what's 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 development center programme at Alright Corporation. Aimed at building future leaders in the organization, "Aegis" has been conceptualized as a comprehensive process for leadership development. An integral part of Aegis is a development center process that does an assessment of an individual's competence vis-à-vis relevant job/position competencies followed by a series of development initiatives to prepare the person for next level of job. It all happened for Thomas three months back. He was very happy after the meeting with President HR of Alright Corporation. He has been invited specially along with 10 other employees who had completed 5 years in the organization. Thomas had little clue about what the President had to say. He was all praise for Thomas and mentioned that he is a consistent High Performer in the organization and will take special

efforts for his growth. President also mentioned that he will be invited to join the Aegis programme soon. Thomas joined Alright Corporation five years back as a management trainee from a premier institute of management. He had consistent academic performance and was in the top 15 percentile at the highly competitive management school. Thomas continued with his excellence at Alright in the past five years was always in the top 10 percentile of performers. Getting a consistent 5 (highest rating) for the past five years. He also had an impeccable career growth with Alright as well. On confirmation after the management trainee programme he was made an Assistant Manager. In the next year itself he got promoted as a Manager. This was a rare event as the minimum growth period from Assistant Manager to Manager was 2 years. Thomas also increased his salary by almost 60 % in the two years. Although for a talent like him, market was ready to pay much more, he choose not to move from

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Alright as he was liking the job he was doing and the organization was taking care of him as well. In the job market there are a lot of opportunities for a sales manager with impeccable background and performance. However, certain aspects of support from Alright were great for Thomas's career. When he joined, he was assigned to a senior mentor, Simon who headed Sales for Europe. Simon was available for him to bounce off ideas and even hand hold him in tough situations. There were also rumors that it was this mentor who helped him get a quick promotion. Rumors apart, the

mentor carried considerable respect in the organization and even Thomas's immediate managers respected him a lot. To his luck the managers whom Thomas reported were also non nonsense individuals who valued his dedication to work and performance. He was also recommended by them to some of the best training programmes that Alright could offer. He was awarded the best management trainee and also on becoming a Manager was given a team of three new assistant managers to manage his territory. The new managers 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.

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Factor / Process Performance Recommendation for programme Objective Entry to the Aegis programme : consistent 4 + rating over past three years To recommend eligible candidate based on evaluation by business and need like evaluation for promotion / leadership pipeline. 1st step in assessment of competencies How and When NA Done by Immediate manager / SBU head / Vice President HR every year based on evaluation of fast track candidates. Recommendation forwarded to President HR and finalized 3 day process including development discussion and meeting with key management people Within 10 days of development center process

Development Center

Meeting with SBU head and BU HR

To share ownership and results of development center. To firm up the draft development action plan post assessment center To develop on identified competencies

Development process

Continuous with a reasonable time period to complete action like training, mentoring, 360 degree feedback, reading etc.

valued him. Although Thomas was temperamental with them, there were also occasions where they complained to managers of Thomas about very high expectations he set for them and his micromanaging work style. However, many of it was ignored and things all worked fine with the results showing his territory was one of the best and his team got the best of performance bonus. He repeated the same success next year as well though two of his team members moved to another territory stating personal reasons. He did not feel the pinch as there were many in the new batch of assistant managers who were keen to work with Thomas. With the fifth year coming, Thomas already had another territory manager working under him. Considering Thomas's performance, the organization was already considering to promote him as a senior manager. The placement of a new territory manager under him was part of a planned move to transition his responsibilities and moves him up the ladder as a regional manager. This was a great move as Thomas already started smelling his promotion as a senior manager. At Alright, it was mandatory that people who are getting fast tracked will be part of Aegis leadership development programme. The objective was to support develop competencies for managing leadership positions and also develop a strong team that can take up future leadership roles. The leadership model consisted of the following processes. Thomas was not much aware of what a development center process is when he got an email invitation from the Group Headquarters. From some sources he got to know that it has something to do with group discussion and case study assessments which he had

