GST is a classic example of change management

This article first appeared in DNA India on 6th July, 2017.

Last week, we saw the introduction of one of the biggest reforms of independent India. Of course, I am talking about the goods and services tax (GST) rollout. There were dire predictions in the media of how GST would lead to utter chaos and how the common man would be hurt by this. There were articles arguing about the greater economic and tax benefits for the country as a whole but these seemed to be drowned out by the utterances of the nay-sayers. There were even some sell-offs by companies of their stock as well as some panic buying from people.

The very first day after the rollout, I noticed several articles talking about the fact that toll “nakas” or octroi checkposts had now been closed leading truckers not having to queue up for hours or even days on end, at the mercy of arrogant and avaricious babus. Both the pre-and-post-rollout articles got me thinking about how the government has, over the last three years followed classic change management processes for implementing GST.

Creating a sense of urgency – The government started talking up the need for ensuring GST implementation right from the get go. There was a consistent message sent across on how for India to grow at a rate exceeding 8%, it was imperative for us to have one tax across the land. The pithy “One land, One tax” slogan helped in pushing the message across.

Building a guiding coalition: Rather than fighting it out with opposition parties, the government put together a GST Council that included the finance ministers of each state as well as the Union MoS for finance, thereby putting in place a broad coalition of people to help navigate GST through the minefield of politics.

Forming a strategic vision: A strategic vision for rolling out the GST within the current government’s tenure was laid out and communicated to all. While politics helped to delay the implementation, its rollout was never in doubt.

Enlisting a volunteer army: The government enlisted the help of multiple people outside the corridors of power to help spread the message and the word of how intrinsic the GST was to India’s growth ambitions.

Enabing action by removing barriers: The GST Council helped the government to listen to all shades of opinion. Here, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley deserves plaudits for putting together a mechanism for resolving disputes.

Generating short-term wins: As we all know, short-term wins are critical in bringing on board the fence-sitters, in any change management initiative. Reports of open octroi checkposts are doing just that– showing people that GST is actually beneficial for the common citizen.

What the government needs to do henceforth is to ensure that they can quickly remove any barrier the citizens face as they come to terms with the intricacies of GST, by simplifying processes on the whole and ensuring that the administrative burden on the citizens is quickly brought down. This would help the citizens, the government and the country in the long run.

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