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my future!
By Dr. Sandeep K. Krishnan

A classic case of how an assessment of three days at Alright

Corporation's development centre confused Thomas Issac as the
company had called him a consistent performer, but, assessment
scores showed that he was after all not the best of best, despite
being given promotions and increments, which further demoralized
him and lead him to question about his future at Alright!

homas Isaac has just come out of a efforts for his growth. President also mentioned that
development center programme at Alright he will be invited to join the Aegis programme soon.
Corporation. Aimed at building future Thomas joined Alright Corporation five years back
leaders in the organization, "Aegis" has been as a management trainee from a premier institute of
conceptualized as a comprehensive process management. He had consistent academic performance
for leadership development. An integral part and was in the top 15 percentile at the highly
of Aegis is a development center process that does an competitive management school. Thomas continued
assessment of an individual's competence vis-à-vis with his excellence at Alright in the past five years was
relevant job/position competencies followed by a series always in the top 10 percentile of performers. Getting
of development initiatives to prepare the person for a consistent 5 (highest rating) for the past five years.
next level of job. He also had an impeccable career growth with Alright
It all happened for Thomas three months back. He as well. On confirmation after the management trainee
was very happy after the meeting with President HR programme he was made an Assistant Manager. In the
of Alright Corporation. He has been invited specially next year itself he got promoted as a Manager. This
along with 10 other employees who had completed 5 was a rare event as the minimum growth period from
years in the organization. Thomas had little clue about Assistant Manager to Manager was 2 years. Thomas
what the President had to say. He was all praise for also increased his salary by almost 60 % in the two
Thomas and mentioned that he is a consistent High years. Although for a talent like him, market was ready
Performer in the organization and will take special to pay much more, he choose not to move from

40 ■ August 2010 ■


Alright as he was liking the job he was doing and the mentor carried considerable respect in the organization
organization was taking care of him as well. and even Thomas's immediate managers respected him
In the job market there are a lot of opportunities a lot. To his luck the managers whom Thomas reported
for a sales manager with impeccable background and were also non nonsense individuals who valued his
performance. However, certain aspects of support from dedication to work and performance. He was also
Alright were great for Thomas's career. When he joined, recommended by them to some of the best training
he was assigned to a senior mentor, Simon who headed programmes that Alright could offer. He was awarded
Sales for Europe. Simon was available for him to bounce the best management trainee and also on becoming a
off ideas and even hand hold him in tough situations. Manager was given a team of three new assistant
There were also rumors that it was this mentor who managers to manage his territory. The new managers
helped him get a quick promotion. Rumors apart, the under Thomas were also from similar background also


Dr. Sandeep K. Krishnan is the vice president, HR and corporate development, Acropetal
Technologies, India where he heads the function. He is a mechanical engineer and a fellow of the
Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, where he completed his doctorate. His areas of
expertise include designing human resource processes, leadership development, organization
structuring, and employer branding. He has been instrumental in organization development and
bringing change by instilling effective HR processes, and systems as an in-house professional and
as a consultant. He has worked with organizations such as IBM, RPG, and Ernst and Young in the
area of human resource consulting, Talent Management, and as an HR Generalist. He teaches as a
visiting faculty in institutes like IIMs, and IMT Nagpur. He has published papers in highly regarded
academic journals and publications of general interest. His areas of research include employee
attrition and strategic human resource management.

■ August 2010 ■ 41


Factor / Process Objective How and When

Performance Entry to the Aegis programme : consistent 4 NA

+ rating over past three years

Recommendation for To recommend eligible candidate based Done by Immediate manager / SBU head /
programme on evaluation by business and need like Vice President HR every year based on
evaluation for promotion / leadership evaluation of fast track candidates.
pipeline. Recommendation forwarded to President
HR and finalized

Development Center 1st step in assessment of competencies 3 day process including development
discussion and meeting with key
management people

Meeting with SBU head To share ownership and results of Within 10 days of development center
and BU HR development center. To firm up the draft process
development action plan post assessment

Development process To develop on identified competencies Continuous with a reasonable time period
to complete action like training, mentoring,
360 degree feedback, reading etc.

