Baa Baa Black Sheep

The Black Sheep, from a 1901 edition of Mother...
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One would hate to be in the shoes of the Chief of Army Staff these days. Having to wake up every morning dreading what bombshell the newspapers would bring can’t be a pleasant experience. Being at the helm of an organisation consisting of over 10, 00,000 bodies in this age of scandal hungry public and an ever obliging media, this is a cross that he perhaps has to bear. The sad part is that the antics of a few black sheep with unbridled libido, greed or ambition inevitably overshadow the sterling work done by the other 99.9% comprising the organisation. The latest scandal screaming at us from the headlines and ubiquitous red ticker tapes of breaking news is yet another such incident.

Details of the case are under investigation, and truth will be established expeditiously and justly, as one has no doubts about the speed or impartiality of the military justice system, particularly under such intense media scrutiny. Irrespective of the side which is found to be guilty – whether it was lust on one side or ambition on the other which was behind it – it is a lose-lose situation for the organisation. The fact that such ugly incidents are occurring with alarming regularity, and the involvement of the highest echelons of military leadership in them, points to a malignant malaise in the organisational culture. It is the easiest thing to dismiss this as part of a larger affliction of the society at large, of which the services are a microcosm. But this must not happen. The services have always prided themselves of maintaining higher standards of probity, of having a way of life that is wholesome and values based. The impact of the erosion of such values on a force whose efficacy hinges on discipline and implicit faith between superiors and subordinates would be catastrophic.
The time for introspection and soul searching is long past. Its time meaningful action is taken urgently to preserve the organisational fabric. There is a need to drastically cut down on all non-core activities that serve not only to detract efforts from professional pursuits, but also provide opportunities for career advancement to those thriving on these. Event management must be left to caterers and tent houses, and not made into a fine military art. Family welfare must be restricted to unit level, with the role of all others up the hierarchy being merely to provide amenities and resources required. The role of officer’s wives in AWWA must be reviewed and attempt must be made to hand over the day to day running of this organisation to hired professionals, with supervision by concerned staff officers. One only has to see the efficient manner in which NGOs such as CRY and Helpage are run to realize that this is highly feasible, with possibly better results.
Increased professionalism in attitude and activities is another step that is required to bring the organisation back in alignment with its core values.

Training events must reflect this professionalism and should be shorn of attempts at showmanship, and consequent assessments must also be on professional basis. In fact, the need for a revamp of the entire assessment system has been talked about for long but there have been only cosmetic changes limited by the stifled imagination of the MS Branch. For a comprehensive reform of the appraisal system, there is a need to throw out the old rule book and take a fresh look at the entire game. The reporting officers up the chain of command must be made to exercise their moral courage by being less non-committal about their assessments. We need to change the environment where an overwhelming majority of the reports are like a ‘dining out speech’. The reporting must be less generic, and unequivocal. For instance, how can attributes like loyalty and integrity be rated on an analog scale? Logically, these are qualities that are either present or absent in the absolute, and half measures or shades of grey are not possible. Also, the reviewing officers up the chain need to make greater efforts to familiarize themselves with their indirect reports, and must also be made accountable for their assessments. To make the appraisal system truly meaningful, a 360 degrees appraisal must be put in place.

Of course, opposition to any radical change is strong and backed up with adequate staff work and data – fear of change is endemic, and fear of the unfamiliar coupled with the prospect of having to do additional work without the comforting backup of precedence is daunting for the so called HR managers of the forces. However, it is for the decision makers to realize that such changes are no longer luxuries that can be indulged in, but imperatives for survival.
The alternative is that we must all get used to black woollens, for wool off the black sheep can’t even be dyed.

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5 thoughts on “Baa Baa Black Sheep

  1. Ironical but true. Actually there is no HRM function for officers, MS manages people going up, the LOB’s are left to fend for themselves…
    As such In ones Career I’m sure MS interacts once may be twice n that too on your request . Does no Career mgmt which is its primary function in its list of duties….
    360 deg appraisal if it takes place my god Many an “Assured Career Progression ” cases will have heart attacks….

  2. @concerned – one thing is clear – they do quite well with their own career management after an enlightening exposure in the MS Branch.

  3. Quite well written, but I have serious differences with some of the issues.
    Media has jumped the gun, when it came to SEX SCANDAL in the Army. MoD and Army both have issued a denial about the Gen having being asked to put up his resignation. its the truth that suffers due to media.

    Second is the respect for NGOs against AWWA. if u check, i will be surprised, the collection charges for donation are 40% for all NGOs (its a well accepted norm). I think, AWWA only has a few tea parties with a few presents, which would not even account for 1% of the fund collection.

  4. Serious issues being dealt by non serious individuals & even more non serious ones reaching the helm of affairs. Attend a conference just to know the new jargons ( ape the west to your best) , one hardly sees new ideas flowing. Attend as social function & its just ego boosting for people ( at a scale higher than what you would do even for your parents).
    Career management as rightly brought by concerned officer is only related to ranks & not the skills that one aquires as he adds years to his service ( not career mind it !), the management of career is restricted to balance of peace & field profile ( that again , only for sum)
    Its time we got over the chai & gupshup syndrome, its already very LATE !

  5. @ Manoj,
    Thanks for the compliment.
    As for media jumping the gun, the point is that the story itself is not a mere fabrication, but is based on allegations made by a serving officer’s wife. Therefore, irrespective of the role of media, it is an issue of serious concern for the army. Like I mentioned in the post, it is a manifestation of something unhealthy – whether it is libido on one side, or false complaints due to ambitions on the other. So my aim in this post was not to comment on the veracity of the charges brought about, but on the fact that such a situation has arisen. Obviously, both parties can not be right, and whichever one turns out to be wrong illustrates a particular facet of the malady that is afflicting this wonderful organisation.

    As for AWWA, with the kind of institutional support that is provided to it by the Army, it can work wonders if allowed to be professionally managed. Incidentally, there are no collection charges because the major source of funding are in house. For example, sale of publications and cards – which are restricted to units / formations. The other means are AWWA shops and melas, which are also cost effective only because of the logistics being taken care of without much cost. I am not saying this is wrong – the organisation is well intentioned and is capable of doing much much more than it currently is. The army must not try to do an ostrich act by pretending that AWWA has nothing to do with it officially – obviously such a stance fools no one. It must proudly assert its association with AWWA, as an independent organisation that is working towards the benefit of its personnel and therefore being provided support in the best way possible. Yet, it must allow the day to day affairs, particularly at the apex level, to be handled by professionals.

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