Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Superseded Officers: Handle them with Compassion

Major General Mrinal Suman

 It is the saddest sight in any social gathering to find all superseded officers huddled together in a corner. They appear more comfortable interacting with each other, stay in the background and avoid intermingling with others, especially the senior officers. Their deportment, appearance and bearing show a discernible lack of zest. They go through the paces of a social evening in a detached manner. Apparently, supersession hits very hard.
Search for recognition is one of the pursuits which all human beings indulge in and continuously strive for. Promotions and advancement in career are important aspects of their aspirations. It is more so in the army where rank fixes one’s place in the army’s hierarchy and is a conspicuous demonstration of an officer’s success in profession. Therefore, supersession hurts immensely and transforms personality overnight – many outgoing officers lose their ‘spark’, withdraw into their shell and become introverts.
Despite creation of additional appointments at the top, the manpower structure of the Indian army continues to be like a steep pyramid. Against the authorised strength of 46,500 officers, vacancies for generals and brigadiers are only 379 and 1088 respectively. It implies that the percentage of appointments of brigadier and above is a mere 3.2 percent. Most of the officers do not advance beyond the rank of colonel.
All service officers come through highly competitive examinations. Applicant to Post Ratio (APR) is a standard index used to indicate the number of candidates aspiring for the available posts through respective examinations. APR for the National Defence Academy varies between 450 and 500. As only one out of 450-500 candidates secures entry into NDA, it means that every selected candidate is brilliant and possesses necessary potential.
All cadets go through identical training and achieve the laid down standards before getting commissioned into the army. It proves that all young officers possess the same caliber at the start of their careers. As the steep pyramid-like structure provides limited promotional avenues, many officers fail to make to higher ranks. Many brilliant officers suffer due to the shortage of vacancies and retire as colonels.
The system is reasonably fair and most officers gain promotions due to their own competence. However, there are many who benefit from regimental, caste and school affiliations. Parochialism and protégé-syndrome also influence promotions. In some cases, highly capable officers become victim of unfortunate circumstances or hostile environment; and they have no control over quirks of destiny. 
Supersession Hurts
Supersession in itself is quite distressing. The severity of shock becomes extremely painful in case of the officers who are confident of getting approved for the next rank. Being unprepared for such a prospect, the blow has a devastating effect on their persona. Perversity of the current system of annual performance appraisal is responsible for giving false hopes to the officers.
The annual performance report consists of two parts. The first part contains assessment of personal qualities and demonstrated performance. It is shown to the officer reported upon. The second part contains comments on his potential for promotion and is not shown to the assessed officer.
Lacking moral courage and with a view to keep their officers in good humour, many assessing officers grade their subordinates at 8 points and above (on a scale of 1 to 9 points) in the first part. Secure in the knowledge that the officers reported upon would never learn about the contents of the second part, unscrupulous assessing officers mark them as unfit for promotion.
As the shown part invariably borders on ‘outstanding’ grade, the officers reported upon become certain of getting promoted. The news of their non-approval comes as a bolt from the blue and they get shell-shocked. They fail to understand as to why they have been overlooked despite their outstanding reports. As is natural, they feel wronged and lose faith in the fairness of the system. With very few exit options, they do not know how to cope up with the heartbreak.
In a command oriented army, supersession impacts the psyche of the affected officers immensely and becomes a traumatic experience for them and their families. Many start suffering from acute persecution-complex and show signs of professional and social withdrawal.  
Absurdity and Insensitivity of Organisational Response
Most unfairly, non-approval for promotion has come to carry an element of stigma of professional incompetence. It is forgotten that in a highly competitive environment, it is invariably a question of a few decimal points in the report that makes the difference in inter-se appraisal for the limited vacancies.
The organisation’s handling of the superseded officers is both irrational and insensitive. Instead of reassuring the officers that they are valued members of the organisation, it does just the opposite. Rather than assuaging their feelings, it intensifies their sense of hurt through thoughtless treatment.
It presupposes that all superseded officers would lack motivation to excel. Even highly qualified and competent officers are posted to lesser appointments, thereby wasting their potential. Worse, it sends a wrong signal to the affected officers, showing organisation’s lack of confidence in their commitment to deliver. They are treated as a liability which the organisation has to carry till their superannuation.
It is a very painful experience for the affected officers when they realise that their dedication to the organisation is considered suspect. Such an insulting treatment increases the hurt manifold – first a hopeful officer is denied promotion and then he is considered untrustworthy for important appointments.
In a hierarchical organisation like the army, social events cannot be totally free from rank consideration. However, blatant social discrimination or what is euphemistically called ‘social apartheid’ is highly appalling and hurtful. It makes superseded officers wary of mixing with those who have achieved higher ranks. Social inequities add to their discomfort.
When queried, a superseded officer was candid enough to share his feelings – “In a party, I was talking to a Brigadier, an old friend and a course-mate. The waiter offered scotch whiskey to him in a crystal glass and pulled the tray away when I tried to pick a glass stating that another waiter was bringing my whiskey. It was a terribly humiliating experience.”
Another officer asked a very pointed question – “I know that I have been found unfit for the next rank, but why must it be rubbed-in at all times? Why make us feel like lesser officers? It hurts more when my wife is treated equally shabbily in social functions.”
The government has taken a number of measures to mitigate the adverse effect of supersession on the financial remunerations and the retirement age. However, it is the treatment meted out to such officers by the army that needs correction.
Instead of boosting the self-confidence of the superseded officers by reposing faith in their competence and reassuring them that they are valued members of the organisation, the army does just the opposite. Rather than ‘wasting them out’ on inconsequential appointments, their potential must be utilised.
To start with, the current system of showing demonstrated performance and hiding potential promotes must be replaced either by an open or a closed appraisal system. False hopes should not be raised as disappointment can be heart breaking.
Secondly, most superseded officers possess vast experience. They welcome assignments of responsibility and excel in them. Conscious of their self-respect, they put in extra effort to ensure that no fingers are ever raised at their commitment and dedication.
Finally, the army must understand the sensitivities of the superseded officers and their families. They should be handled with due care and empathy. As is the norm, there should be no rank-based discrimination in the messes. Social inequities are an anathema to army culture and it breeds a sense of alienation among the superseded officers. Instead of considering them as ‘dead load’, their skills should be exploited. The army can ill-afford to let the potential of half of its officers’ strength remain untapped. ****
The views expressed by the author are strictly personal

