Archive for February 3rd, 2019

In Military HR Management – Does “Merit” mean “Preference”…?

February 3, 2019


Whenever I meet serving military officers (“faujis”) and military veterans – most feel that many problems being faced by servicemen and veterans are due to submissive military leadership – which in turn is a result of the present “ACR oriented military promotion system” – which is a legacy of the colonial British Raj.

ACR is the acronym for “Annual Confidential Report”

This ACR based promotion policy may have worked in pre-independence days – with British Officers at the helm – who may have had different ethical standards and moral values.

We come across frequent media reports of increasing numbers of aggrieved defence personnel – serving and retired – of the Army Navy and Air Force – going to tribunals and courts to seek justice in promotion related cases.

This clearly indicates that the present military promotion system has become antiquated – and it needs to be revamped and brought in sync with aspirations of present-day military officers by incorporating modern management practices.

Here is an article I wrote more than 6 years ago – on how this Archaic ACR Oriented Military Promotion System promotes Crony “Yes-Man” Leadership in the Defence Services.


In the Defence Services: 

Is Promotion by “Merit” = Promotion by “Preference”…?

Musings of a Navy Veteran By Vikram Karve 

In his autobiography  “Courage and Conviction”  General VK Singh mentions how he almost missed his promotion to Major General due to just one low ACR (in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel) due to a personality clash.

Egged on by some of his well-wishing superiors and on their prodding and advice, he made a formal complaint and was cleared for promotion as a review case.

In his autobiography  “An Odyssey in War and Peace”  Lieutenant General JFR Jacob narrates many instances where he fell foul of his bosses and was almost “written off” and twice almost came close to resigning from the army.

This prompts me to re-post, once more, some musings I had written a few years ago on the Promotion System in the Navy (I feel this applies to the Army and Air Force as well).


Let me begin with a quote by Admiral Burke on the importance of a good promotion system in the Navy:

“Officers must have confidence in the promotion system or discipline will be jeopardized. 

Unless the best officers are promoted, faith of other officers and enlisted men in the integrity of the system will be shaken. 

It is essential that officers be promoted who will be best qualified to lead in battle.

They must have other qualifications, such as good administrative and technical ability and a wide array of knowledge also, but the rest of the Navy must have absolute confidence in those selected. 

Should the less qualified personnel be selected, there will come a time in battle in which the Navy will fail because of its leadership. 

Like begets like (e.g., ducks pick ducks), and inadequate personnel, once they have moved up sufficiently to be on a selection board, will themselves be apt to select other inadequate personnel.”

~ Admiral Arleigh A. Burke

(Chief of Naval Operations, USN)



If you look around – you will observe that there are two types of “Leaders”:

  1. YES-MEN (who Masquerade as Leaders)

There are many books written on the subject of Genuine Leadership.

So – let me say a few words on the second type of leadership – where yes-men masquerade as leaders.

Let us call this Crony Leadership.

Many Human Resource (HR) Management Systems are designed to breed yes-men.

These Promotion Systems ensure that yes-men are catapulted to the highest rungs of the hierarchy.

Promotion Systems may be classified into Two Broad Categories:

  1. Promotion by SENIORITY
  1. Promotion by MERIT


Promotion by Seniority is the most transparent promotion system.

Seniority is like Maternity.

There is no scope for ambiguity as far as maternity is concerned.

When a child is born there is no doubt as to who the mother is, since the baby is delivered directly from the mother’s womb.

Likewise there is no scope for ambiguity about your seniority.

Rules and Regulations on how to determine seniority are clearly specified in every organization.

In most cases it is the date you join an organization or the date you are promoted to higher rank.

Many organizations publish clear cut seniority lists from time to time so that every employee knows where he (or she) stands and if anyone has any doubts they can get things clarified and rectified, if necessary.

Promotion by seniority is the most fair, transparent and stress-free system as far as employees are concerned.

You patiently wait in the queue – knowing that your time will come.

Seniority Based Promotion may be by “time-scale” – and you know that you will be promoted after completing the requisite number of years of service.

