By Tariq Malik, Weekly Pulse Magazine, September 23, 2013
“What is the greatest invention of all time?” was my question to my co-speaker in a conference held in Paris while sitting on a stage. “Wheel”, he replied in a matter of fact style. He is world renowned British innovator, a very successful airline owner and a prolific writer. He gave a moving presentation how wheel revolved around his innovative thoughts which transformed his entrepreneur skills. I was invited for introducing smart card platform in Pakistan which conference organizer thought will change the way government deliver services, but I spend most of the time talking about my organization, NADRA though touching on the subject.
I think the greatest invention of all time is not wheel, its organization! There are various definitions of organization in management books but to me it’s just people working together toward a common goal. Because, I think working together effectively as ONE team -like a family, can achieve far beyond anything they could accomplish individually. Pakistan is at a juncture where it needs leaders in organizations that can bring about radical management innovation in organizations. That can run authorities with total autonomy, and operate companies with responsibility, without influence of political expediency and patronage, and only responsible to the independent but competent boards. It is good omen that government has realized this and has already started the competitive process of hiring competent leaders and board members.
At a time of unprecedented economic turbulence, intense politically charged atmosphere, a social upheaval, organizations need more than ever to operate at peak levels. This is a tall order. It’s an uphill challenge for anyone who is leading organization and of course, for those who take it as a new assignment. In order to do so, new government needs leaders who understand both how to achieve organizational excellence and how to sustain it.
Smart organizations are ‘learning organizations’, these are difficult to build if CEOs and Chairmen won’t be allowed to learn from mistakes. We need to understand that learning from mistakes is a key for avoiding blunders. Innovation, especially in technology, is a creative work and it can’t happen in the environment of fear and ruthless accountability aimed at making generalized sermons based on isolated failures. Smart organizations don’t run in a typical bureaucratic style or hierarchal order. Fiscally responsible, result based smart organizations have mixed structures that leverage internal conflicts to the benefit of organization and encourage emotional intelligence to innovate. They begin by optimizing individual performance through connecting both thought and feelings. Employees fight with tooth and nail to defend, present and sell their innovative ideas and form their own teams thus dismantling conventional structures. Smart Organization’s business model is based on ‘collaboration and team work’, instead of ‘Line of Business’ or ‘Command and Control’. According to a research by Lund University, Sweden, it is important that smart organizations should also be stupid, as critical reflection and shrewdness can help to avoid crises, but sometimes good old fashioned stupidity can serve an important function in raising the efficiency of an organization.
Such kind of transformation is taking place in NADRA since last few years. NADRA needs to consistently innovate to become smarter organization and that’s the reason we are introducing new products like smart cards. Back in 2008, we had left with just two month’s salary, now we are a profitable organization despite the fact that government institutions owe us billions of rupees. We said no to government budget long time ago and pay salaries and technology upgrades from our own earnings through national and international projects –a totally self-reliant organization. Anybody who gets identity card for the first time is free of cost – a product that was our major revenue earner. About 30 million free of cost identity cards have been made in last five years! Adult registration has been increased to 73% with female registration almost doubled in 2013 as compared to 2008. An identity card is transformed into a secure and smart entitlement card giving accidental life insurance and many more services in future to come. Not only legacy products of 2008 like teslin based Urdu identity cards have been transformed into innovative futuristic products like multilingual chip based smart cards now accepted on international airports but the other innovative products and services have been introduced. Helping document economy, digging out tax evaders, combing out ghost workers, identifying bogus voters, highlighting ineligible zakat beneficiaries, and targeting deserving poorest of poor for financial inclusion and most vulnerable flood victims for cash disbursements are few NADRA solutions that require out of box thinking and application of innovative data analytics models.
Perhaps the most important question facing the new government today is this: How do you build a smart organization that performs flawlessly and evolves rapidly, one that delivers sterling results today and changes fast enough to be relevant tomorrow as well? So that after five years new government does not start surgical operation again. – sounds familiar- known as reinventing the wheel! There can be no either or here. Pakistan is living in a world that offers no refuge any more for mediocrity? The opposition parties will quickly and mercilessly exploit any operational weakness. Pakistan is entering into a ruthless phase of wrenching change: an era in which future is less and less an extrapolation of the past. Thus, what matters is not just an organization’s competitive advantage at a point in time, but its evolutionary advantage over time. This can only happen by innovating and creating smart organizations.
Evidence shows that only third of organizations that achieve excellence are able to maintain it over decades. Even fewer manage to implement successful transformation programs. These statistics have devastating implications. In government, the majority of reform programs will fail if authorities, corporations and companies like PIA, Steel Mill, Railways, PTV, OGRA etc. won’t be allowed to operate without political influence and bureaucratic slavery. And hence, so will most efforts to create broader social change if these organizations will not transformed into smart organizations.
In this hyper-dynamic, hyper-competitive environment, hyper active media, every organization is either going forwards or going backwards –there’s no standing still. Getting better is no longer enough, today, a company must be capable of getting different – of proactively challenging and changing the fundamental assumptions that underlie its business model. The real problem in Pakistani environment is, the legacy bureaucratic processes, standing out as a sore thumb in every organization, doing little to serve the cause of proactive change. Building smart organization is the answer!