Some comments received on the above article

by Chetan Bohra

I must congratulate Gen Suman on writing this piece. This is the first time I am reading an article on the issue of handling superseded officers. I have my own two cents to offer having been a second generation military man and now having experience of both the Fauji and non Fauji worlds.

There is no doubt that many in the military, both officers and men, will fall by the way side due to the pyramidal structure. The superseded officer goes through the following travails (some on the very first day that an officer is passed over).

a)  The whole military community immediately knows about it. It spreads like wild fire especially if a “bright” or “favourite” officer does not make it.

b)  Even the neighbours kids talk about it. Some will even state nonchalantly that “your dad missed it this time”. The course mates wives will be thrilled.

c)  You don’t like to show your face. I know of an officer who did not come out of his house for 4 days

d)  You really don’t know who screwed you. You start calculating backwards.

e)  Your best friends who used to walk, swim and play with you, suddenly form new groups because they have climbed a step higher.

f) The rejected will form their own group. Most discussions are now centred on how the unfit got promoted.

g) You think of a ROG. Some will insist that you should prepare one and put it up immediately.

h) If there are two guys by the same name, you will be known as the guy who got written off / passed over.

j) If you put in your papers, the HRD or your superior officer will privately confide in you that the “top guy” has promised that you will definitely make it in the second attempt.

k) It is possible that you may be posted out to NCC or some lousy admin job.
The Cure: It is true that the military is pretty insensitive to the fallen. It is also true that some good material (not all) will get promoted. However, it is also true that the promotion procedure sucks and no amount of tinkering with the ACR system will remove the bias or the subjective element. The deluge of scams at the senior level is evidence enough that all these flag officers were unfit to be promoted, but somehow got through the sieve.

But what is the way out for these people who are superseded at the sub 50 age?

