The fall of the management trainee program
In my twenty-five years of corporate life, I have seen one recurring phenomenon: companies will fight with each other to get a day zero slot at the premier management institutions, make the best of offers and hire the brightest from there. They will offer them unheard of salaries, promise them the moon, induct them and then promptly lose them within the next two years!
Invariably, HR gets blamed, the program is re-looked at and the next year, the same mad scramble follows. This time, the Ts are crossed, the Is are dotted and business partners are deeply involved in the process. Once the management trainees are in, the CEO will himself conduct his reviews on them. The trainees get confirmed quickly and are placed faster, but lo and behold, in two years, more than fifty percent of them are gone, never to be seen again.
The cycle continues and remains the same with many companies, with only a handful who manage a seventy percent plus retention rate in the first four years for these profiles. Now, why does this happen? And those companies that do manage to retain a higher number, what do they do differently?
I have designed programs and hired and also retained several of these management trainees. Many of them still keep in touch and over the years, I have taken many an input from them and understood their views.
Conformity and process compliance
A good management student who gains admission in a premier school is built of brilliance! A brilliant person has genius, prowess, mastery, skill and talent! Now when you put all of this together, it's pretty clear that such people are not going to take very well to the following: process, system, hierarchy, control and review.
Now, most companies follow the model of process compliance. And that, as we all know is all about practices based on some fundamental concepts in managing the organization. These practices become models and many organizations become bound by these models for almost every aspect of their functioning.
Now one of the outcomes of process compliance is that it may not at many a time, leave room for brilliance as everything gets categorized and becomes part of the process. Companies get assessed on the process and then these assessments become audits, with many managers having a KRA stake in them.
So when some of these organizations face challenges such as growth, new products, strategy etc. They believe that getting brilliant people in will solve the above problems. So the mad scramble to the institutions begin.
Now, what really does happen when these students are brought in?
You guessed it right, the brilliant are expected to comply with the processes!
These students are taught process, they are expected to respect hierarchy, they are made to conform to systems and are subjected to intense reviews. The students get perplexed. Here they were told that they would get to work on landmark projects, develop strategy, design new products and transform the organization, but all they are made to do is to conform.
And as we all know, nonconformity is often met with punishment!
So the brilliant then have two choices: either conform to process and become like any other employee in the company or find a place that has space for their brilliance!
The number of start-ups that we are seeing nowadays is a prime example of where all this brilliance is going to.
Some of these management students stay on and they grow in the organization. One fine day, they too realize the loss of their brilliance but by that time it's too late. Being in the arena of conformity they too perhaps think that they need to get some brilliant minds in the company and the cycle begins again!
Sadly, I have seen these very people pile a heavy burden of conformity on the very students they then hire from the management institutes and then wonder why the attrition occurs.
I believe that we are currently witnessing a tipping point in the industry in this country. Being connected to the publishing and also the film world through my books, I perhaps get to see something that many of my industry peers may not. A lot of brilliant young people are giving the industry a wide berth. They are moving to fields like the media which value their brilliance! This is happening in hordes. Many Professors tell me that admissions to their institutions are going down 10% year on year!
But is the industry listening?
The real issue lies in the fact that many companies believe that strong processes and systems build strong organizations. What I have seen is that sometimes these very processes take over the functioning of the company and make people innovation, and thereby brilliance, an area that is actually pushed aside. And the more a company does not progress, more processes (read 'controls') are introduced. Why this? Because of the belief that controls will save the company. The reality is that controls don't save a company. They only bring in more review, which by itself is an activity that leads to very little action.
Brilliant minds read the above quickly. So they learn about how the organization functions and then move onto one that functions differently!
Smart organizations recognize this and change. They bring in a balance between process and innovation and thereby giving space to brilliance!
Many of these companies are now legends in their own right!