done very well in his management institute. He also saw it as a nice opportunity to travel to Singapore as the event was scheduled to happen there. He also tried to talk to Simon; however he was on a business tour and was not available. When the development center happened, Thomas was surprised to see that many of the people who were along with him in a batch of 8 people where from very different background. Four were from operations, Two from Finance, One from consulting, and only another one person from Sales. The people who were from operations and finance were almost 10 years older to him as well. The development center was well structured with individual presentations, group discussions, and an in-try exercise. He felt he was the most confident of all and almost dominated in most of the discussions. Some case studies he even felt were trivial and not up to his knowledge level. There were a group of senior executives from the company who were assessors in the development centers. They observed him carefully and even were asking questions in individual exercises. The group was informed that the competency model had nine competencies and an individual who is supposed to be a high potential according to the model should exhibit benchmark level in atleast 5 out of 9 competencies. After all the assessment, Thomas was called for discussing the development center results and action planning for improvement. He was surprised to know that out of 9 competencies he was at benchmark level on four and in five of them he is just below benchmark. This also makes him not a hi-flier as per the framework. He falls under the category of high performer but medium potential. The assessor who was giving him feedback gave lengthy reasons on why he has got


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

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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. around Thomas's sales ability has clouded the judgment of the supervisors and none of them has given a feedback or counselled him anytime on these areas during the first five years of his service. The leadership and behavioural dimensions in performance appraisal system of Alright seem to have been undermined by every supervisor even though all of them are nononsense bosses. In Alright, HR runs Performance Appraisal as a ritual. HR has abdicated its responsibility in making PA a responsible and effective communication process encompassing an in-depth feedback on both performance and behavioural/ leadership dimensions. Had Thomas been given genuine feedbacks by his supervisors from time to time, he would have probably improved on his team management and leadership skills. More importantly, his morale would not have been maimed post the DC. It also appears that a generic competency framework or a set of leadership practices has neither been articulated nor communicated in Alright. Had it been articulated, communicated and practised and most importantly, had all people processes for measurement, reward and recognition been aligned to it, employees' behaviour would have mirrored the shared cultural values of the organization. In organizations where leadership and competency framework is based on its espoused values, the measurement criteria in Development Centre (DC) also stay largely embedded in it. Even the DCs designed for certain roles seek to assess employees on specific measurement criteria which are not far removed from the defined generic competencies or leadership practices. In Alright DC does assessment of an individual's competencies vis-àvis his relevant job/position followed by a series of development initiatives. Had a competency framework been in place in Alright, Thomas would have had a clear understanding of the qualities and behaviour that was expected of him by the organization. Over the years, Thomas would have probably invested in himself on building the right attitude and possibly would have performed better in DC on aspects like coordination, leading and motivating, supportiveness etc. It may be noted that Thomas's scores were marginally below the benchmark scores. Today Thomas has been left completely disillusioned - even after the DC, he asks himself, "…How can three days decide my career? Am I not the best in sales?" He still remains fixated with the only attribute of giving a high top line. He identifies his leadership capabilities with this attribute alone. He is

