Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The West got it Wrong

In the eastern tradition it is always the collective that comes first.Individualism on the other hand is paramount in the western culture.As all the countries of the world are now increasingly influenced by the west, individualism has begun to dominate all aspects of life.

The joint family system with its merits & demerits have given way for nuclear families.The schools focus on competition & becoming toppers with little or very little focus on winning as a team and supporting each other.No wonder then, that in corporates the buzz word is talent management.The belief is that if we have counterparts of a Sachin Tendulkar or Virat kohli in our team,we cannot but succeed and that the other guys don't matter..In cricket matches it is quite obvious and we have seen it  many times , that all matches in which Sachin   hit a century  India did not win.It is only when other members also perform that a team wins.As results are not immediately known  as in a cricket match, corporates continue to function with this myth in place.All policies are accordingly formulated to develop and nurture'individuals".

In fact  performance appraisals are now being done on the percentile system, initially developed by an American university for assessing students and later replicated in corporates. This system compare employees with each other & assesses as to who among them are outstanding,good and who are average and below average.In a previous company which had this system in place, I have seen employees working with lot of expectations prior to the annual appraisals.Once the results are out, if they got a high rating or promotion they smile.If not,the chest caves in and for the next three months they just go through the motions unable to concentrate on the job.It takes a while for them to pick up the pieces and slowly move towards performing normally or enthusiastically.Towards the end of the year, it is  once again frenzied activities and high expectations.Then the appraisal results are out and the cycle continues depending on what rating a person got.

Similar responses from employees are observed in  other companies following the percentile and the bell curve in their appraisal system under which no matter how well they  perform, team members are essentially to be placed in a curve with some rated average or below average. While lip sympathy is extensively given to the word "team work" employees know that in the real world out there one has to be constantly be in competition to get ahead.Today, the right thinking people in the west have begun to question  the efficacy of the system for getting the best results.But it is the converts in the east who are die hard fans of the concept and feel that "everyone"including non performers would be rated as "Outstanding" by the assessor in the absence of safeguard provided by  the percentile system. When a GM(HR) told me this, I was wondering as to whether this situation did not  reflect more on our own competence as HR professionals.We are admitting here that we had recruited average or below average employees to start with.If this is not true and we had recruited an outstanding employee and he has now developed into an average employee,does it not tell more about us and the culture of our organization that turns gold into bronze?.

In the competitive mode team members tend to over estimate their contributions.Marshall goldsmith in his book"What got you here won't get you there" states "All of us in the work place delude ourselves about our achievements,our status & our achievements. We overestimate our contributions to a project, take credit for others work,have an elevated opinion of our professional skills and our standing among peers." People will exhibit that behaviour that is encouraged & recognized and not what we just talk about as important''. If we want our people to exhibit team behaviour, those who exhibit this behaviour needs to be honoured and  a teams'contribution assessed and awarded rather than an individual's. Training needs to focus on building skills of teams rather than as individuals.

It is high time that we stopped aping the west blindly but understand our own motivations and drives.This would mean looking out for and developing our own case studies instead of looking towards Harvard  university  for them. We may find then that contrary to the diet we have been fed for some time now, that we work best when winning as a team,when we are not rushing in a mad frenzy, looking over our shoulder all the time  to ensure that no one overtakes us. We may find that our calmness, clarity of purpose and collective desire to win is much more powerful than individual brilliance that does not have the support and cooperation  of other team members.


  

13 comments:

  1. Very practical topic.

    Its a general practice that normally employees try to perform well just 2-3 months before the start of appraisal process. I have seen such practices. Secondly, I have one doubt that if we compare performance of one employee with another, then there is a probability of ego clash and this may hinder the performance at both individual and team level.

    As far as team contribution is concerned, I would like to share one video link on team spirit.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZKJI71RPpA

    Hope you will like it

    Best Regards,
    Ankit Sharma

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    1. Checked out the video. It is superb! brings out the essence of what this post wishes to convey.Thank you so much Ankit for sharing!

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  2. Thank you for not only giving your views on the subject but also giving a link.I was not able to open & watch the you tube video. Will comment seperately after watching video.

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  3. The bell curve has become an excuse not to give good ratings to people, even if they have slogged throughout the year and delivered good results consistently.

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  4. The very essence of Indian culture lies in the concept called 'Vadudhaiva kutumbakam'. According to me, Indian Culture very well teach us to respect 'individualism' without compromising on 'Collective / Group Values/norms'.

    As far as PMS / Bell Curve etc. is concerned, the very basis for its used got changed. Such concepts were valid if two employees are given 'equal chance' to perform with very well specified 'performance criteria'. In current world, most of us need to 'manage' the work rather than 'doing' it. So bell curve should not be applied but still, HR fraternity is not 'ready' to change its old mindset because still PMS is not a part of business strategy.

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  5. Thank you Musafir and Unknown for your comments.The insight in Unknown;s remarks is remarkable- The concept is valid if "two employees are given 'equal chance' to perform with very well specified 'performance criteria'."Often times the choicest assignments are given to the ones you have a soft corner for and naturally this person has an edge over the others. Anyway my concern has been that the system has been creating a lot of bitterness and that the best work possible and good work throughout the year is nor happening in this scenario.

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    1. Sir, what you say is true. In some of the areas, we blindly follow the west. There is a clear cultural difference between West and East. West has individualistic culture where as East has collectivist culture. It is reflected in the way we handle the conflict as well. The West mostly prefers to use Competing style and East prefers to use Accommodating style. Though Collaborative style is the one that most people want to use, it is mostly according to the situation that we choose the style. There is still the differences of opinion among the scholars as to what is the best conflict management style is. When such is the case, the cultural context plays an important role in understanding the behaviour of the employees. Therefore the policies and systems need to be developed according to the Indian culture rather than taking them as it is from the West and applying it in a our culture that is different in many ways to the West.

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  7. Thank you Dominic for giving your perspective which gives additional dimensions to the topic discussed. I am sure the readers are benefited considerably by the insights on the varying styles of conflict management as between the East and the West.

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  8. True each and every word of the above post.
    Major reason behind the brain drain is also this. We are too much influenced by the west.And I second your thought of training where team building is emphasized rather than individual work.
    Thoughts well penned down Sir! :)

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  9. Thank you Nikhil.it is my earnest belief and hope that as future leaders in HR, you and your generation will work towards evolving a HR culture in our organizations that is more in tune with our Indian ehtos, aspirations and priorities.

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  10. This article is so relevant in the current corporate scenario where Performance Appraisals are the be-all and end-all of one's career..The article has so aptly cited the example of our cricket team and Sachin Tendulkar...You have correctly analysed Rajeev, the fallacy and efficacy of the present Performance Appraisal systems and rightly said that instead of blindly aping the West, we need to come up with own reassessment of the PA system and a viable alternative.

    Salutes to you Rajeev, for writing and sharing such an erudite, informative, educative and enlightening article. You have indeed added a new dimension to this space with such writes and enhanced its value several notches...Thanks a ton!

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