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Monday, August 20, 2018

ACR 360



180-or-360-Degrees

Improving the internal health of the Army was a key challenge identified for himself by the present chief when he assumed office two years back. How far has he been able to address the problem remains to be seen in the absence of any indications, either in open media, or through the grapevine. While it would be illuminating to learn the steps (if any) taken by the organisation towards meeting this challenge, here are some thoughts and unsolicited suggestions from an armchair theorist.

The fountainhead of most major ailments that afflict the internal health of the organisation is the pyramidical structure, resulting in a high wastage rate in selection of officers for higher ranks. This, in turn, unleashes an intense competition, almost a clawing struggle to climb to the top. The route to the top lies through nine-pointer ACRs, and that depends on the judgment of one’s immediate superiors in the chain of command – the IO, RO and SRO. The system therefore mandates that this trimutive needs to be kept propitiated for securing the passport to higher ranks.

On the other hand, the Initiating Officers are also faced with a dilemma. Since they have to continue working with the officer even after the writing of the report, they are extremely hesitant to be even mildly critical in their appraisals. The result is that in the absence of any tangible deliverables except in operations, you have an odd nine pointer, and everyone else gets an eight. In fact an eight point ACR is like a dining out speech – everyone gets one, and it doesn’t mean a thing. If someone gets even a seven, which is supposed to mean above / high average, it spells the end of any hopes of career advancement. It also means end of any niceties between the officer and the boss. Diplomatic Initiating Officers have therefore been known to give an eight point ACR to someone, and then requested the Reviewing Officer to ‘sort him out’.

The zero error syndrome, the ruthless driving of subordinates, the relentless efforts to keep the boss happy at any costs – these are the spinoffs of this skewed system.

Thus, the key to restoring the internal health of the organization lies in improving the appraisal system. This realization has not escaped the policy makers, and over the years there have been attempts at change. But these have been restricted to minor tweaks, without any substantial changes in the basic system. There was the dark period, when ACRs were not shown to the ratee. That measure was found to be counterproductive, and was reversed after a while. Then there was the scrapping of ACRs for junior officers, but the Unit Assessment Cards that formed the replacement did not really serve to bring about any substantial difference.

What we need is the clichéd but never attained paradigm shift in the way appraisal is carried out. One thought is a 360 degree appraisal system. Increasingly being favoured by HR pundits across the corporate world, it involves an appraisal by peers and subordinates in addition to the traditional assessments by superiors.

The objections that immediately spring to mind are manifold, and are the ones that would be put forth by the lethargic proponents of status quo. Such a system is not suitable for a hierarchical organisation like the army. It would lead to popularity contests by senior officers to curry favours with juniors. It is too cumbersome to be implemented.

Obviously, the system needs to be studied and adapted for implementation in the army – but that does not mean that it cannot be done. Ironically, the organisation that would be required to carry out this exercise – the MS Branch – would be the most reluctant. It would imply a huge increase in their own workload, and besides it is too bold and imaginative a step to find favour with them. However, if the internal health of the army has to be resuscitated, old medicine in new bottles will not do. It’s time for alternate therapy.

360 degree appraisals is one such alternative – not necessarily the only, and not necessarily without side effects. But since, for reasons already stated, the MS Branch is not likely to look for drastic alternatives, it is imperative that these be thought about and debated in other available forums.  I would like to throw this debate open, and invite comments and suggestions.

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17 Responses “ACR 360”

