Home Quantification System, Tenure Based Success Syndrome (TBSS) and Matters Acquisition

Quantification System, Tenure Based Success Syndrome (TBSS) and Matters Acquisition

Defence acquisitions or rather inadequacy in defence acquisitions has been a subject of very hot debate lately. One just needs to attend a couple of acquisition related seminars organised by defence think tanks and even a non-specialist  with no previous personal experience in capital procurement, would know exactly ‘what’ is wrong with our capital procurement system.  This is one of those rare fields of ‘management in defence’ where there has been a steady increase of ‘experts’ who apparently seem to know exactly ‘what is wrong?’; ‘What needs to be done to correct the system?’; and ‘Where are the leverage points  where these changes can be applied to get the best out of the system?’ interestingly, most of these experts either occupy or have in past occupied very important positions in the acquisitions hierarchy, both on the civil as well as the military sides. It is absolutely amazing that the army has been successful in identifying the problems that torments it, possible set of solutions to the problem are also known, ‘experts’ have a fair idea of leverage points, the organisation is rich in human resource, and though its material needs are many, most of them are readily available, and yet year after year we fail to spend our budget for capital acquisitions / modernisation.  Nothing could be stranger!

Simply put the question is - why the army can’t pragmatically apply the knowledge its workforce has gained over the years. One of the many challenges to such knowledge based change management is the ‘Quantification System’.  The present system of promotion in the Indian Army involves reducing the figurative assessment of confidential reports earned in the reckonable period to a quantified figure, which has an overwhelming weightage in an officer’s promotion board. Ironically, the system was introduced to reduce inflationary trends in reporting, but may well end-up causing an escalation in the trend. The armed forces officers are a competitive lot given the pyramidical structure of the organisation. Therefore if an officer has to move up in the hierarchy he needs to do well in each and every assignment and get graded outstanding to above average by all his reporting officers and at all the times. The matter gets further complicated by the fact that the senior officers’ tenures are very short. Therefore, the length of the confidential report often decreases to much less than a complete year and their numbers increase. In the process an ordinary motivated and capable officer is likely to fall prey to something which can be best termed as the Tenure Based Success Syndrome (TBSS).

A TBSS motivated officer has many traits which need to be very carefully analysed. He typically specializes in doing short term magic, has expertise in crisis management, is capable of creating temporary and adhoc assets through unconventional resource mobilisation. A TBSS afflicted craves to do short gestation period projects with high visibility output which enjoys the attention of the immediate chain of command. On the other hand he naturally avoids anything that has a long gestation period and obviously low visibility in the immediate future.  Resolving policy problems or spending time on cases which fructify after the tenure is over, is an absolutely conflicting call of duty. Long term research that addresses problems of the future is also not an attractive option when compared to issues which can be solved today and reported tomorrow. TBSS is also very rewarding and it is abundantly capable of sending an officer on an upward trajectory, where his tenures would become even shorter. However, experience helps and ‘time required for instant creation’ reduces almost in proportion to the pace at which tenures shrink!

The endeavour is not to portray TBSS as an evil. TBSS by no means is bad for the organisation, and that is probably why it has survived and will continue to remain relevant. The ground reality is that TBSS enhances the readiness quotient of the Indian Army, despite all the challenges related to weapons, equipment and munitions. In times of crisis and emergency, TBSS acts as a force multiplier. It satisfies the urge of all affected personnel to innovate, improvise and perform against all odds, and that too in a short period of time.  It is no wonder that no organisation today can beat the Indian Army in times of crisis or in face of a natural calamity. TBSS motivates individuals to stretch much beyond their elastic limits. And off course it is very paying. The gratification is near instantaneous and in almost all cases within the reporting year. Now just compare this to an acquisition cases which may drag for four to five years. Pursuing projects of such long gestation period with such a high degree of associated risk may not be all that rewarding. Moreover TBSS always insist on reduction of risk profile. Therefore there is a very strong tendency to avoid major changes in ongoing processes, particularly because the associated risks are not known to the uninitiated.

The changes in acquisition system will remain incremental in nature till such time the cadre is influenced by TBSS. Moreover TBSS is not useful everywhere. Imagine what would happen if LTIPP creation is in hands of TBSS motivated. Obviously different tasks have different qualitative requirements. If the organisation means business it should select their best of the breed and form an acquisition cadre, protect their career interests and create an environment of permanence, trust and competence. An environment where officers fearlessly implement meaningful change spread over years; an environment where TBSS is neither required nor relevant. Such an environment shall also bring in productivity coupled with accountability.

Creating such a cadre would take time, and many would oppose it for the very reasons detailed in the preceding paragraphs. Therefore some measures that can help in the interim are recommended. All appointments dealing with ‘acquisitions policy and execution’ need to be declared as hi-tech and tenure lengths in such appointments should be at least four years (one year transit halt before picking up of the next rank should become a strict no). At the end of tenure in such an appointment, the officer should be entitled to an “Comprehensive Acquisition Performance Report” (something similar and as important as the Battle Performance Report) which should sum up the officers  achievement in his four/five years tenure. Lastly but not the least the army needs to invest heavily in think tanks which can bring on the table implementable options for change. Quality research, particularly contextual to the army’s case, needs to be promoted and rewarded in external think tanks, in a conducive environment, which facilitates free-thinking without the pressures of TBSS. 

The author is Senior Fellow at CLAWS. Views expressed are personal.

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Sanjay Sethi
Former Senior Fellow
Contact at: [email protected]
Hemendra Kaushik
1. The views are correct, relevant and practical. Any model whether qualitative or quantification will have its own pro's and con's. \r\n\r\n2. As per my understanding it is not that a particular model if wrong. It is the input which are ambiguous due to inflationary reporting and non realistic assessment by IO/RO/SRO which is defeating the model.\r\n\r\n3. Nowadays those who are empowered or rather entrusted to rate the ratee, themselves are being haunted by Comd Exit Policy or Nomination for HC/NDC as applicable.
k S Dhadwal
1, Sir a smart photograph.\r\n2, The article has aptly identified the malaise affecting the Army. The problem lies in short tenures of the ratee and IO/ RO (person) assessing him. This is likely to continue till the time MS matters remain supreme in order of priority to long term operational matters (Incl acquisitions driving force for modernisation). We are averse to making specialists as balanced profile syndrome (advantageous for tenting senior appointments) remains to be on the priority. Though there is an endeavour to increase the tenures of commanders and selected staff in key appointments, permanent solution lies in creating specialist verticals (which of-course needs to be deliberated). The day man management issues start genuinely supporting the enunciated focus areas of the force - we are likely to find solutions to our problems. \r\n3. A well articulated text indeed. Ideas for solutions in the follow up expression would give the desired finishing touch .
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