valued him. Although Thomas was temperamental with done very well in his management institute. He also
them, there were also occasions where they complained saw it as a nice opportunity to travel to Singapore as
to managers of Thomas about very high expectations the event was scheduled to happen there. He also tried
he set for them and his micromanaging work style. to talk to Simon; however he was on a business tour
However, many of it was ignored and things all worked and was not available.
fine with the results showing his territory was one of When the development center happened, Thomas
the best and his team got the best of performance was surprised to see that many of the people who were
bonus. He repeated the same success next year as well along with him in a batch of 8 people where from very
though two of his team members moved to another different background. Four were from operations, Two
territory stating personal reasons. He did not feel the from Finance, One from consulting, and only another
pinch as there were many in the new batch of assistant one person from Sales. The people who were from
managers who were keen to work with Thomas. operations and finance were almost 10 years older to
With the fifth year coming, Thomas already had him as well. The development center was well
another territory manager working under him. structured with individual presentations, group
Considering Thomas's performance, the organization discussions, and an in-try exercise. He felt he was the
was already considering to promote him as a senior most confident of all and almost dominated in most of
manager. The placement of a new territory manager the discussions. Some case studies he even felt were
under him was part of a planned move to transition his trivial and not up to his knowledge level. There were
responsibilities and moves him up the ladder as a a group of senior executives from the company who
regional manager. This was a great move as Thomas were assessors in the development centers. They
already started smelling his promotion as a senior observed him carefully and even were asking questions
manager. in individual exercises. The group was informed that
At Alright, it was mandatory that people who are the competency model had nine competencies and an
getting fast tracked will be part of Aegis leadership individual who is supposed to be a high potential
development programme. The objective was to support according to the model should exhibit benchmark level
develop competencies for managing leadership positions in atleast 5 out of 9 competencies.
and also develop a strong team that can take up future After all the assessment, Thomas was called for
leadership roles. The leadership model consisted of the discussing the development center results and action
following processes. planning for improvement. He was surprised to know
that out of 9 competencies he was at benchmark level
Thomas was not much aware of what a development on four and in five of them he is just below benchmark.
center process is when he got an email invitation from This also makes him not a hi-flier as per the framework.
the Group Headquarters. From some sources he got He falls under the category of high performer but
to know that it has something to do with group medium potential. The assessor who was giving him
discussion and case study assessments which he had feedback gave lengthy reasons on why he has got

42 ■ August 2010 ■


particular scores. Thomas did well in communication, School. Dejection started growing in Thomas's mind.
analytical skills, persuasion, and decision making. He never felt average in Alright till now. However, he
However, many softer aspects like coordination, leading could not fathom the thought that from this point he
and motivating, supportiveness, innovation, and is not the best of the best. He might not get the
organizing he was on the border line. The assessor opportunities he always cared for his career growth.
mentioned about how he did not support other in the This report will also go to his SBU head and HR. How
group discussions, was fixed in his thinking, and even will he be able to face them? All the five years of
did not have patience to come to logical conclusion in consistent record is getting questioned here. Will he be
certain negotiations because of poor leadership. The just another employee in Alright? No longer the star
evidence shown was also pointing to same as well. He performer whom everybody looked upto? Development
tried to explain his point on why he was doing things center report will be discussed and even his team
in certain way because his way was the right way might get to know about this. How will he face them?
compared to others in the team, the cases which were Thomas was advised to take a 360 degree feedback
given were simple and he thought it was not worth too on certain competencies and also have a coach who is
much of assessment, and sometimes felt that unless he exceptional in team management. He was also advised
took enough time during discussions, the point he was to talk to his HR for getting nominated for a programme
trying to reach might not be concluded etc. However, in building team skills. He also wanted to prove his
there were no room to change the results and he has competence to assessors given another chance.
to take it as it was arrived through a "scientific" process. However, they said it might happen after a few years
After the discussions although no announced he for him when he might be assessed for General
could see that two among the eight were given an Managerial competencies.
opportunity to meet the CEO and also he heard rumors Thomas was thinking - "I always dictated terms
that they were informed that they will get a chance for here. This is going to be really bad. May be I do not
a one level job promotion and also training in one of have a future here now. How can three days decide my
the elite leadership programme of Harvard Business career? Am I not the best in sales?"

