26 September 2010

Incredible India! For All The Wrong Reasons.

With seven days to go before the curtain lifts on the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the city is scrambling, day and night, to get ready for the 7,000-plus athletes and officials expected to arrive for what was originally touted to be India's coming-out party ... but which has unfortunately become a source of national shame.

Several star athletes have announced their withdrawal from the Games, citing health and security concerns. Advance teams from Canada, Scotland, New Zealand and Ireland have lodged complaints about the accommodation allocated to them.  Site workers have been using the unlocked flats. Toilets are stained. Fixtures haven't been installed, don't work, or are broken. The first batch of UK athletes and officials arrived on Friday, but tellingly checked into a 5-star hotel -- and brought their own sanitation team.

The Indira Gandhi Velodrome is flooded with rainwater, adding to the risk of mosquito-borne dengue fever. A bridge and the ceiling of one of the competition halls recently collapsed. Alarm and fire evacuation systems are yet to be put in place.  Obviously, no test events have been run to put the timing and measurement systems through their paces.  And the city is bracing itself for aggravated traffic jams as special lanes are going to be blocked off for athletes and officials hustling to their events.

The original budget of US$500 million has ballooned to nine times that figure, in a country where 800 million people live on less than $2 a day. While this doesn't condone the corruption that has largely caused the cost overruns, it goes some way to explain it.

Mike Fennell, chief of the Commonwealth Games Federation, has gone on record to say that he is disappointed with the Indian organizers and that the lack of preparedness for sporting event has hurt the reputation of the country. He flew into Delhi yesterday for crisis meetings with the Indian Prime Minister in an effort to conclusively determine if the Games should go on -- or be cancelled.

Whatever the outcome, some hard lessons are obviously being dispensed -- and hopefully internalized.  Among them will be some soul-searching around how a team of bright, intelligent and articulate people in positions of influence could have allowed Delhi's preparations to be in this sorry state at two minutes to midnight.

Organizational leaders can heed an important lesson here: Unless you make the effort to align individual and organizational goals, you are not going to achieve any significant forward velocity. In fact, you may wonder what's causing the drag on your efforts, not recognizing your uninspired workforce for what it is. This phenomenon is true of every company, but is especially evident in large organizations which have to consider not just individual aspirations but also cultural nuances and matrix reporting relationships.

India may be one country, but it practises an extreme democracy -- which is all the permission an educated population needs to make their feelings known.

One can only hope Delhi pulls together in this last crucial week to salvage the Games. The repercussions on brand India will be felt for years to come.

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