Monday, June 24, 2013

PROMOTION BY PREFERENCE - Musings on PROMOTION SYSTEMS IN THE NAVY (and MILITARY)

PROMOTION BY PREFERENCE
MUSINGS ON PROMOTION SYSTEMS IN THE NAVY
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Let me begin with a quote by Admiral Burke on the importance of a good promotion system in the Navy:

“ Officers must have confidence in the promotion system or discipline will be jeopardized. 

Unless the best officers are promoted, faith of other officers and enlisted men in the integrity of the system will be shaken. 

It is essential that officers be promoted who will be best qualified to lead in battle.

They must have other qualifications, such as good administrative and technical ability and a wide array of knowledge also, but the rest of the Navy must have absolute confidence in those selected. 

Should the less qualified personnel be selected, there will come a time in battle in which the Navy will fail because of its leadership. 

Like begets like (e.g., ducks pick ducks), and inadequate personnel, once they have moved up sufficiently to be on a selection board, will themselves be apt to select other inadequate personnel. 

Admiral Arleigh A. Burke
Chief of Naval Operations


Musings on PROMOTION SYSTEMS IN THE NAVY
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Part 1

DOES THE NAVY PROMOTION SYSTEM PROMOTE CRONY LEADERSHIP ?

If you look around you, you will observe that there are two types of “Leaders”:

1. GENUINE LEADERS

and

2. YES-MEN MASQUERADING AS LEADERS


There are tomes written on the subject of genuine leadership.

So let me say a few words on the second type of leadership where yes-men masquerade as leaders.

Let us call this Crony Leadership.

Many Human Resource (HR) Management Systems are designed to breed yes-men.

These Promotion Systems ensure that yes-men are catapulted to the highest rungs of the hierarchy.

Promotion Systems may be classified into two broad categories:

1. Promotion by Seniority

2. Promotion by Merit


PROMOTION BY SENIORITY

Promotion by Seniority is the most transparent promotion system.

Seniority is like Maternity.

There is no scope for ambiguity here. When a child is born there is no doubt as to who the mother is, since the baby is delivered directly from the mother’s womb.

Likewise there is no scope for ambiguity about your seniority.

Rules and Regulations on how to determine seniority are clearly specified in every organization.

In most cases it is the date you join an organization or the date you are promoted to higher rank.

Many organizations publish clear cut seniority lists from time to time so that every employee knows where he (or she) stands and if anyone has any doubts they can get things clarified and rectified, if necessary.

Promotion by seniority is the most fair, transparent and stress-free system as far as employees are concerned.

You patiently wait in the queue knowing that your time will come.

Promotion may be by “time-scale” and you will be promoted after completing the requisite number of years of service.

Or promotion may be vacancy based and you patiently wait your turn hoping that a vacancy will arise in due course or at least before you retire.

Even if a vacancy does not arise for a long time and you have to “stagnate” in the same rank or post, there is always one big consolation that your junior can never “jump the queue” and “leap frog” over you.

You will always serve under your seniors.

You will never have to suffer the humiliation of having to serve under someone who was once your junior (as can happen in organizations where promotion is by “merit”)

Organizations where promotion is purely by seniority will have harmony in the workplace because of the high degree of contentment in among employees.

In the Navy, and also the Army and Air Force, this concept of promotion by seniority is followed for the first 20 years of your service as an officer.

Earlier time scale promotion based on years of service was followed till about 15 years of service when your first selection board for the rank of Commander (Lt Col / Wg Cdr) used to take place.

But since 2006 (after the AVS Cadre Review) promotion to Commander is also by time scale after 13 years of service and you will have your first selection board for the rank of Captain (Colonel / Group Captain) in about 20 years of service.

For civilian government employees, their career prospects are even better as they are assured of time scale promotion based on seniority to the highest ranks under the Assured Career Progression (ACP) scheme which has been denied to the Defence Services.

Frankly, this extension of time scale seniority based promotion is a good thing as the naval officer of today can get on with his job in a sincere and dispassionate manner without having to worry too much about pleasing his boss, at least till the rank of Commander, because it is only after that does promotion by merit come into play.


PROMOTION BY MERIT

Merit is like Paternity.

