarcity, the school was dys-functional; villagers kept migrating to cities due to lack of jobs.  In 1995, the monthly per capita income of this village was only around Rs 830. By 2012 however, there had been a complete transformation –  per capita jumped to Rs 30,000.!

More importantly the village which has 200 odd families, now  boasts of almost 60 millionaire households!. The streets of this village are spotless clean- that too all without sweepers. !  The village has plenty of water – today there are 294 open wells with drilling required only between 15-40 feet, when other villages in surrounding areas, require to drill almost 200 feet and more.

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Hiware Bazaar – Village with 60 millionaire households, and spotless clean

The key to this village’s transformation has been – “inclusive leadership” where the gram panchayat collectively decides the goals/objectives/plans for the village and then the villagers are themselves responsible for the implementation of the plans. There are no central government bodies to monitor and control – all this is singularly based on TRUST and AUTONOMY.

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SOL – No rules, work timings, job-roles or titles

On our exchange programme to ESCP, we were introduced to SOL a Finnish cleaning-services company – exhibiting much the same principles – there are no defined rules in this company – how to operate is all decided by the employees themselves. There are no “corporate titles” whatsoever, not even defined working hours !. The company has zero perks.!

Its 135 supervisors, each leading teams of up to 50 cleaners –  set their own targets, are responsible for their own hiring and negotiate their own deals with customers. No one tells anyone what to do and what not to do. Even the seating system and the funky interior décor of the company has been decided by the employees themselves.

The result ? – today SOL has grown to be Finland’s number 2 services cleaning company, with average annual growth of 15% since 1992, and sales of over  Euro 207 million, a remarkable feat for a company in an industry which would otherwise be perceived as staid.

These cases illustrate that trust and autonomy, can create radical successes whether be it in the social sector and corporate domain. What is even more interesting having studied the above case examples, is that this principle of autonomy and trust, is at the heart of IIM-A’s success story as well.!

I had never heard of Ravi J Matthai till I joined IIM-A, but his thinking as I learnt later, was way ahead of his time.

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Ravi Matthai and IIMA – “ Excellence cannot be ordered “

Matthai strongly believed that excellence is not something to be ordered, and that academic activities thrive only when the faculty are provided with complete autonomy and trust. For e.g since he believed in the value of research, faculty in those days were provided with an open line of funding for case development research. This core value of autonomy remains, till date a hall mark of IIM-A and perhaps one of the key reasons for its eminence. Faculty even today can chose to travel as needed no permissions are required, and they solely decide which classes to teach and how. Faculty may chose to leave IIM-A to teach abroad/elsewhere but are always welcomed back if they wish to return.

Ravi Matthai ,also strongly believed in the idea  of the “collective conscious” and  a faculty-governed institute where decision-making rests primarily with the faculty, and not with the director or the board as such. An oft quoted example – is the admissions committee at IIM, is independent of the director.

More importantly he exemplified, that creating a culture based on autonomy and trust, requires a great deal of tenacity. A frequently cited example in this context is that when it was discovered that one of the faculty members had misused some of the funds allocated for case research, some of the faculty members requested that a limit be introduced for fund utilization without approval.

While Matthai initially agreed to introduce this new rule, he later changed his mind  and remarked  – “I felt that just because one person, has possibly misused the trust, I would not like to make a rule for everyone, and vitiate the atmosphere of trust in the facility”

This is not to say that management through rules, does not have its place. When time is a constraint and speed the need of the hour – in matters of warfare for example where you simply do not have the luxury to contemplate, rule based management is warranted and that as a system also produces results. However even the more advanced armies today, are shifting from a rigid rule-based stance to one that is more inclusive and contemplative.  Management by leveraging the “collective conscious” is the definitive way forward for the future.

– PGPX 2013-14

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2 Replies to “Autonomy, trust and the “Collective Conscious””

  1. Wow, great thoughts buddy. Wish organizations can understand such crucial principles and apply. I was appalled to find when my previous firm which valued autonomy and trust, where no one asked you what time you came in and when you left office, where employee out of their own resolve woke up in the night to check if system was working fine, recently initiated monitoring of employee work hours and concept of business/overlap timings.

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