Junking Conventional Wisdom

Posted By Rajeev Thakur On Thu, Sep 7, 2017

For the past few years I have switched my role to that of a guide, mentor & a trainer to my organization to ensure up-skilling & re-skilling of our team on a continuous basis. This has helped keep GRASSIK abreast of the rapid market changes. This role has been a huge personal learning for me as I realized that we were running our organization on some of the conventional management wisdom that had crossed their expiry date. We were holding idiosyncratic beliefs that were being contradicted by reality. With the end of the “command & control” style of management giving way to a more “collaborative” approach, some of our standard thought processes & business approach needed to be replenished with newer wisdom.

Here’s my take on some of them.


My personal experience in recent years with appraisal system has been that it has never done wonders to an appraisee’s career post an appraisal. The flaws in the system are that it is based on the appraiser’s bias, straight-jackets a person against a standard system & does not take into account the manager’s own role in the appraisee’s performance.   

An individual’s performance, to a great extent, is a function of how they are managed. Worse, if the appraisal is not carried out with great maturity, it leaves the appraisee de-motivated, dejected, lowered self-esteem & worse off for the future. 

Professional growth should be on a continuous basis through a process of 2-way communication. The process must focus on an employee’s strengths first & foremost & they must be told clearly the “how” of their areas of improvement. I hold regular Performance Enhancement meetings with my team members. Before starting I make the employee accept willingly that there exists an area of concern. I then ensure he/she does not go on the back-foot by making them feel that I am on their side.  We discuss specific issues & find solutions together. Battling mindsets is a huge challenge but once they accept the commonality of purpose, there can be a miraculous improvement. To a great extent people performances are hugely dependent on how the organisation treats them & how an organisational culture evolves with time. The annual appraisal then is at best a mere formality with no meaningful results.


This is the most nonsensical practice I have ever experienced. I have never ever seen a great performance in chase of rewards. Never. Rewards motivate people but only to get rewards. Period. Incentive programs get only temporary compliance & have no correlation to work place productivity, morale & commitment. Rewards & punishment are actually two sides of the same coin & in reality can be punitive because they can be manipulated by managers. Does punishment really work? The answer is similar for rewards. We have an excellent incentive scheme in place which most people find difficult to achieve; hence there is a constant clamour to lower the bar. If incentives work, then people should instead strive to raise their standards. They can’t, not to just achieve rewards. I agree with Peter Scholtes who says “Behind incentive programs lies management’s patronising and cynical set of assumptions about workers….Managers imply that their workers are withholding a certain amount of effort, waiting for it to be bribed out of them.” It has been my unshakeable belief & experience that people who work for a purpose & objectives far out-perform those who work for rewards. Hence instead of rewards we need to focus on a vision & aligning our people to that vision. Let the rewards be an outcome & not a goal.


Loss of good talent is definitely bad, undesirable & very expensive. But all churn is not bad especially in a fast evolving organisation where skills are getting redundant rapidly, organisational change is slow & there is a continuous need for innovation & new ideas. On an average, organisations have 10-20% “A” players, 60-70% “B” players & balance “C” players. Those at the bottom must be cleaned out regularly. A static organisation is in danger of creating bureaucracy that can prevent innovation & initiative creating defensive managers & formalised rules & procedures intended to protect the status-quo. It will help reduce complacency in others & help delay setting in of Peter’s Principle. A well managed churn will help bring in talent laterally rather than all the time focusing on growing existing talent. On the side of caution, this exercise needs extremely careful handling else it can cause despair, fear & demotivation. Handled professionally it can keep the organisation healthy & progressive against rapid market changes.


Millennials have been called the “entitled, lazy and the most high-maintenance workforce in the history of the world”. “Lazy, materialistic, hard to motivate, self-obsessed & job-hoppers are some other adjectives used to describe the generation born in the 1980s & 1990s. Decorated with labels “Y & Z”, they have been projected as the biggest management challenge for another earlier generation “X” & the “baby boomers”. The reams of articles, blogs & books seem as this problem requires a separate course in “millennial management”.

In my opinion this is highly exaggerated & a fallacy. Most of our staff in GRASSIK consists of millennials as are both my sons & their wives. I actually find this generation exciting & well informed. The problem is with us who do not have a modernistic & contemporary mindset in sync with today. They are extremely ambitious & stable in their jobs provided we can keep them engaged & excited about their role. We need to communicate with them at their level, as equals & make an effort to understand them & help clear the cobwebs. Personally I am having a great experience with this generation, completely opposite to what I have now stopped reading about.


How do you get talent for a future that does not exist today? You don’t, you create it—through a continuous process of mentoring & reskilling. The problem therefore is the coach-ability of the prospective talent & willingness to adapt to something new, for which certain attributes are critical rather than simple qualifications, experience & culture fitment. Today past performance is not a guarantee against future performance hence the parameters for success have changed. Today the challenge is to define these attributes & correctly assess them in the new talent.

Hence the bigger challenge today is not so much as finding the right talent but attracting them & this is where most organisation are failing. They fail to create excitement around each role. In my experience of 24 years in talent search I have seen innumerable times clients lose great talent through botched up interview processes & treating talent like commodity. While dealing with an highly aspirational talent pool, organisations need to focus on creating a positive impact & treating the prospect with respect from the first encounter. The face to face interaction needs to generate excitement around the role, future growth & culture. Talent has no parity. A mindset of “selection by choice” should take precedence over “selection by default” to overcome the talent problem.

I am sure many people may tend to disagree on some of these points but for me personally these wisdoms are passé & we have successfully altered our thought process in line with the above & made ours a more exciting organization.