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Narendra Modi And The Art Of Creating A 'Sense Of Urgency'

28/03/2017 2:38 PM IST | Updated 31/03/2017 10:06 AM IST
Amit Dave / Reuters

After a long time India has a prime minister who has proven through both his words and actions that he wants to transform the nation. Things seem to moving, citizens see a bright future and most importantly they feel they are being led well. Clearly, he comes across as a change leader who can not only put together a bold vision but also execute it. Even his detractors could learn a lot about change management by closely observing what he is doing and how he is accomplishing things. What particularly impresses me is the way he creates "sense of urgency" to make change happen. Here's my take.

1. Begin with sharp goals

As soon as Narendra Modi came on board, he set a bevy of sharp goals for himself and his team, including the goals of housing and electrification for all Indians by 2022, employment for all youth, construction of 100 Smart Cities etc.

After the outstanding victory in the UP elections, he didn't let his party members rest on their laurels, instead saying, "Na baithoonga, na baithne doonga...

Over the last 30 years there have been so many prime ministers but I don't remember any of them setting such sharp goals that are clear not only to ministers and the bureaucracy but also to the citizenry.

Narendra Modi knows that without the end in mind a change effort can never be successful. Also, by declaring goals publicly he has built accountability. They have to go all out to make these goals happen on time—there's a sense of urgency or the electorate stands to deliver a punishing verdict. Modi knows that the enemy change is being in comfort zone.

2. Keep the countdown clock ticking

The 2019 elections are still two years away but Modi has been telling his party colleagues over the last few months that the countdown has begun.

After the outstanding recent victory in the UP elections, he didn't let his party members rest on their laurels, instead saying, "Na baithoonga, na baithne doonga (Neither will I sit, nor allow anyone else to sit)." The allusion to the 2019 elections was clear.

A sense of time flying by brings a huge sense of urgency. Don't we see e-commerce use it when they have these "limited period" product offers that they keep bombarding customers with? This creates a sense of urgency in customers to take action. Modi knows every day counts.

3. Make teams work hard to make the goal worthwhile

In psychology there is theory of effort justification, which states that people will find a goal worthwhile if they put hard work to achieve it rather than results coming easily. For example, one would value a professional certification if it requires hard work to get it instead of it being achieved with ease. Narendra Modi applies this concept at two levels. He expects his people to work really hard. He himself puts in long hours and expects his team to do so. He does this because he knows that there is no substitute to hard work and also because anything achieved with lots of effort will be felt as more worthwhile by the teams.

4. Use competition to make people act

Competition forces people to act and creates a sense of urgency to accomplish the goals. For example, when the US government launched the Malcolm Baldrige Award in 1987, the objective was to not only provide a structure for organisational excellence but also to push companies to act. Since its launch so many companies have taken steps to embed excellence in how they function.

Modi's sense of urgency is passed on to the nation—not just by his oratory but by his citizen engagement...

Narendra Modi has started a mechanism of ranking states on many areas such as "Ease of Doing Business Rankings", "Swachh Bharat Awards", "Digital India Awards" etc— all of this has created a sense of urgency and forced states to take action. Even states that earlier never spared a thought to "ease of doing business" now consider it a worthwhile goal to work towards.

5. Keep the pot stirred

Human beings are such that difficult situations push our minds into an urgent mode. In 2016, two major events—demonetisation and "surgical strikes"—captured the attention of the nation and created a sense of urgency to act.

6. Hear directly from those impacted by change

It's important to hear from all those impacted by a change program. This is with three objectives in mind. First you get to hear about the quality, issues and challenges of deployment. Second it keeps those deploying change on their toes. Third it helps to course correct. Narendra Modi knows this very well and maintains a direct connect with the citizens (there's even a video on 10 ways to reach him!). In addition, he sought feedback from Indians after demonetisation and often speaks about the various views he has heard on his radio show Mann ki Baat.

7. Role model

Observing Modi work would make most people feel inadequate and perhaps create a need to improve their own performance. Since he has come to office, have we ever heard of him taking leave? Instead, we have heard him saying: "My work is my relaxation. I never get tired of working. The opposite tires me." He works 18-20 hours a day and once even called himself a "Pradhan Sewak".

8. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Modi is a communication maven. He has this amazing ability to connect with people across social strata. His sense of urgency is thus passed on to the nation—not just by his oratory but by his citizen engagement, as described in point 6. He also knows when he should use an intellectual approach and when he should go for an emotional appeal. For example, when he launched the demonetisation drive he himself came on TV and communicated to all Indians how this campaign would help to reduce corruption and fake currency. He spoke to the heart of the people. At the same time, his dealings with world leaders and investors are logical and fact-based.

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