Article: Workplace Democracy is no more a Far Cry


Workplace Democracy is no more a Far Cry

History has witnessed man's need to constantly subjugate others - a fact that lays the foundation even for modern management science as we see today. But this is fast changing as organisations find it tough to find that elusive, satisfied employee

No matter how flat the organisation, there is always someone to supervise you and ensure that you follow the path as obediently as possible


There is a trend of managers giving up their careers mid-way to start something on their own, completely away from the management world


Back in 2007, when I was working in the IT industry, I was offered to head the HR for my company’s Applications Development business. I called up an old head hunter friend to seek his advice, and I remember his words clearly to this day, he said, `Take it, you will have your team of 20-25 people and would have your own fiefdom.’
The words ‘my own fiefdom’ has stayed on with me. My friend has always been authentic with me and I realized he has always understood the crux of management science and had an insight perspective on the subject.
If you look back at the early ages, humans have always had a need to subjugate and exert power over others, hence the first form of organized and (legal) subjugation of humans began through the monarchical system. It was proclaimed that God had given the divine right to rule, to these people (monarchs). So they owned the church, the temple, the synagogue and what have you. Through the centuries, this went on unabated, until of course, a king would get tired of subjugating his own people and decided, on a whim, that he must now subjugate others. So at great cost to life and limb (not his own, but his army’s) he would saunter off to battle the neighboring king and lo, his kingdom doth increase! The Egyptians did it, the Romans did it, the Moors did it to the Romans, the Persians did it to the Greeks and the Spartans, and then old Alexander decided on revenge (about a hundred years later) and went about a rampage on the world. Even the British thought this was a jolly good idea and began to subjugate much of the modern world. Until, somewhere down the line, some Americans thought enough is enough, so they had a tea party in Boston, and subsequently denounced the Queen, resulting in probably, the world’s freest nation. The British however continued with their shenanigans, until an unassuming lawyer from India was thrown out of a train in South Africa. And he decided enough is enough, and around forty years later, the British left India, completely lost at seeing an entire nation in complete non-cooperation with them.
In most of the civilized world today, monarchy, wherever it exists, is more ceremonial in nature. Humans are more or less free. However the need for subjugation runs deep into our psyche, so we had to continue this some way. Thus, it began to find its way into management science!
In management science, organizations were designed to be hierarchical by people with very high intellect. This stems from our belief that those with ‘high intellect’ must be given the automatic right to lead (read command/control) others. But these intellectuals did not tell us that these management principles have their foundation in the world’s oldest management institution – the army – which, as we all know, is all about command and control. And command and control is a clear reflection of human beings’ need to subjugate others. Now, I have a deep respect for the armed forces; my father is an ex-cop, one of my uncles, a retired Colonel and my father-in-law is a retired defense MES head. So do not get me wrong. The defense forces need to have command and control to be able to carry out the arduous task of keeping us safe. My point is of management science borrowing this practice from them.
In fact, organizations are designed to be hierarchical, no matter how flat they are. There is always someone to supervise you, review you and generally ensure that you follow the path laid down as obediently (or meekly) as possible. You spend considerable amount of time in preparing for and getting reviewed, as you would review your own teams. Anyone out of line is counseled, re-reviewed, placed elsewhere and even asked to leave. While in the olden days, it was ‘off with the head’, we are more civilized now.
So what’s the whole point, you ask?
Well, humans have, time and again, revolted against subjugation (look at what is happening in Libya, et al, now). There have been numerous revolutions against this form of governance, which will only multiply in this age of instant information. So how does that affect the management world? And like the Thompson twins of Tintin, I say, `precisely!’
Management science in its current form is slowly but steadily beginning to be challenged. If you do not believe me, look at the present attrition levels. If you wish to go further, talk to the thousands of engineering and management institutes (not the premier ones), where Directors there will tell you enrolment is going down year-on-year. There is a trend of managers giving up their careers mid-way to start something on their own, completely away from the management world. I do not have the data, but I am seeing it happen regularly around me. Many people openly blog about their companies. All in all, it is becoming very difficult to find that elusive, satisfied employee!
Some companies have slowly begun to wake up to these facts and are trying to make some changes to their management styles by encouraging more inclusion. But my HR friends there tell me it is a huge task as the senior management in those companies has guys like me in their forties who are just not gung ho about implementing these changes.
Workplace democracy, though seems like a far cry for us, is going to be a reality soon. People will want to work for those companies that build work groups of like-skilled and like-minded people who will be given or even allowed to choose assignments and targets, and they will be given the time and space to create that in the way that they want (of course within the boundaries of legitimacy).
If you do not believe this would work, take a look at your local Ganesh Utsav or Durga Pooja committees. These are prime examples of like-minded groups of people who pull out events of massive scale without any supervision or monitoring. And guess what? They do not even get paid for it! They have their own codes of conduct; if a member misbehaves or indulges in unacceptable activities, the group gets together, counsels, or removes the person. From the outside, it may seem chaotic, but they do end up carrying out large events with enormous success!
I have been part of such a committee before and the most unsuccessful member of that group was me! I suspect it had to do with my management upbringing!
With the way people are evolving, I feel that workplace democracy is going to be a reality that we as organizations need to embrace. I would say sooner the better. The revolution has begun!

Shantanu Dhar leads the HR team for Dalmia Bharat Enterprise’s Cement Business

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Topics: #Culture, Employee Engagement, Diversity

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