Wednesday, January 23, 2013



Musings on Promotion Systems and Qualities for Career Success

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




There are tomes written on the subject of genuine leadership, so let me say a few words on the second type of leadership – let us call this Crony Leadership.

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


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 the father of her baby is.

“Merit” is a highly subjective term.

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. 

Here, “merit” means “preference” and, consequently, promotion by merit means promotion by preference.

“Merit” is like “Beauty”.

Like “Beauty” lies in the eye of the beholder, “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 and 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” and the entire promotion process is done in a “cloak and dagger” manner which generates an atmosphere of suspense, anxiety and intrigue and this causes great stress amongst the employees.

I think the situation is quite similar in many organizations, where promotion by meritactually 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.

Is crony leadership good?

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

On a lighter note, before I end this piece, let me tell you a story of an “ethical chameleon” – a quintessential “yes-man” .


I once had a colleague who was nick-named “very right sir”.

It was the welcome party of our new boss and I was in high spirits after imbibing a few glasses of my customary “Rum Paani”  (a large peg of Dark Rum with water).

Now this new boss was a strict teetotaller (which I did not know since I was not “tactful” enough to do my “homework” on my new incoming boss).

The boss, holding a glass of orange juice in his hand, said to me: “You seem to be a heavy drinker. Don’t you know that alcohol is bad for your health?”

“Very Right, Sir. Very Right, Sir,” said my “tactful” colleague. He too was holding a similar looking glass of orange juice drink in his hand.

Then the  boss looked disapprovingly at my glass of rum and admonished me: “Rum? You are drinking Rum? Don’t you know that Rum is a crude drink and it is most unofficerlike to drink rum? If you can’t stop drinking you better drink something more decent.”

“Very Right, Sir. Very Right, Sir,” parroted my colleague. 

One year later this teetotaller boss was transferred out and now we were having the welcome party for the new boss.

Now this new boss was one of those “down the hatch” hard-drinking types.

It was the height of summer, a very hot and sultry evening, and I was feeling dehydrated after a hard day’s work, so I decided to start off with a glass of orange juice.

The new boss walked over to us.

As usual, my “tactful” colleague “very right sir” was fawning around the new boss, not leaving his side even for a moment.

The new boss was carrying a glass of Rum in his hand. He looked at me, then he looked suspiciously at the glass of orange juice in my hand and said: “What are you drinking?”

“Orange Juice, Sir,” I said.

“Juice? Orange Juice? That’s a bloody ladies’ drink,” he bellowed.

“Very Right, Sir. Very Right, Sir,” echoed my “tactful” colleague.

I was shocked to see that my “tactful” colleague who earlier professed to being a strict teetotaller (when the erstwhile teetotaller boss was around) now had a glass of Rum in his hand, just like the new boss.

The boss took a gulp of Rum, and so did my “tactful” colleague, almost mimicking him.

The boss looked around at what everyone was drinking, and made mocking comments about beer, whisky, gin, vodka and cocktails, before concluding: “You all must drink Rum. Rum is a man’s drink, a true sailor’s drink,”

“Very Right, Sir. Very Right, Sir,” said my “tactful” colleague.

The boss downed his glass of rum in one big gulp “down the hatch” and so did my “tactful” colleague “very right sir” who too downed his glass of rum in one go, down-the-hatch.

After observing for a few days, we discovered that our “tactful” colleague even used to “mirror” the movements and actions of the boss. By his matching and mirroring he used to almost imitate the boss, albeit in a subtle way, and the boss seemed to like it. Later, we realized that he was adept at “matching and mirroring” imitative behaviour and all his bosses seemed to like it. After all, imitation is the best form of flattery.

This “chameleon” was the darling of the boss just like he had always been the favourite blue-eyed boy of all his bosses, past and future.

Needless to say, “very right sir” rose to great heights in his career. And it was quite amusing to observe this yes-man trying to masquerade as a leader.

Dear Reader: Look around you – in your organization, in society, in politics. Do you see genuine leaders? Or do you see yes-men masquerading as leaders?

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 work. 
© vikram karve., 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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