  1. Uday Mukheri
    06 Nov 2011 at 4:40 am

    This is a good idea, and not just because of being discussed/favoured by HR pundits; it’s possible to evaluate an idea on it’s merits, from basic principles, and one of the basic principles here is – Is the existing rating system aligned to a person’s real job?.
    The devil is of course in the details. Its also high time for the Forces to involve academia, outside professionals, and larger participation from within the Army, especially junior/mid-level officers for this kind of initiatives, to get some kind of objectivity into the process. Most large organizations, including some professional Armies would take their time to follow a 5 or 6 stage process:
    1. Interview a cross-section of people to find out how the system is currently working (normally include a detailed questionnaire to get at small details, and not just whether its good or bad)
    2. Set up a mixed core group to submit a report after a reasonable time frame (such a group would usually interview a large cross section of people across the organization, and not just express their opinions). The group shouldn’t be just a collection of Cols, Brigs, and Gens. Most organizations now recognize that the best ideas will come from younger people, and a few from outside the system. ‘Experienced’ people from within the system are too conditioned to established ways to be able to think anything fresh.
    3. The report should then be again discussed with a large no. of people across the organization, to see if there are any worthwhile suggestions.
    4. Check how the new system works with controlled experiments with a no. of selected groups to mirror how its likely to function within a unit.
    5. Run this as a pilot across some of the units, while also doing the typical ACR stuff, and check the difference.
    6. Scale up the process across the organization.
    This is probably a 5 year process, which is how any large organization would and should approach change, rather than implementing half baked ideas/opinions of a selected few in a hurry. The overall idea of following such a process is to work with objective, verifiable, facts & criteria, and then test the system so devised for required modifications, if any. The absence of such a process means strategic changes would likely be introduced as per opinions/whims, leading to regular U-turns, finally back to square – 1.

  2. 06 Nov 2011 at 5:55 am

    I Have tried self appraisal system and found to be effective as only a very hard working officer or a dull or shameless officer will grade himself 9 out of 10.

  3. Prashant
    06 Nov 2011 at 6:18 am

    Why not have a study group, drawn from all levels, with a heavy middle (the officers most likely to be effected) and the three services to review the practices of other Armies in the world. Incorporating the PMF/ IPS in the system will surely yeild innovative ideas.

  4. Mukund Apte
    06 Nov 2011 at 12:18 pm

    This 360 variety looks good and effective. The difficulties will be in details of actual implementation. The contact period of various reporting officers are not likely to over at given time and hence this Mela is likely to be taking full year for annual CR.
    The main fact essntial in such Confeidential reports is the objective assessment by the IO and others, which is very difficult under the current situation. Similarly the marking system for Integrity and Loyalty had hardly any sense. Can a person will be 60% loyal or will have 80% integrity has no sense whatever.
    Actually if we can ensure that the Senior (or actuallyall) officers are Developed Individuals, even mere IO’s report should be OK and no changes will be needed in current system. For the details of Developed Individuals, kindly refer to my article “Development, What, How, Why”.It has been published in Tattv-Darshan quarterly being published from Bangaluru in its recent issues.

  5. Amitava Sarker
    06 Nov 2011 at 4:19 pm

    If you really want to find out the efficacy of the new system vs the existing system, here is a suggestion.

    Take a sample across various selection grade ranks and evaluate the officers as per the existing system. Then hypthetically extrapolate and evaluate them as per the 360 degree system. see if there are any significant differences. You will not find any because every large organisation, government, military or otherwise, sustains and encourages mediocrity. If you are truly brilliant and capable, go and do your own thing, do not expect the organisation to recognise and reward your talents. It is just not going to happen!

  6. Sword
    06 Nov 2011 at 5:59 pm

    @Uday – I think you have very nicely summed up both, the way to implement and the reasons why it will never be. Unfortunately the personality cult that the organization suffers from prevents from many long term changes from fructifying. Any policy change needs to be implemented after due diligence. And once implemented, a decision on its efficacy must not be premature, nor the haste to reverse it. A prime example is the fiasco about command and staff stream. If the system was so flawed that it had to be changed within a couple of years of implementation, why weren’t the flaws pointed out by the concerned staff officers at the decision making stage?

  7. Sword
    06 Nov 2011 at 6:00 pm

    @Ravindra – self appraisal is an integral part of 360, and should be an important tool.

  8. Sword
    06 Nov 2011 at 6:10 pm

    @Prashant – outsourcing the groundwork to paid consultants would be a more professional and better approach. The study group / committee approach has many pitfalls, including making the appropriate officers available for the requisite time frame, and the personalities involved and their perceptions. Half the times formations / units are taking up cases to get members changed, and the other half they get posted out and need to be replaced.