■ August 2010 ■ 43


Lalit Kar is a Vice President (HR) with Reliance Retail Ltd. He heads HR for its South India operations.
He has been with Reliance for the past 5 years. Prior to joining Reliance, he had worked for about 13
years in the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB). During his career spanning over 21 years,
he has been involved in three start-ups and one closure and possesses experience in the entire
spectrum of HR starting from industrial relations to organizational capability building. Lalit is an MA
in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations from the Utkal University. He was the University
gold-medalist of his batch. Lalit is an avid reader of HR literature. He has also penned more than 100
poems in English.

homas Isaac's impressive academic records around Thomas's sales ability has clouded the judgment
are a testimony to his hard work and high of the supervisors and none of them has given a
IQ. At work also, he exhibits a very high feedback or counselled him anytime on these areas
sense of result-orientation. He stretches during the first five years of his service. The leadership
himself and his team for business and behavioural dimensions in performance appraisal
performance. He is committed to Alright - system of Alright seem to have been undermined by
the company he works for, and has not been lured by every supervisor even though all of them are no-
greener pastures. The organization has recognized his nonsense bosses. In Alright, HR runs Performance
contribution and has put him on fast track and given Appraisal as a ritual. HR has abdicated its responsibility
higher increments and better training opportunities. in making PA a responsible and effective
In Alright, there is a formal process of Mentoring communication process encompassing an in-depth
in place. The organization has also an Annual feedback on both performance and behavioural/
Performance Management system with linkage between leadership dimensions. Had Thomas been given genuine
performance and rewards. Thomas has been mentored feedbacks by his supervisors from time to time, he
by Simon, one of the most high profile executives in would have probably improved on his team
Alright. Thomas has been rewarded based on his ratings management and leadership skills. More importantly,
in PMS. Then there is a Development Centre, 'Aegis', his morale would not have been maimed post the DC.
which is supposedly a comprehensive process for It also appears that a generic competency
Leadership Development and is mandatory for all framework or a set of leadership practices has neither
employees who are fast tracked. been articulated nor communicated in Alright. Had it
What is impressive in Alright is these programmes been articulated, communicated and practised and most
and initiatives give a semblance of a good Talent importantly, had all people processes for measurement,
Management system at work. But the appreciation ends reward and recognition been aligned to it, employees'
here! behaviour would have mirrored the shared cultural
At Alright Thomas's delivery on business values of the organization. In organizations where
performance is the singular reason of high ratings on leadership and competency framework is based on its
a consistent basis. His poor team behavior, however, espoused values, the measurement criteria in
has been overlooked - those reporting to him have left Development Centre (DC) also stay largely embedded
his team for other assignments under one pretext or in it. Even the DCs designed for certain roles seek to
the other but his supervisors have chosen to turn a assess employees on specific measurement criteria
blind eye to his dysfunctional leadership style. He has which are not far removed from the defined generic
never been counselled on his temperamental behaviour competencies or leadership practices. In Alright DC
or his tendency of micro-managing. High ratings year does assessment of an individual's competencies vis-à-
on year have rather reinforced in him that he is infallible. vis his relevant job/position followed by a series of
Little have his supervisors realized that they have development initiatives. Had a competency framework
actually done a disservice to a young talent. been in place in Alright, Thomas would have had a
As the last straw, Thomas has been catapulted by clear understanding of the qualities and behaviour that
President (HR) to participate in a group level was expected of him by the organization. Over the
Development Centre (DC). At least six out of eight years, Thomas would have probably invested in himself
participants in the DC are almost ten years older to on building the right attitude and possibly would have
him. It is evident that from his business, Thomas has performed better in DC on aspects like coordination,
been selected ahead of many senior employees. This leading and motivating, supportiveness etc. It may be
over-rated employee is clearly under-prepared in terms noted that Thomas's scores were marginally below the
of his experience and maturity for a group level DC of benchmark scores. Today Thomas has been left
Alright. completely disillusioned - even after the DC, he asks
A cursory glance of the case reveals that himself, "…How can three days decide my career? Am
performance management system in Alright is not a I not the best in sales?" He still remains fixated with the
mature process. Thomas has many improvement areas only attribute of giving a high top line. He identifies his
on behavioural dimensions. However, halo effect built leadership capabilities with this attribute alone. He is

