Performance Management and Maturity in the IT Services Industry in India

Ranganathan Srinivasan, Global Head & VP - Business HR Partners, ITC Infotech Ranganathan brings 17 years of experience of managing almost all aspects of HR such as compensation, recruitment, generalist function, training and development.

In the last decade stellar work has happened in the area of performance management, arguably, the most contentious of all processes that any HR function in any industry manages. I am guilty of restricting my observations and derivations to the IT services industry where I have spent most of my career managing HR processes but while the technicalities in each industry would most certainly be different, the human challenges would largely be consistent across industries.

The ‘rebirth’ of the performance management has been a fanfare affair in the IT services industry. The industry employs the maximum number of millennials by far and the old way of doing things were considered redundant. The explanations provided were largely compartmentalized in 2 factors: 1) The aspirations of the millennials couldn’t be met with the “bell-curve shaped sword hanging on their necks and 2) Innovation could be fostered and creativity could be nurtured only in an environment wherein individuals compared their own contributions over a period of time and not through a “rat race” method. True that! Self-comparison is always the best measure of improvement, in my humble opinion, as opposed to comparing one’s skills, proficiency and ultimately, professional worth against other individuals who may have different strengths altogether.

The demise of the ranks
Even before ‘grade less’ or ‘non-comparative’ performance management was introduced in the IT services industry the academia was the first to restructure the assessment system. In India, 10th board exams were made elective ranks were dismantled grades were brought in and modular assessment instead of cumulative syllabus assessment was brought into vogue. Has this worked? In my assessment as a father and a self-confessed advocate of education reforms, the answer is a resounding no. Why one might ask. The answer is simplicity itself. The reason is that these reforms never percolated to the esteemed hallways of higher
education. The JEE still has a ranking system, most graduate and post graduate institutions have a grade point average and India’s most coveted examination, the civil services exam, still relies on marks and ranks.

It is safe to say that assessment reforms that millennials are exposed to since the beginning of their academic career needs more maturity

Why am I mixing educationand performance management? The relationship is complicated, yet acute. The way students are assessed in institutions of learning is the way they see performance management when they enter the workforce. Hence the Indian millennials today are a confused lot! And it is not their fault.

School reforms were detached from higher education reforms in India. This resulted in an assessment expectation which was different in school and very vastly different in colleges of higher learning. Hence, in summary, the education system as a conglomerate which churned bright, young millennials for the corporates to absorb, gave us millennials who are used to a hybrid assessment of their performance (academic or otherwise). Hence the end to end maturity expected in assessment reforms has not quite happened which is impactingthe change management of performance processes in the IT services industry wherein the impetus is to move to a grade less, rating less and comparison free structure.

The Maturity Conundrum
Based on my above comments, it is safe to say that assessment reforms that millennials are exposed to since the beginning of their academic career needs more maturity.Through the principle of transitivity, this needs to be the case in the IT services industry as well. We cannot blindly ape the reforms in the west because they are on a widely different journey altogether. Also, there is a difference of the economics which requires western nations to assess their employees differently.

By no way am I saying that rating less and bell-curve bereft performance assessment cannot be implemented in India (especially in the knowledge workers industry). However, we have to assess our maturity levels and ensure that we don’t fall prey to the ‘too much too fast’ syndrome. The following change factors need to be taken into cognizance before any far reaching structures are contemplated:

1) Adaptiveness of the millennials to the rating less performance management. How ready are they?
2) Readiness of the supervisors who so far have depended on the ratings structure to anchor performance conversations. These supervisors are not millennials and would have to go through a complete metamorphosis of their people management methods
3) How will compensation allocation and its fairness be institutionalized? Are our supervisors ready to take this up?

Change management experts and OD gurus have to focus on our cultural milieu driving education and employment. The maturity scale of our educational culture the attitude of the supervisors the maturity level of people conversations and the strategy for fair execution would be key parameters to infuse confidence. Only when we convince millennials and non-millennials alike of the consideration of the above parameters and their consultative resolution, would the change management be successful. That’s when, we can truly allow the dreaded ‘performance bell curve' rest peacefully in its grave.