  9. Sword
    06 Nov 2011 at 6:14 pm

    @Mukund – fully agree on loyalty and integrity issue. It’s like virginity – either present or absent, no degrees of presence and absence.
    The contact period issue can be worked out. After all, how much of contact does the GOC of a division, who is the RO of Squadron / Company commanders of Div Troops units have with them – especially in the cases where the units are not co-located with the Div HQ. Not to talk of the Corp Commander, who is their SRO.
    Modalities of implementation can be worked out as long as the concept is clear.

  10. Sword
    06 Nov 2011 at 6:17 pm

    @Amitava, I have a slightly different take on that. What if you take a similar sample of people who did not make the selection grade, and then do this test? You may find some very interesting results.
    Self Perpetuating Mediocrity is an aspect I agree with. Norman Dixon explains it very well in his book “On the Psychology of Military Incompetence”, which does not feel outdated decades after it’s been written.

  11. Srinivas
    06 Nov 2011 at 7:01 pm

    My CO once on a lecture on ACRs and assessments, during his weekly lectures, advised junior officers in the unit (Capts and Below) to grade our Coy JCOs “above average” , if and only if, the JCO is fit to be Sub Maj later and that his selection would fall on our shoulders again a few years later. OR simply put “SELECT YOUR TOMORROW’s TEAM: TODAY”.

    My suggestion is to adapt the same to Officers albeit differently;
    MS Branch posts subordinate officers under a senior officer’s command (Col upwards and in first half of his tenure) those whom he has graded previously as IO.

    To say the least, it may pave the way to be proud of our general officers in the distant future.

  12. Ravi
    07 Nov 2011 at 6:29 am

    Well you can’t have an effective appraisal system when it is divorced from the value system. You know how a 360 system will finally translate, there will be no differential assessment system, everybody will be graded outstanding, its a matter of convenience. If your value system is first addressed, there should be no reason why a flawed IO/RO should exist and axiomatically the present system would then work. The fountainhead of all that is wrong today is the value system and the chasm between what is said and what is done.

  13. Zahl Tantra
    08 Nov 2011 at 1:57 am

    It is an amazing fact that at one end of the spectrum the ‘BEST’ officers are posted to MS branch – a Human Resource department of the organisation and at the other end you have SL officers doing the same function for the personnel below officer rank !

  14. Sword
    08 Nov 2011 at 3:26 am

    @Ravi – What are the reasons for decline in the value system? What are the manifestations? And what are the ways of setting it right?

  15. Sword
    08 Nov 2011 at 3:26 am

    @Zahl – is it a wonder that career management of PBOR is handled in a far better way than that of officers?

  16. Ravi
    16 Nov 2011 at 6:41 am

    The answer to your question is lengthy and complex. Suffice to say we know what ails the system, what we lack is the purpose and steadfastness to redress it. I take the liberty of paraphrasing the conclusion from Maj Gen Mrinal Suman’s (Retd) article ‘seven golden norms for Army offrs’:-

    “Claudia Kennedy rightly remarked that an army damages itself when it doesnotⴠlive up to its own values. The present mess that the Indian Army finds itself in is entirely due to the dilution of values that have sustained it for decades. As attitudes undergo changes, value system is understandably impacted. Attitudes are affected both by implicit and explicit influences. In addition to personal beliefs and experience, attitudes in the services are influenced by the organisational environment (traditions, precedents and conventions). The Army must ensure that organisational norms that mould attitudes are nurtured carefully and corrective measures taken expeditiously, lest the situation drifts beyond redemption”.

  17. sherry
    22 Aug 2012 at 6:57 am

    Dear sir’s

    I feel the present system of appraisal to be good and organisation oriented. Just few sincere add on’s i would suggest are:
    – holistic conduct of BPET/PPT and firing by seperate formation and board of officers for the officers till 14th year of service every year. it will justify the officers performance with a strong eight/nine(afterll we are expected to lead from front being from proffession of arms).
    – making HAA/CI-CT/Harsh field tenures mandatory in whatsoever “command” capacity minimum for 2 years for No3 SB(Staff tenure at any level to be not incl).
    – More emphasis on officers command tenure(AE to be Mandatory for min 4 years)
    – not more than 2 staff tenures outside parent unit till No3 SB(max=4yrs)

    im sure with these recommendations, appraisal system will be duly justifed to some level and various command failures today at unit/subunit level will be addressed fruitfully.

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