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Analysis: Conducive To Compliance

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This case reinforces the paradox that is India — one of the most progressive nations by way of rules and regulations, and one of the worst in terms of compliance. Not only is our compliance poor, we seem to take pride in breaking rules, often showcasing the lack of respect of rules as a uniqueness of the Indian context. It is no wonder that a dialogue from a latest Amitabh Bachchan movie — "Hum line ke peechhe nahi hota, line hamare peechhe banti hai" — actually gets hoots of approval, and the story of a rule breaking-cop gets the best movie of the year award! Not only do we take false pride in breaking rules, but often breaking them is seen as a sign of ‘power'.

Do we realise the cost of this attitude ? Breaking traffic rules compounds the traffic chaos and everyone suffers. Breaking civic rules comes at a healthcare cost. Breaking economic rules distorts economic growth leading to social costs, the list goes on….

Do we as a nation need to change this attitude  or not? Aren't we ‘India Shining' in spite of this flaw in the national character? Hardly anyone would disagree with the argument that had we as a nation been rule-compliant, we would have got more from the same human and economic effort than what we are getting now. The future for India would not be about doing more, but about doing better. For this, respect and compliance to rules and regulations are necessary.

But with the rot so deep and omnipresent, how do we steer the ship to start changing course? Our years of experience in developing cultures around rule compliance tell us that there are four crucial elements of developing a rule-compliant company or society, which we call the 4S framework.

  • Stakeholder interest in the rule;

  • Source credibility of the rule-maker;

  • Speed of implementing punishments;

  • Spending penalties collected transparently on public good.

Before explaining each of these let us agree on one premise that barring a few, most people would rather abide by rules if they are fair and hassle-free.

Stakeholder interest in the rule. Many a rules are made without a thought to identifying key stakeholders who have an interest in making the rule work. Every rule needs one or more stakeholders who need to make it work. Implementation may require empowerment of these stakeholders in some way. Let me illustrate with an example: littering and encroaching of footpaths. The key stakeholder for this is actually the hawker or the retailer. The better the walking area, the more the footfalls, and the more the business. So the best guardian for implementing the litter rules and encroachment rules are the licenced hawkers and retailers. Bangkok has worked this successfully. Even the coconut vendor will fine his client if the shell is thrown outside the garbage can! The result: clean streets.

Source credibility of the rule-maker. A big thing for Indians is who has made the rules. If the rule-maker is seen as corrupt and slothful, such as the police departments, the municipal corporations, the electricity boards, etc., even the most rule-abiding people will want to try to break the rules. DMRC or the Kolkata Metro are seen as clean and efficient and public laps up any rule they make. Even when a municipality such as Surat was run by a clean and efficient administration after the plague, it became the cleanest city in Asia. When the courts order use of seat belts, the country complies while all the other traffic rules made by the police are not obeyed. Source credibility is, therefore, a key element to an overall atmosphere of compliance.

Speed of implementing punishments. When rules are broken and culprits caught, if the process of meting out punishment is long and arduous, people will break more rules to get out of it. But if punishment is fair and fast, most people will comply. It is not the penalties that are the problem. Spot fines in small amounts have greater impact than larger doses of fines. Paying Rs 50 hurts as much as paying Rs 500 because pride gets hurt. The rule-makers have to realise that quantum of fine is not the deterrent; speedy implementation of punishment is.

Spending penalties collected transparently on public good. If you knew that the fine or penalty you are paying goes to give succour to widows and families of martyred policemen, or that litter fines are used to repair roads or make shelters for homeless you are more likely to agree in letter and spirit to the rules. If you believe in them, you tend to comply more often. Even when you break the rule you are willing to graciously bear the penalty. Make the entire loop of the rule for a larger public good, and both compliance and its penalty for breakage becomes efficient.

Utilising this 4S structure helps develop models of rules that start steering the society  towards better compliance.

Rajan Chhibba is managing director of global consulting firm Intrim Business Associates.


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 01-08-2011)