A Case Study on Change and Transformation

A Case Study on Change and Transformation

By: Ashutosh IP Bhupatkar*

The discontent

I switched to academics from industry in 1982. One of the big things about Management Education then and even now is the selection process. Unlike other courses of study, admission to management courses is through an entrance test and a process which is now recognised simply as GDPI. That is Group Discussion and Personal Interview. Students come to Management programmes from different Bachelor’s degrees. So their scores are not strictly comparable. An entrance test is then designed to compare their intellectual abilities on a common platform. Then they need to have communication skills and leadership abilities.  So they are put in a group of 10-­‐12 candidates and asked to discuss a topic in a leaderless situation. Lastly there is the Personal Interview.

Intense competition for limited number of seats in the 80’s saw the emergence of the Coaching institution. Today these Coaching institutes have become the big MBA Prep industry. In those days, most students would join the Coaching six months ahead of the test date. After the test results were out, they would prepare for a couple of months for the GDPI.

As a new faculty I was asked to devise the topics for the Group Discussion. I would find some case incidents based on my experience and also think of topics that needed some exercise for the grey cells. But to our utter disappointment, we would find the Discussions to be lifeless exercises in mouthing platitudes and playing standard gambit such as “now let us hear what Bharti has to say on this topic”.  Over-­‐coached and under-­‐ prepared candidates would display everything except their innate abilities. Smart Alecs were happily turning into zombies for the sake of admission.

My colleagues and I had got disenchanted with the whole selection process and wanted to have a system that would bring out true individual abilities to the fore. Such a system should not be amenable to a coached or stage-­‐managed performance.  In turn this meant that the substance of selection should not be cognitive but behavioural.

We started talking in 1992 to our friends in the industry in the hope that they could show us some way out. They were using different tools and techniques for selection. We thought there could be approaches that go to the heart of the matter: the innate abilities of the person.

Fortunately, our friend Satish Pradhan, who was at that time in Pune, heading the HR for an RPG group company, came to our help. Satish had received training in the Competency based selection in UK and had also successfully implemented it in his previous company. He volunteered to help us in what was to become a very productive collaboration between Industry and Academia.

The Discovery

The Competency based approach was at that time not much known in India. Satish explained to us that it was primarily based on demonstrated behaviour of the person and competency was something very essentially a personal attribute. We jumped at this realization because to us it was important that the candidate display his or her natural behaviour and not a coached behaviour. But it is one thing to understand the approach and quite another to put it into practice through standard procedures.

We estimated that we would need a panel of selectors to be at work all at the same time. We enlisted the support of our visiting faculty in addition to the permanent faculty of the institute. Satish first came and made a presentation on the approach. There was a lively discussion as can be expected from a faculty group in a post graduate institution. All seemed moving in perfect harmony.

Then came the workshop on methods. Satish trained us in the concepts of Competency, Behavioural Indicators and Behavioural Events. We then moved into observation and coding for the group work. We had replaced Group Discussion with Group Work in which candidates would primarily work with their hands while exercising the vocal cords. The observers had to observe, log and then code data.  Unless the observers were clear on the definitions of competencies and indicators, they would not be able to come to an agreement on the coding. Arguments were inevitable. Given the faculty tendency toward entrenchment, it became necessary to have a mechanism for settlement of disputes. We thought of a Technical Committee which would sort out differences.

The Behavioural Event Interview proved a tough nut. Unlike the conventional interview this one, the BEI, required great skill on the part of the interviewer to probe and get out nuggets of information that were relevant to assessment of competencies. There would be two loggers with one interviewer and the latter would have no role in coding and scoring for a candidate. So there you are slogging it out to get the data out of the candidate and the two blokes by your side are now going to decide whether you messed it up or did a good job of it.

Apart from this aspect, the BEI required you to go near ballistic with your questions so that the smart candidates had little time to fudge and that you finished the interviews in good time. Now at its worst the interview sounded like a police interrogation: what

were you thinking at that time?  Who else was there with you?  What was your role in it? What did you do? What was the outcome? What was the next key step that you took? The rapid fire questions did not sit well with some of our more ‘humane’ faculty. They found faults with a heartless system that based itself on data. So there were ideological discussions. In retrospect, it looks very healthy to have had those debates. They actually helped bring in focus the larger fairness and justice toward the student constituency which the system ensured. Everyone brought in her or his data, it was all known material for the candidate, all of them were judged on the same criteria, albeit subjectively, and the selectors had been trained in the methodology to reduce possibility of error. The conventional GDPI did not afford any of these advantages to the candidates.

The Destiny

IMDR remains one of the very few institutions to use the Competency based selection to its post graduate programmes even today. Very few of the original panellists today remain for the selection process. The practice followed was to hold Refresher Training before the selection season for everyone on the panel: the old and experienced rub shoulders with the fresh and the inexperienced candidates.  This has proved to be a good ground for internship to those who have been initiated into Competency based practice.

In retrospect this exercise in Change and Transformation had several implications.

First, the kind of students who got selected to post graduate programmes proved that polish was secondary to potential. Many from small towns and inadequate exposure could still make the grade on the strength of their personal abilities.

Secondly, the whole selection process was based on a conceptual framework, which made it possible to integrate the selection with the mission and vision for the institute. The institution could state with confidence that they preached what they practised.

Thirdly, many students appreciated that in this selection they had the opportunity to present themselves fully and truly to the panel. Even the candidate who does not make it must go back with a feeling that she was given a fair chance.

Lastly, this was a successful exercise in Collaboration. The institution posed its problem, the industry practitioner shared his experience and proposed a solution. Through the joint effort the solution was implemented to become a system grounded in theory and in values of fairness and justice for selection.

October 2010

*The author was Director of Institute of Management Development and Research, Pune from 1989 to 2005. He is now adjunct faculty with Samatvam Academy.

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