Top-heavy organizations lead to more discontent

I was stating on my twitter handle today that the biggest problem with the Indian governments over the years has been that they have been too top-heavy. Bottom-line: too many decisions are made by the top leadership and the middle to low-level managers are left with the cleaning up acts.

Specific to the current Congress-lead government, decision-making authority has been divorced from any accountability. Which is why we have a 40-year old “youth leader” (a.k.a “the Prince”) running around making irresponsible and nonsensical statements. However, this is not a political blog.

The reason why the governments have been top-heavy (and this has been true for non-Congress governments also) is that very few of the political parties have any meaningful form of internal democracy. Most of the top party leadership positions are shared by kith and kin of people who are already at the top — again, true for most parties and not just the Congress.

A closer look reveals that Indian society is itself top-heavy…Indian families are top-heavy. So, it is more or less a cultural thing. I do not have a solution written down for this, yet.

What happens in top-heavy organizations is that there are two groups of people — those with authority who sit at the top and direct and those who form the “worker-ants”. Further, the two groups are not formed based on merit, rather on who you happen to know or who gave birth to you. True, there are exceptions to this rule, but great organizations cannot be built on exceptions. This eventually leads to frustration among those in the second group…especially when those in the second group are more capable than those in the first. When you are a smart person with great ideas but are repeatedly being shot down by a boss who is not as smart and there is no way for you to work around that boss, you will get frustrated.

Indian organizations – families, societies, communities, governments, political parties — all of them, need to get out of this mode. Top heavy doesn’t work. It tends to concentrate power and authority in a small group and that is what is called “lack of empowerment”.

If the person on the street feels “lack of empowerment” at every step, democracy has failed.

For companies, the lesson from this is that if you do not make each of your employees feel empowered, you will not see great ideas and initiatives come through. No matter how smart your CEO is, he/she is not going to come up with all the brilliant ideas on their own.