Or Seniority Based Promotion may be “vacancy based” – and you patiently wait for your turn hoping that a vacancy will arise in due course – or at least before you retire.

Even if a vacancy does not arise for a long time – and you have to “stagnate” in the same rank or post – there is always one big consolation that your junior can never “jump the queue” and “leap frog” over you.

In a Seniority Based Promotion System – you will always serve under your seniors.

You will never have to suffer the humiliation of having to serve under someone who was once your junior (as can happen in organizations where promotion is by “merit”)

Organizations where promotion is purely by seniority will have harmony in the workplace because of the high degree of contentment in among employees.

In the Navy – and also the Army and Air Force – this concept of promotion by seniority is followed for the first 20 years of your service as an officer.

Earlier time-scale promotion based on years of service was followed till about 15 years of service when your first selection board for the rank of Commander (Lt Col / Wg Cdr) used to take place.

But since 2006 – after the AVS Cadre Review – promotion to Commander (Lt Col / Wg Cdr) is also by time-scale after 13 years of service – and you will have your first selection board for the rank of Captain (Colonel / Group Captain) in about 20 years of service.

For civilian government employees – their career prospects are even better as they are assured of time-scale promotion based on seniority to the highest ranks under the Assured Career Progression (ACP) scheme which has been denied to the Defence Services.

Frankly – this extension of time-scale seniority based promotion is a good thing as the Naval Officer of today can perform his job in a sincere and dispassionate manner – without having to worry too much about pleasing his boss – at least till the rank of Commander – because it is only after that – does promotion by “merit” come into play.

(I am sure this applies to Army and Air Force Officers as well…)


The interpretation of the term “Merit” can be highly subjective and nebulous.

What is Merit…?

Merit is like Paternity.


“Seniority” is like Maternity 

“Merit” is like Paternity

In the case of “maternity” – there is no scope for ambiguity – the mother delivers the baby. 

In the case of “paternity” – there is plenty of scope for ambiguity. 

When a baby is born – there can always be a doubt as to who is the real father of the baby.

Sometimes – even the mother may not be sure who is the real father of her baby – if she has been promiscuous – if she has had many “lovers” during the period when she got impregnated…!!!

Hence – “Merit” is a highly subjective term – especially in the context of performance appraisal.

How is merit evaluated…?

You may say that there are objective ways of determining merit.

For example – you can have an independent written examination and draw up an order of merit based on performance in the examination and promote from the top of the list appropriately (on the lines of the process for admission to IITs and IIMs via the IIT JEE and CAT Management Entrance Examinations)

While this may work fine at the recruitment stage and for junior level employees – I don’t think any organization uses such objective methods of determining merit for promotions at the higher levels of the hierarchy.

The way in which the Navy HR Management and Promotion System operates:

“merit” means “preference”.

And – consequently:

Promotion by Merit means Promotion by Preference” 





Also – in the ACR oriented performance appraisal system:

“Merit” is like “Beauty”.

It is said that:

“Beauty” lies in the eye of the Beholder.


“Merit” lies in the eyes of your Boss.

Who evaluates your merit for promotion…?

It is your immediate superior – or officers higher up in the hierarchy – who can influence your promotion.

In the Navy – there is a system of Annual Confidential Report (ACR) – for “performance appraisal”.

Your ACR is written by your immediate boss – and reviewed by senior officers in the hierarchy.

At the end of every year – your boss writes your Annual Confidential” Report (ACR)

The key word here is “confidential”.

You do not know what your boss has written about you – specifically – you never know how many numerical points he has awarded you.

This ACR system is a very “subjective” performance appraisal system.

Your entire performance for the past one year is evaluated in one go – in just one ACR form.

Your boss is free to appraise you as he wants – as per his whims and fancies.

The reviewing officers are free to review your performance as they wish.

But – you are kept in the dark – totally clueless – about how your performance has been appraised.

