Article: The Atomic Reaction: Dr. P.V. Bhide


The Atomic Reaction: Dr. P.V. Bhide

Innovation in leadership development: The 'Krishna-Arjuna' mentoring model
The Atomic Reaction: Dr. P.V. Bhide

The ‘Krishna-Arjuna' program was developed to promote ‘mentoring of the leadership pipeline' with “boss as the Krishna” and “high performer as Arjuna”


In 2007, while reading about atomic reaction, I came across the concept of critical mass, where 30 percent of the atoms have to split at the same time to make the atomic reaction sustainable. On reflection, and linking it to leadership development, I realized that at JK Organization, we were touching only 10 percent of the management staff through our ‘leadership development initiatives’. We then started rethinking our approach and took upon ourselves the challenge to cover 30 percent of the management staff (1,000 people) in a new ‘Accelerated Leadership Development’ program. At that time, we moved from looking at 350 management staff to 1,000 of them mainly at middle and frontline levels to strengthen our leadership pipeline. A 3-day assessment center methodology, followed by Individual Development Plans (IDPs), revealed that it will take 4 years for us to complete this exercise; and the investment required would be over 4 crores. That was not acceptable to us. In 2007, after being unable to find a shorter and quicker assessment center methodology, we decided to develop our own - a 4-hour ‘Assessment Center Methodology’ based on our past 5 years of experience. This new methodology consisted of case studies, and ability & personality tests. All of them were aligned to what we called later the ‘JKO Leadership Competency Model’ for middle and frontline levels. Before implementing this methodology across the board, we validated it by assessment of 100 middle and frontline talent who had earlier attended the 3-day assessment center. And it worked.

In 4 months, starting May 2009, we assessed 600 ‘Identified High Performers’ at middle and frontline levels (DGM to assistant officer levels) across 20 locations in India with just an investment of Rs. 2,000 per assessment. We developed the software in-house, which was able to generate a detailed 25 page feedback report for participants and their immediate supervisors.

Krishna-Arjuna mentoring initiative

Developing IDPs was the next challenge. The ‘Krishna-Arjuna’ program was developed in April 2010 to promote ‘mentoring of leadership pipeline’ with “boss as the Krishna” and “high performer as Arjuna”.

Formulating IDPs for 600 ‘high performers’ was a challenge for which a trained team of external experts and internal HR champions was built to develop the IDPs for the identified high performers or Arjunas in consultation with the boss or Krishna. The ‘18-month IDP’ was formulated covering 1 or 2 competencies in each of the clusters – business, people and self.

In the Indian guru shishya parampara, Krishna is depicted as a mentor, coach and guru and the same holds relevance to the mentoring program at JK Organization (EZ). This successful 18-month journey generated great excitement for 400 Krishnas and 600 Arjunas across nine JKO businesses in India.

The mentoring model - A solid prism

The ‘Krishna-Arjuna mentoring model’ is a solid prism structure of Super Krishna, Krishna, Arjuna and unit HR heads as fecilitators. This is a unique model where the mentor-mentee relationship is defined as a straight line relationship, but is weaker than a triangle with Krishna, Arjuna and unit HR head as a facilitator. The solid structure is the prism with Super Krishna and Corporate HRD as reviewers, Krishna (boss), Arjuna (high performer) and unit HR head as a facilitator.

The mentoring process

The Krishna gives challenging ‘developmental assignments’ to be completed ‘on-the-job’ for developing identified leadership competencies like analysis, decision-making, learnability, communication, business perspective, etc. The focus is not on completion of the tasks, but to improve leadership competencies through developmental assignments, so that they become a part of the Arjuna’s blood stream. The corporate HRD team reviewes the progress of the Arjunas each month through video conferencing and onsite visits by corporate HRD and unit head at VP level. All the Krishna-Arjuna teams at the location were invited to a conference room where the corporate HRD selected and invited Krishna-Arjuna teams at random to share their journey and experience. The intervention was designed in line with Indian culture and ethos. The Krishnas shared how they mentored and coached their Arjunas to improve the identified leadership competencies through specific live examples. This experience in turn also helped many Krishnas reflect and improve upon their own leadership competencies.

Arjunas were also asked to share their experience and journey. Some competencies like ‘improving oral communication’ were demonstrated well during these presentations. People who were shy, hesitant or had poor in English skills were found to have improved radically. The unit head (Super Krishna) and colleagues in the other Krishna-Arjuna teams knew exactly if the experiences being shared were true. Hence, it allowed a check and balance of the experiences and examples shared. The three best Krishna-Arjuna teams in every location are felicitated each quarter by the team of unit heads, senior VPs and GMs to drive home the critical need for increased attention to the initiative. The best 12 Krishna-Arjuna teams were also invited to Delhi in April 2012 to share their experience and were felicitated by the Group Chairman. Thus, the Krishna-Arjuna concept of mentoring at JKO is driven by the belief that “When Krishna and Arjun come together, victory is certain.”

Dr. P. V. Bhide is Former President (Corporate HR) at J. K. Organization (EZ). He can be reached at

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Topics: #Culture, Leadership, Learning & Development

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