homas Isaac's impressive academic records are a testimony to his hard work and high IQ. At work also, he exhibits a very high sense of result-orientation. He stretches himself and his team for business performance. He is committed to Alright the company he works for, and has not been lured by greener pastures. The organization has recognized his contribution and has put him on fast track and given higher increments and better training opportunities. In Alright, there is a formal process of Mentoring in place. The organization has also an Annual Performance Management system with linkage between performance and rewards. Thomas has been mentored by Simon, one of the most high profile executives in Alright. Thomas has been rewarded based on his ratings in PMS. Then there is a Development Centre, 'Aegis', which is supposedly a comprehensive process for Leadership Development and is mandatory for all employees who are fast tracked. What is impressive in Alright is these programmes and initiatives give a semblance of a good Talent Management system at work. But the appreciation ends here! At Alright Thomas's delivery on business performance is the singular reason of high ratings on a consistent basis. His poor team behavior, however, has been overlooked - those reporting to him have left his team for other assignments under one pretext or the other but his supervisors have chosen to turn a blind eye to his dysfunctional leadership style. He has never been counselled on his temperamental behaviour or his tendency of micro-managing. High ratings year on year have rather reinforced in him that he is infallible. Little have his supervisors realized that they have actually done a disservice to a young talent. As the last straw, Thomas has been catapulted by President (HR) to participate in a group level Development Centre (DC). At least six out of eight participants in the DC are almost ten years older to him. It is evident that from his business, Thomas has been selected ahead of many senior employees. This over-rated employee is clearly under-prepared in terms of his experience and maturity for a group level DC of Alright. A cursory glance of the case reveals that performance management system in Alright is not a mature process. Thomas has many improvement areas on behavioural dimensions. However, halo effect built


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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 improving on the specific competencies, he will ensure Alright operates. Normally higher the cost, lesser is the that he gets a second chance, as an exception. Simon coverage. Probably there is a scope for broad-basing can be advised to engage with Thomas more the programme by democratizing the process. After meaningfully by taking a stock of his progress at a all, an organization needs to build leaders at each level periodic interval. To upkeep Thomas's morale, Alright to become and remain rock-solid! should continue the status quo with one territory The objective of the DC is to support develop manager working under him for some time and competencies for managing leadership positions …... gradually figure out the role to be assigned to each of But what is surprising is that Thomas will not get them. another chance for assessment to be able to move into Certain pitfalls in administration of HR processes a leadership role. He might only be assessed for General could erode their credibility to the extent of these Managerial competencies sometime in the future. The being perceived as detrimental to the employee morale. underlying assumption of this DC, therefore, appears to It is a fact of life that one cannot be binary: either people have wish away assessment and potential to become leaders or measurements in an HR should also they do not possess it at all; more organization. But there should importantly, leadership skills re-engineer its processes be a substantial build-up of cannot be developed over time. This underlying assumption of the (so) each process delivers awareness on the objectives, administration and DC in Alright is contrary to its what it is purported to do consequences of these stated objective: "to support processes. For example, in this development of competencies for while staying integrated case also Thomas had hardly managing leadership positions….." (for) talent management any idea of the structure and Though Thomas has been advised consequences of the DC he was for undergoing a series of and development. 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 re1) 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.

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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 next level. Hence, from a process perspective, a and frequent approach is preferable. preliminary check on potential along with performance As an organization, it is important that the leadership criterion would strengthen the process. competencies or the expected behaviors are clearly An important aspect would also be that the feedback defined, articulated and then measured. Also, a linking is shared and concrete counseling is done. pin on competencies should thread up between the 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 competencies at L5. As an organization, dynamics of leadership, and There has to be a it is important that the an important aspect is the competency pyramid which links people dynamics. leadership competencies or up competencies from L1 to L5 This needs to be done in a in a logical manner. If the sensitive manner and the expected behaviors are organization is a new business positioned as mechanism on high growth trajectory feels clearly defined, articulated which are being done for him "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 whether they are on the right track. By their very nature, assessment centers are supposed Once you have this mechanism in place, coupled to be developmental. However, if it is looked at from with frequent checks and feedback in place, an the perspective of an employee who got nominated to assessment center approach coupled with other tools the program because of his/her consistent high which provide a view into potential to play a higher performance but the results are not so positive for role can be put in place. him/her, it can be demoralizing. The outcome of such an assessment should not Transparency, communication and preparedness are necessarily be "next promotion", "next role", "next important. The candidate should be aware of the risks increment" but actions which can prepare the individual and the outcome and what will be the implication of for a leadership role by leveraging on his/her strengths the outcome. To a large extent, this can help mitigate the shock value which may happen when one hasn't and offering improvement avenues on the competencies HC met the criterion or come out with flying colors. which need to be strengthened.


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