My Suggestions:

a) The pay should not be based on rank structure but the number of years of service rendered. Only the privileges should be rank or appointment based. For example, a Div Cdr and a passed over Col who are course mates should draw the same pay. Only the privileges like staff car, house, entertainment allowance etc. which comes with the appointment will be different.  In the bureaucracy every one retires at the level of an additional secretary. There are cases where a JS has been promoted to an AS just six months before retirement. This does not happen in the military. This scheme of “pay by years rendered” may be considered in the next pay commission. Then there won’t be any confusion for OROP too. Just the number of years put in.

b) Officers and men who would like to leave once passed over should be allowed to go with full pension. It is obvious that a man who has been passed over is not going to give his 100%. His future is not with the military anymore.

c) The military should enter into partnerships with the private industry. The military has to prepare these Officers and men with relevant training and certifications. This will take two to three years. The present system of six month pre-retirement training by DGR is pretty useless. It does not prepare you for any civil job.

d) The military must shun the thought of parallel induction into other government departments. Nothing can be more humiliating when you are taken a rung below. After all, the military is a President’s Commission.

e) From my own personal experience, I would recommend that a superseded officer should opt out. You may put up a brave face and continue but it could be difficult for the family especially the wife and the kids. All the comforts that were not available or too difficult to obtain in military life are easily within reach in the civil world as the salaries are much higher.  India in 2013 is different.

Hope this starts a constructive discussion.

Warm Regards
Chetan Bohra

by Satyendra Sharma 

Dear Friends,

Lovely suggestions by Mrinal and Chetan.

I, too, am in favour of superseded officers quitting so that they don’t cut a sorry figure thence. May be it is the fear of civil life and job security. A comparison below will indicate that civil life is better than military life. Some are trivial, but the essence is important.

I Card
Carry it 24 h. Loss incurs punishment.
Only 9-5. Loss means a new one. No punitive action.
Dilapidated ambassador or  monthly allowance.
AC Car / SUV or allowance. Claims settled with next month’s pay.
Ramshackle house, poorly maintained. More often below scale.
You choose your house to suit your budget.
Work Environment
Panic 24x7. No respect for rank. Pretty common usage of the F word.
Life may be hard depending upon Lat / Long / Altitude
Cool. Lots of respect for your age and rank. No shouting or ridiculing.
Generally at sea level unless vacationing.
Work Hours
Can be called or hauled any time.
Strictly 9-5. Before or after is over time.
Bum Jobs
80% of the time
What is this? Just do what you have been hired for.
Job Security
Yes. A military trained man will do better than a civilian.
At government rates. Very poor all inclusive package.
Public knowledge.
Competitive. Much better than what the Military pays. You go to the best bidder.
Huh? What is this?
Yes. May vary from 2-4 months’ salary.
Club Membership
Yes. Same as serving officers
Very poor. Subject to CDA approval. Takes at least 6 months if not returned with objections.
At market rates. Changes with inflation annually. Settled with next pay. Also source of savings.
Travel Accom
Live in messes. Sometimes doubling up and even tripling up.
5 star accommodation. Arranged by company. The employee does nothing. Just checks in.
Yes. Same as serving officers
Military Hospital. Treatment as per hierarchy.
State of art civil hospital + the silly scheme called ECHS
Yes / No depending upon service. Generally reliable. Costs minimal
Maid. Generally unreliable. Costs Rs 5000 / pm
Restricted to messes and clubs.
Your choice, though many retain services club membership
Same Barber if you are in the same location.
20 working days.
Transfers / Postings
No Choice.
Look for a new job if you are not pleased.
No Plan works.
Changes frequently  with every new top boss.
Stable. Boss may come and go. No change.
Overall Score / Recommendation
Probably interesting in the first 10 years. Eventually it sinks in that the rank in not worth. Family instability every 2-3 years.
Take your pension at 20 and scoot.
Great. You bring the soft skills of the military into your civil organisation. Your efficiency will do wonders for you. Importantly, you are NOT in a rat race. Retire at 60, 65, 70 when you wish.



1 comment:

  1. I agree with the above contents. My close friend was a victim - did not click ACC, but ofcourse he came out as Hav AEC. Joined civil and retired as Regional Manager of a well known Nationalised Bank. Which is equivalent to SAG cadre in Govt. Nevertheless, he is still proud to be Fauji, as he has taken the fauji experience to come over many of his official problems.by Sita Ram.