Earlier – there was a system where the appraiser had to show the ACR to the appraisee – and also give him a written extract of the “pen picture” part of appraisal report (called “flimsy”).

This was a good system of feedback for the appraisee who knew where he stood in the eyes of the boss – and gave the appraisee an idea about the areas in which he needed to improve his performance.

Also – this system of discussing the ACR imparted a sense of healthy transparency to the performance appraisal process.

Surprisingly – this excellent system of partly showing ACRs was discontinued – and now – everything is kept “confidential”.

In fact – the entire promotion process is done in a “cloak and dagger” manner – and this generates an atmosphere of suspense, anxiety and intrigue.

Promotion is a great cause of stress amongst Senior Naval Officers – since – in the Navy – your rank determines everything – yes – Rank is the “be all and end all” of life in the Navy/Military.

I think the situation is quite similar in many organizations – where “promotion by merit” actually boils down to “promotion by preference”.

Your career prospects depend on the likes and dislikes of your bosses.

So – you must be “tactful” – and you must ensure that you are always on the “right side” of the boss.

Or better still – you must become the “blue-eyed boy” and “right hand man” of the boss.

Yes – if you want to succeed in your Military Career – the Key Quality you must have is “Tact”.


“Tact” is a euphemism for “Moral Pliability”.

It is “Tact” which will help you to be a “Smooth Operator” and facilitate you to effortlessly indulge in sycophancy and please your boss.

It is “Tact” which will enable you to become an “Yes Man” and rise to great heights in your career.

Your bosses may change – and it is the quality of “Tact” that will enable you to change your colours like a chameleon depending on the “requirements” of your bosses.

Your “morals” too must be flexible – and your “ethics” must change – to suit the “ethics” of your boss.

Yes – being an “Ethical Chameleon” is the sine qua non for becoming a “Yes-Man”.

Thus – we see that in many organizations – in the implementation of HR Management Systems – “merit” actually becomes “pseudo merit” – and the promotion system – though ostensibly based on “promotion by merit” – degenerates into “promotion by preference”.

This results in an atmosphere of favouritism which breeds cronyism and sycophancy – and throws up yes-men to leadership positions.


when “Yes-Men” become “Leaders”  what we get is “Crony Leadership”.

As Admiral Burke said:

“Like begets like (e.g., ducks pick ducks), and inadequate personnel, once they have moved up sufficiently to be on a selection board, will themselves be apt to select other inadequate personnel”.


yes-men will promote yes-men


these promoted “yes-men” – in turn – they will promote more “like minded” yes-men.

This will have a spiralling effect.

And this “yesmanship” driven promotion process will proliferate – till the “top brass” is flooded with “yes-men” – and we will have an overwhelming “crony leadership”.

Is crony leadership good for the Military (Army, Navy, Air Force)…? 

Well – I really do not know – but many seasoned military veterans feel that most of the problems faced by “faujis” and military veterans are due to “crony leadership”.

And – the root cause of Crony “Yes-Man” Leadership is the present ACR System of performance appraisal.

Is there a solution…?

Of course – there is a solution:

Revamp the archaic “ACR System” – and introduce a modern fair and transparent “Performance Appraisal System”.

Modern Human Resource (HR) Management Practices are well documented (including HR Management Practices applicable to Military Organisations).

I am sure that all the “Management Experts” in the Defence Services are well aware of these modern HR Management Practices – and the Defence Services can easily design and implement a suitable progressive Performance Appraisal and Career Management System in the Armed Forces – incorporating an optimal blend of modern objective performance appraisal practices like Management by Objectives (MBO), Forced Choice, 360 degree appraisal etc

In a nutshell – the Defence Services require a more egalitarian HR Management System – which is just, fair and transparent.

This can easily be done.

The only thing required is the firm will, intense desire and positive determination to change the “status quo”.


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  1. This article is a fictional spoof, satire, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
  2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This Article was written by me Vikram Karve around 6 years ago in June 2013 and first Posted Online by me Vikram Karve at 6/24/2013 01:16:00 PM in my blog at url: and  and and and

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