Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Is Present ACR Oriented Military Promotion System Promoting Crony “Yes-Man” Leadership in the Defence Services...?



Whenever I meet “faujis” and military veterans  most feel that many problems being faced by servicemen and veterans are due to submissive military leadership  which in turn is a result of the present ACR oriented military promotion system which is a legacy of the colonial British Raj.  

ACR is the acronym for Annual Confidential Report

This ACR based promotion policy may have worked in pre-independence days  with British Officers at the helm  who may have had different ethical standards and moral values.

We come across frequent media reports of increasing numbers of aggrieved defence personnel  serving and retired  of the army navy and air force  going to tribunals and courts to seek justice in promotion related cases.

This clearly indicates that the present military promotion system has become antiquated – and it needs to be revamped and brought in sync with aspirations of present-day military officers by incorporating modern management practices.

Here is an article I wrote 3 years ago on how this Archaic ACR Oriented Military Promotion System promotes Crony “Yes-Man Leadership in the Defence Services.

Musings of a Retired Veteran

In his autobiography  “Courage and Conviction”  General VK Singh mentions how he almost missed his promotion to Major General due to just one low ACR (in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) due to a personality clash.

Egged on by some of his well-wishing superiors and on their prodding and advice, he made a formal complaint and was cleared for promotion as a review case. 

In his autobiography  “An Odyssey in War and Peace  Lieutenant General JFR Jacob narrates many instances where he fell foul of his bosses and was almost written off” and twice almost came close to resigning from the army.

This prompts me to re-post, once more, some musings I had written a few years back on the Promotion System in the Navy (I feel this applies to the Army and Air Force as well).


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, USN)



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


2. YES-MEN (who Masquerade as Leaders)

There are many books 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 is the most transparent promotion system.

Seniority is like Maternity.

There is no scope for ambiguity as far as maternity is concerned. 

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.

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

Or Seniority Based Promotion may be vacancy based – and you patiently wait for 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.

In a Seniority Based Promotion System – 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 perform 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.


The interpretation of the term “Merit” can be highly subjective and nebulous.

What is Merit?

Merit is like Paternity.

Yes  whereas “Seniority” is like maternity  “Merit” is like Paternity.

In the case of maternity there is no scope for ambiguity.

In the case of paternity  there is plenty of 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 the real father of her baby!

Hence – “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.


“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 Report (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 ACR system 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 of partly showing ACRs was discontinued  and now everything is kept “confidential”.

In fact  the entire promotion process is done in 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 bosses.

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 military 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 promote yes-men

And  these yes-men in turn will promote more like minded yes-men.

This will have a spiralling effect.

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

Is crony leadership good for the Military (Army Navy Air Force)? 

Well – I really do not know – but many seasoned military veterans feel that most of the problems faced by “faujis” and military veterans are due to crony leadership. 

And the root cause of Crony “yes-man” Leadership is the present ACR System of performance appraisal.

Is there a solution?

Of course there is a solution. 

Revamp the archaic ACR System and bring in a modern fair and transparent performance appraisal system.

Modern Human Resource (HR) Management Practices (including those applicable to Military Organisations) are well documented  and  I am sure that all the “management experts” in the Defence Services are well aware of these and they can easily design and implement a suitable progressive performance appraisal and career management system in the Armed Forces. 

In a nutshell – the Defence Services require a new HR Management System.

This can easily be done.

The only thing required is the firm will, intense desire and positive determination to change the status quo.

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