In the case of paternity, there is scope for ambiguity. 

There can always be a doubt as to who the real father of the baby is. 

Sometimes, if she has been promiscuous, even the mother may not be sure who is really the father of her baby!

“Merit” is a highly subjective term, especially in the context of performance appraisal.

How is merit evaluated?

You may say that there are objective ways of determining merit.

For example, you can have an independent written examination and draw up an order of merit based on performance in the examination and promote from the top of the list appropriately (on the lines of the process for admission to IITs and IIMs via the IIT JEE and CAT Management Entrance Examinations)

While this may work fine at the recruitment stage and for junior level employees, I don’t think any organization uses such objective methods of determining merit for promotions at the higher levels of the hierarchy. 

The way in which the navy promotion system operates, “merit” means “preference”.

And, consequently, promotion by merit means promotion by preference.

“Merit” is like “Beauty”.

It is said that:

“Beauty” lies in the eye of the Beholder.

Likewise:

“Merit” lies in the eyes of your Boss.

Who evaluates your merit for promotion?

It is your immediate superior, or the person higher up in the hierarchy who can influence your promotion.

In the Navy there is a system of Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) for “performance appraisal”.

At the end of every year your boss writes your Annual Confidential Report or ACR.

The key word here is “confidential”.

You do not know what your boss has written about you, specifically you never know how many numerical points he has awarded you.

This is a very subjective performance appraisal system.

Your entire performance for the past one year is evaluated in one go.

Your boss is free to appraise you as he wants as per his whims and fancies.

And you are kept in the dark, quite clueless, about how your performance has been appraised.

Earlier there was a system where the appraiser had to show the ACR to the appraisee and also give him a written extract of the “pen picture” part of appraisal report (called “flimsy”).  

This was a good system of feedback for the appraisee who knew where he stood in the eyes of the boss and in which areas he needed to improve his performance.

Also this system of discussing the ACR imparted a sense of healthy transparency to the performance appraisal process.   

Surprisingly this excellent system was discontinued and now everything is kept “confidential”.

In fact, the entire promotion process is done in such a “cloak and dagger” manner and this generates an atmosphere of suspense, anxiety and intrigue.

Promotion is a great cause of stress amongst senior naval officers, since in the navy your rank determines everything. 

I think the situation is quite similar in many organizations, where promotion by merit actually boils down to promotion by preference.

Your career prospects depend on the likes and dislikes of your boss.

So you must be “tactful” and ensure that you are always be on the right side of the boss, or better still, you must become the “blue-eyed boy” and “right hand man” of the boss.

Yes, if you want to succeed in your career, the key quality you must have is “Tact”.

“Tact” is a euphemism for “Moral Pliability”.

It is tact which will help you to be a “smooth operator” and facilitate you to effortlessly indulge in sycophancy and please your boss.

It is tact which will enable you to become an “yes man” and rise to great heights in your career.

Your bosses may change and it is the quality of “Tact” that will enable you to change your colours like a chameleon depending on the “requirements” of your bosses.

Your “morals” too must be flexible and your “ethics” must change to suit the “ethics” of your boss.

Yes, being an “ethical chameleon” is the sine qua non for becoming a “yes-man”.

Thus, we see that in many organizations, in the implementation of HR Management Systems, “merit” actually becomes “pseudo merit” and the promotion system, though ostensibly based on “promotion by merit” degenerates into “promotion by preference”.

This results in an atmosphere of favouritism which breeds cronyism and sycophancy and throws up yes-men to leadership positions.

And when yes-men become leaders, what we get is crony leadership.

As Admiral Burke said:

Like begets like (e.g., ducks pick ducks), and inadequate personnel, once they have moved up sufficiently to be on a selection board, will themselves be apt to select other inadequate personnel.

Thus, yes-men will pick yes-men, and they in turn will pick more like minded yes-men.

And this yesmanship driven promotion process will proliferate till the top brass is flooded with yes-men and we have an overwhelming crony leadership.

Is crony leadership good for the Navy? 

Well, that topic I will discuss subsequently in a forthcoming post on my blog.

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this book review. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Disclaimer:
All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
NB:
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Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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