44 ■ August 2010 ■


yet to realize that in his tireless push for sales, he has In order that Thomas chooses the second option
pushed down the morale of his team to the ebb. DC and stays back with Alright, he needs to be convinced
in Alright, therefore, appears to be an isolated process that there is no element of shame involved : the fact
and has failed to convince him of his need to build remains, Thomas was one of the youngest participants
leadership and team management competencies. who missed it marginally and as the rumour goes, even
DC in Alright appears to be a bit elitist. It has been six other more senior employees could not qualify. The
held in Singapore - cost of travel and stay could become President (HR) can also assure that subject to Thomas
prohibitive if it is not central to the geography in which taking up the feedback seriously and working towards
Alright operates. Normally higher the cost, lesser is the improving on the specific competencies, he will ensure
coverage. Probably there is a scope for broad-basing that he gets a second chance, as an exception. Simon
the programme by democratizing the process. After can be advised to engage with Thomas more
all, an organization needs to build leaders at each level meaningfully by taking a stock of his progress at a
to become and remain rock-solid! periodic interval. To upkeep Thomas's morale, Alright
The objective of the DC is to support develop should continue the status quo with one territory
competencies for managing leadership positions …... manager working under him for some time and
But what is surprising is that Thomas will not get gradually figure out the role to be assigned to each of
another chance for assessment to be able to move into them.
a leadership role. He might only be assessed for General Certain pitfalls in administration of HR processes
Managerial competencies sometime in the future. The could erode their credibility to the extent of these
underlying assumption of this DC, therefore, appears to being perceived as detrimental to the employee morale.

be binary: either people have It is a fact of life that one cannot
potential to become leaders or wish away assessment and
they do not possess it at all; more HR should also measurements in an
organization. But there should
importantly, leadership skills
cannot be developed over time.
re-engineer its processes be a substantial build-up of
This underlying assumption of the (so) each process delivers awareness on the objectives,
administration and
DC in Alright is contrary to its
stated objective: "to support
what it is purported to do consequences of these
development of competencies for while staying integrated “ processes. For example, in this
case also Thomas had hardly
managing leadership positions….."
Though Thomas has been advised
(for) talent management any idea of the structure and
for undergoing a series of and development. consequences of the DC he was
going to face. The experience
developmental interventions like
therefore has been extremely
360 degree feedback, coaching on
unsettling for him. Had Thomas been an informed
team management etc. the door to a leadership role
participant, his morale would not have suffered as
has been slammed on him by the DC by denying him
much as it did.
another opportunity.
Lastly, we should address the issue of alignment of
If, Alright chooses to still stay with the current
HR processes like DC with the ultimate purpose of
format of DC, the process should rather be called an
talent management. In Alright, the three people
Assessment Centre for the right positioning and it should
processes we discussed viz. mentoring, Performance
be clarified to everyone that the process allows only Appraisal and Development Centre are not aligned to
one chance to the participants. each other in both their design and implementation.
Now what should Thomas do? A three day program As we have covered already, an articulated behavioural
has apparently sealed his fate. He feels like a fallen /leadership competency framework should be central
hero - who once dictated the terms in Alright but to building and reinforcing the desired behaviour in
today faces the ignominy of rejection. the organization. All the three processes discussed in
the context of Alright, can be aligned to a competency
Possible options for Thomas model to create a common theme. HR should also re-
1) He can out-rightly reject the feedback received in engineer its processes in a manner which ensures that
'Aegis' and start looking for jobs outside and leave each process delivers what it is purported to do
Alright at the first opportunity; or individually while staying integrated to the other
2) He can talk to his supervisor, mentor and President, processes to achieve the common goal of talent
HR. He can take the feedbacks positively and start management and development. On the implementation
working towards building and improving on the team side, communication, training and reward and
and leadership competencies. recognition play a key role : a common understanding
If Thomas chooses the first over the second, he on all the processes and the required skills should be
could get an offer with a higher pay package and built through communication and training interventions
probably a better job title. But he will never understand and Alright should reward people who walk its talk.
his developmental needs and may stagnate at some And finally, giving and receiving feedback should evolve
point in his career. as a regular practice in Alright.

