Mon, 16 Dec 2013 11:15:00 GMT | By The Hindu Business Line

Management lessons from AAP’s showing

The Aam Aadmi Party is focused, resilient and communicative. That’s what also helps businesses tick


Management lessons from AAP’s showing (© Reuters)

When 2063 is upon us, and history is taught in schools, I suspect that December 8, 2013, will have the same exalted status as January 26 or October 2. On this day, India lived through a Richter scale 9 political earthquake. The over 30 per cent vote share and 28 Assembly seats won by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is an achievement no hyperbole can adequately describe.

It’s also a clarion call to the political system, threatening to transform the fabric of Indian polity, no, democracy.
Some political commentators have called the AAP a regional party. This is laughable. To think that that AAP’s appeal is restricted only to Delhi is to assume what is not true: that the Indian voter is stupid. This juggernaut will roll on. It will take time. It may take a generation, maybe more, but this ship has set sail. It’s a movement, not a political party. Which is why it cannot be stopped.

Finally, to attribute their victory to an anti-Congress backlash is the same as saying India won the last World Cup because M. S. Dhoni hit a six at the end. Both elements, the anti-Congress sentiment and Dhoni’s six, were critical but not the only contributors to success. There were many others.

Be that as it may, there are several management insights that the business world can draw from the AAP.

Sense of purpose: Its intent is not to rule but to change the political system and to mould it to its beliefs. These beliefs are beguilingly simple: play with honesty, battle with integrity and aim for the betterment of society.

It has an astonishingly powerful sense of purpose and its instant appeal is driven by the underlying selflessness of the mission. Does your business have a foundational belief like this? If so, has it been communicated quite as well?
Clarity of thought: Since the day he created the party, Arvind Kejriwal has been resolute and crystal clear about his mission: the elimination of corruption in Indian politics. Over the last year, whether you believe him or not, no one would have failed to understand why he was doing ‘AAP’.

Business schools teach the importance of ‘focus’. The AAP took it to a whole new level. How good are you at articulating your mission to your team, and to your stakeholders?

Integrity: Kejriwal’s integrity is transparent and rock solid. Without this critical trait, the AAP could not have risen. No amount of communication or strategy could have given AAP them the rocket launch it has had.

It’s a truism and yet so many business leaders do not practice it. Be true to yourself, be honest and the people will be right behind you. Fake it and you’re on your own, especially when the chips are down.

Resilience: Assaulted by tens of income-tax and other notices, harassed through phone taps, he and his band of followers marched on, relentlessly. Is your team holding up against powerful, possibly unethical, competitors? How energised are they in the face of a difficult market?

Smart marketing: Selling to a market of one even as they viewed the entire electorate as one market. AAP never segmented the market along traditional parameters: income, age, caste, occupation and so on. It introduced a new market segmentation paradigm, based on values and beliefs, and nailed it.

Roll back to before the election. Their occupants would call AAP a ‘media creation’, visible only on TV or social media. Well, take that! AAP was not just leveraging electronic media phenomenally well. It was equally active in outdoor media (autorickshaw hoardings), radio messages and print media (mostly interviews and inserts).

The point being that even in today’s internet age, an intelligent and nuanced approach to marketing your products and services is key. All media are important, not just social media.

Frugal: AAP’s budget for 70 seats was perhaps akin to what larger parties set aside for one, maybe two seats. This is really the hidden magic underlying the Aam Aadmi Party?

The buzz created by their success mirrors that of the Telugu Desam Party in the 80s and the Trinamool Congress more recently. Those parties could never scale beyond their home states: they were too parochial in their approach and their leaders’ vision too myopic. Furthermore, as is the case with almost every regional party, they were fundamentally a one-man band, driven not by a belief system but by a powerful satrap. This reality was, and is, reflected in publicly available information such as election ticket distribution, intolerance of even constructive dissent within the ranks and a completely feudal governance structure. (You could perhaps say the same about the Congress Party!).

However, the AAP’s grassroots-based model, driven by values and an ethical ethos, lends itself to a rapid and massive national scale-out. At the time of writing this article, prominent ‘activists’ such as Ashok Khemka in Haryana were rumoured to be considering creating and spearheading a chapter of the party in their states. It would not be surprising if AAP were to make a huge impact on not just India’s polity but Indian society over the next decade.

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