Every organization – big, small, for-profit, or otherwise – created to pursue goals, which when achieved, improve the well-being or happiness of the customers/people they meant to serve. If an organization loses sight of this basic, and essential principle, it might continue to exist for a while, but is unlikely to make a surplus, or retain the loyalty of its customers; thereby, paving the way for its inevitable demise.
I always like to remind those who privileged to serve from within the organized sector, that serving one’s customers effectively and with a consistent focus on robust standards of excellence, is never an accident. Improvements and beneficial change can never occur on their own, without well-planned, coordinated and focused effort. Worthwhile objectives and standards reached only as a result of systematically planning for them and following through with flawless execution by all those people who are a part of the overall team.
The process of stimulating beneficial change, making continuous improvements and adopting breakthrough innovations that deliver value, is always the result of painstaking planning and timely execution.
It also calls for clear intention, a well-articulated vision, trustworthy and supportive leadership, impeccable teamwork, good planning, communications that are “buzzing” across the organization and an enjoyable, light-heartedness in the ambiance that brings the best out of the people involved.
So what lessons can a city, founded in the 18th century provide? Frankly, from their recent-most achievement, there’s much to learn.
But before getting to that, here’s a little context and background.
Indore is an Indian city with a population of about 3.8 million people in the state of Madhya Pradesh. In 2014, when the Federal Government in India instituted a survey across 400 odd cities in the country to gauge their “cleanliness levels”, Indore ranked 149th in the overall list – an unimpressive, poor score. The cleanliness survey repeated in 2016. This time Indore had improved its rankings to 25th from the top. In 2017, when the scores for the latest survey released, Indore had improved further, had reached top-slot at #1! Truly this is an impressive journey of improvement, especially it all happened in a span of fewer than three years!
As I delved deeper into the success of Indore’s cleanliness initiatives, I noticed that there are a number of lessons that we can all learn from what the teams in Indore (and in Madhya Pradesh) have done so well. In fact, thanks to their well-planned and effectively executed actions, eleven (11) of the top 50 cities in the rankings from the state: and the 2nd city in the list is Bhopal – also a large city with about 2.2 million people.
Insights from the state’s efforts need to reinforce. Here is my take on the top ten leadership lessons.
#1: Securing Upper Management Commitment
Madhya Pradesh led by a Chief Minister (CM) – the equivalent of a Chief Executive in the setting of a corporation. The CM of the state completely committed to the idea that the entire state had to undergo a radical transformation in the way it managed its “cleanliness parameters”. The CM, in turn, inspired by the Prime Minister of India – who in his regular meetings with Chief Ministers of India’s diverse states, had categorically mentioned that cleanliness and the prevention of open defecation had to end by 2019.
The tone at the top determines how everyone perceives the vision, and then the goals that emerge from the vision. It also affects how emphatically these ‘values’ articulated, for everyone to align with. If Upper Management is ambivalent about what they really want to achieve, and their real intentions are not what they say they are, getting everyone involved becomes a challenge. When the top team is unwavering in committing to, and then communicating what they want. Also the decisions and the essential coordinated actions begin to get done with alacrity.
#2: Relying on Data to Set Priorities
The state government used data on the various cities in the state, as well as key statistics from the different wards to determine the priorities for action. Goals set and target established based on the results that needed to pursue, and the customers who had to reach. This is always a smart thing to do. Resources optimally deploy, in areas where the results will provide the biggest gains.
#3: Carving out Manageable Areas of Focus and Responsibility
Providing focus on improvement efforts is a must. In Madhya Pradesh, cities across the state divided into manageable clusters that needed similar municipal interventions. Since the prevention of open defecation was an integral part of achieving a high cleanliness score, the clusters that needed attention carefully identified and marked for focused action and policy interventions.
#4: Assigning Process Ownership
Key administrators in the state’s extensive bureaucracy assigned responsibilities for ensuring that critical processes – that were essential for the goals to meet – managed from “start to finish”. Processes that cut across diverse functions, assigned to Commissioners and senior functionaries in the District and Municipal administrations, to ensure that nothing would slip between the cracks. Having “process-owners” assign the responsibility for specific areas and targets, help to ensure that there was clear accountability for results.
#5: Deploying New Policies and Standards
Old policies and rules revamped to ensure that when deployed, all aspects of the state’s resources properly aligned with goals. For instance, it made mandatory for all townships within cities to have centralized waste-management processes and waste treatment plants. Centralized waste-management processes also included segregation. Municipal workers empowered to impose and collect (often hefty) fines on those caught littering anywhere. Municipal employees themselves ask to follow a more task-oriented working-schedule, which was essential for the achievement of the stated goals.
#6: Enlisting the Support of All Stakeholders, including Children
The goal of making MP a front-runner in overall cleanliness communicated to stakeholders in a manner that enlisted their support. All stakeholders include Resident Welfare Associations, Citizens’ groups, NGOs, Business Associations, Schools, Colleges, Students, Children, etc. Almost INR 20 million spent on awareness building across the state and engaging the enlisted agencies. Children volunteers were so excited about achieving the goal of cleanliness. They would go out in groups armed with tin-drums and empty cans (like “monkey battalions”, vaanar sena) to create a loud din to shame those who litter on the road, or still not using the newly constructed toilets to ease nature. Women volunteers, places across cities, given whistles to alert anyone found littering.
#7: Providing Resources, Tools and Training
The desire to reach a certain standard or a set of goals has to back with the needed tools and resources that would enable their swift and speedy achievement. The Indore Municipal Corporation too acquired equipment and tools to enable its workers to perform their duties effectively. They relying on mechanization where needed. The processes of garbage collection also standardized and training provided where needed. It also includes the early morning timings for collections from localities.
#8: Using Technology Creatively
A mobile App called “Indore 311” specifically created to enable a citizens’ interface with the Municipal Corporation. And to enable the identification and removal of the garbage. Dust-bins placed in areas where chronic littering tended to occur. The citizens felt further involved and empowered when suggestions posted on the mobile-app yielded swift action and improvements.
#9: Monitoring at the Highest Levels
Old management saying suggests that ‘What gets measured and monitored get done’. If measuring and monitoring of how well the goals achieve at the highest levels, it spurs even swifter action. That’s what happened in Madhya Pradesh. The CM’s office monitored progress on the goal of ‘no-open defecation’ as well as other intermediate goals. They achieved 100% compliance in January 2017. The monitoring also is done by the state’s Commissioners and their teams. They making sure that the entire machinery of administration and municipalities were behind the process of stimulating beneficial change.
#10: Making the Journey Fun for Stimulating Beneficial Change
Works of greatness achieved by people who are happy and who are enjoying what they’re doing. I have not personally had a chance to verify this but I surmise that most of the people involved in making Indore the cleanest city in India. They would have done so with great joy and enthusiasm. Children and youngsters certainly had a lot of fun as the process unfurled. And if we were to probe a little deeper, I’m sure that everyone – from those in the CM’s office and all within the state machinery and the municipalities too, just enjoy the journey as well, and would now looking forward to their next big collective achievement.