■ August 2010 ■ 45



Ritu Anand heads the Talent Management function at a global scale, which spans key KR areas
including Compensation, Benefits, Policies, Career and Performance Management. She is responsible
for the localization for these functions for a diverse workforce spread across Europe, Middle East,
Africa, Asia Pacific, USA and Latin America. She holds a Doctorate in Psychology. Dr.Anand's rich
experience of over 2 decades in TCS showcases several milestones such as - guiding TCS through
several successful assessments, conceptualizing & deploying variable compensation through EVA
framework, balancing workforce diversity, designing a competency-based organization & many
more. She has also been a recipient of prestigious awards, to quote a few - "Professional of the Year"
by World HRD Congress and "Outstanding HR Professional in IT industry" by IT People Awards.

irstly development centers and similar kind The criteria for nomination to leadership
of approaches are as good as their development programs need to be precisely defined.
implementation. Instead of it being a feedback In this case the only criterion defined is a consistent 4+
checkpoint which happens at an interval of 5 rating over three years. It is important to bear in mind
years and becomes the ground for an that performance though may be a pre-requisite for
individual to get feedback, a more consistent potential; it alone does not guarantee success at the
and frequent approach is preferable. next level. Hence, from a process perspective, a
As an organization, it is important that the leadership preliminary check on potential along with performance
competencies or the expected behaviors are clearly criterion would strengthen the process.
defined, articulated and then measured. Also, a linking An important aspect would also be that the feedback
pin on competencies should thread up between the is shared and concrete counseling is done.
different levels in the organization.
Since the case is silent on whether Thomas got Development centers for career growth
feedback on these issues through his stint in the The process has to start with the right and current
organization, one has to assume that the dejection, identification of leadership competencies.
which Thomas is feeling is because this mechanism Let us take an example: Suppose there is an
was not in place. organization which has 5 management levels, with L1
Having said this, Thomas should now be counseled being the most junior and L5 being the senior most.
to accept the results and help him carve out action Leadership competencies are identified for L5. The
items in the competencies where improvement is organization cannot suddenly at L4 pull out a list of

needed. He needs to consistent performers and start
appreciate the world beyond assessing them for leadership
numbers and realize the
dynamics of leadership, and
As an organization, competencies at L5.
There has to be a
an important aspect is the it is important that the competency pyramid which links
people dynamics.
This needs to be done in a
leadership competencies or up competencies from L1 to L5
in a logical manner. If the
sensitive manner
positioned as mechanism
which are being done for him
clearly defined, articulated

the expected behaviors are organization is a new business
on high growth trajectory feels
"risk taking" is an important
to get into the next level than and then measured. competency at L5, thinking needs
a sense of failure at not having to go into how will this risk taking
"cracked" it in one go. translate into competencies at
L4, L3 and so on. What will be the feedback mechanism
Deterimental development processes for the individuals at these levels and how will we assess
By their very nature, assessment centers are supposed whether they are on the right track.
to be developmental. However, if it is looked at from Once you have this mechanism in place, coupled
the perspective of an employee who got nominated to with frequent checks and feedback in place, an
the program because of his/her consistent high assessment center approach coupled with other tools
performance but the results are not so positive for which provide a view into potential to play a higher
him/her, it can be demoralizing. role can be put in place.
Transparency, communication and preparedness are The outcome of such an assessment should not
important. The candidate should be aware of the risks necessarily be "next promotion", "next role", "next
and the outcome and what will be the implication of increment" but actions which can prepare the individual
the outcome. To a large extent, this can help mitigate for a leadership role by leveraging on his/her strengths
the shock value which may happen when one hasn't and offering improvement avenues on the competencies
met the criterion or come out with flying colors. which need to be strengthened. HC

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