Lessons from the Past 41: Changing Rules, Breaking Institutions
Recently, there was a report on how rules are set after long and detailed thinking while framing a nation’s constitution, setting up a small or large institution; or for an organisation of professionals—all enterprises expected to last for generations. 
 
However, over time, one finds that these rules are amended or even done away with to suit the requirements of individuals or groups. They find that the rules are inconvenient, to do what they now want to do for their convenience, even if it goes against the welfare of the general populace. 
 
We are seeing this all the time—fortunately, though, not too often, but often enough to create a fair amount of damage. 
 
A recent case is of the Russian government, where amendments were made to the constitution so that Vladimir Putin can remain President of Russia till 2054 (how?). Is it a fair amendment? And was it tailored to the convenience or advantage of one person?  And detrimental to the interests of the general population of millions of people? Is this good for the country? 
 
Many years ago, someone told me that he had high regard for Dhirubhai Ambani, a well-known industrialist in India, because he always took care not to break the rules and get caught for wrongdoing. Instead, he spent time and effort to ensure that the rules were changed, and he would then act within the framework of the law. 
 
Yes, this was a more preferable route—but not always of benefit to everyone. It may be of benefit to one or a few, but not the many. In a lesser way, it was better first to change the rules rather than to break them straightaway. 
 
About 30 years ago, a world organisation of professionals was formed for a new and developing profession. Its constitution was very carefully developed to ensure representation of different parts of the world and ensure a certain hierarchy. 
 
A member had first to represent his country on the council, then get elected as secretary, vice chairman (VC), senior VC, and automatically to the chairman’s post. Each post had a two-year term, with no provision for an extension. 
 
After 20 years of existence, they broke the rules. A member who had just finished one term as a country representative was glided into the position of the chairman, bypassing all the others. The incumbent chairman wanted to remain as the power behind the throne for some more time and thought he would bring in someone whom he could guide and direct, according to his whims. 
 
There was a hue and a cry. But it happened. It damaged the general morale significantly. The organisation, which was growing well so far, and making a significant contribution, began to lose steam. Even 15 years after this happened, the organisation is limping along. 
 
Another international professional organisation had a similar problem. The new chairman, who was elected, was not a highly successful professional. He found the cost of making trips across the world at his own expense too high. The earlier chairmen had borne these expenses themselves. But this chairman got the board to approve a reasonable sum towards the chairman’s travel. 
 
And he enjoyed his term travelling across from US to Japan, for meetings, without care. The result: many now wanted to be chairman to get two years of free travel—rather than making a substantial contribution to the institution. 
 
The quality and impact of the institute slowly went down- and it will take a long time to recover. 
 
Against these examples are Rotary International (RI), where the rules remain unchanged. The RI president takes on the assignment for two years without remuneration or travel costs. It is understood that he will bear the expenses before he is elected—otherwise, he/she cannot afford to be the RI president.  
 
Or the assignment as the Unilever chairman, where it is clear that the chairman’s term is for five years, and even if the performance is outstanding, or the chairman is young and far from the regular retirement age, he HAS to retire and make way for a well-trained successor. 
 
There is much to be said for staying with the rules, which are well thought out by the founding fathers, rather than playing around with what is convenient to a few, at a later point in history, and in the process, ruining the foundation of the institution!
 
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)
 
Comments
pmbhate
1 month ago
The original preamble to the Indian Constitution stated that "We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign democratic republic". Indira Gandhi, with her 2/3 plus majority became the 'people of India' and inserted the words "socialist secular". George Orwell, in his classic Animal Farm, has hilariously described how the pigs changed the farm's 7 commandments to suit their needs. No wonder Laxman's common man never said a word and always had this bewildered look on his face.
raviforjustice
1 month ago
Why seek examples globally? Just look at our own Constitution. Its acclaimed architect, Dr Ambedkar, himself is on record saying that he will be the first to burn it if permitted to do so. And closer to our times, the Right to Information Act. Logically, the babus in government service, even after retirement, should have been banned from being information commissioners. Not only was this not done, they were given the status and compensation equivalent to constitutional authorities when their task involved less competence and effort than munsifs in our judiciary. And the judiciary, instead of correcting this fraud, simply tried to take a share of the spoils of this office by demanding that information commissioners act is pairs with one of them being a former judge. And even when Narendra Modi led government tried to undo the damage, it was very limited to the extent that the status and compensation were reduced to statutory authorities though it was retained at a very high level of that category.
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