Is performance management an art or a science ?

I have been asked this question multiple times in my career. Is managing performance an art or a science ? I would say both. While some aspects of it is a science, other aspects could be an art.

Lets look at every aspect of performance management process. If we take goal setting as the first step, then it is definitely a science where you can link organisational and functional goals to individuals and make them measurable. Many wonder if all goals are measurable. I believe so and it depends on how you set them.

Then if we move to mid term review of performance, it is both a science and an art. Without doubt, the review of performance metrics is a science. But the way we conduct the review is definitely an art.

If we then move to self appraisal, it is also both a science and an art. The ability to introspect and present your performance based on data and metrics is a science but the ability to communicate the same during a dialogue process is an art.

If we move to annual performance review – it is again a hybrid of science and art. We need to be objective and fair in assessment based on data and metrics and hence it is definitely a science. But our ability to have a dialogue with the Appraisee and present it to a performance review group is possibly an art.

Development planning and potential assessment could again be a combination of art and science. While planning has to be scientific, the ability to communicate and enforce the plan is positively an art.

Last but not the least is the feedback diagoue. This is more of an art than a science. While feedback again has to be fair and objective, it is our ability to make it an inspiring dialogue , which enhances its effectiveness. Hence, it is more of an art than a science.

Now one may ask what is difference between science and art in a performance management process. Science is logic, while art is to make the process inspirational. Science makes it fair and objective through use of appropriate data and metrics. Art is our ability to have an open and inspiring dialogue where we can tell the truth without demotivating an employee.

While it may be easier to write on the art and science of performance appraisals, it may be more difficult to practise it. After spending almost four decades practising performance management processes, I can easily state that I am yet to master this art of science.

The day we realise that it is is combination of art and science, we may become more effective as appraisees and appraisers. It is almost like the interview process. Even if a potential employee is not selected, he or she should feel that they just had the best experience of their lives and would definitely love to join this organisation.

As in the photo above, most of us behave like the lion, especially when we play the role of the manager of the appraisee. 

Similarly both the appraisee and the appraiser should feel that they not only enjoyed the performance management process but also felt that is objective, fair and inspirational. This possibly comes from diligent preparation and authentic skills in conversations.

Lets try this year and make a beginning.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd May 2021

Life is never a full stop.

We do not realise many a time as to when life begins and when it ends. Many of us tend to believe that life begins at birth and ends at our death. It may or may not be true. This is because we do not live life fully till the day we realise what life is ?

I have met people in my life who have worked very hard and toiled their way through ups and downs, sacrificed their lives for their family, relatives or friends but never lived life to its full glory.

I am not advocating leading a self fulfilling life at the cost of others. I am suggesting that one needs to live life the way one would like to without any full stops.

This means we have to believe life may have commas, semi colons and colons but never a full stop. Every obstacle in our life could be an enabler for our resolve to live life fully. Most of us get stumped by the commas and semi colons of life. We need to believe that everyone goes through a “Sonder” in their lives. We are no different. We need to believe that if the sun sets today, it has to rise tomorrow in our lives too.

I do not believe that that the sun sets forever in anybody’s life. All hurdles and challenges are only ephemeral. They will disappear as fast as they appear. If we postpone living life to a tomorrow, it may never come.

We need to live life today and every day of our lives. While yesterday will fade away, sometimes a tomorrow of our choice may be elusive. It may be worthwhile to believe that “today” is the best day of our lives. We also need to believe that there are millions of people around the world, whose lives are more challenging than ours.

A feeling of gratitude for all that we have in life as compared to those millions of have nots may make all the difference to our lives and living. The pandemic today worldwide is a good reminder for all of us for being grateful for all that we have.

Most of us have a place to live in, food to eat, a family to support and friends to cherish. What else can we ask for ? Imagine the plight of the migrant labour who has lost his job in an urban city , then forced to migrate to his village and unable to feed his family and self . Aren’t we better off than most of such stories of people losing lives and livelihood. Isn’t it time for us to rekindle our conscience and bow in gratitude to God.

I have worked and lived in different parts of India. Hailing from a lower middle class family I have worked hard to earn my living. Today when I look back, I realise how fortunate I have been right throughout my life and lived the way I always wanted to. Although, I did not have all the material things I may have desired at the early stages of my life, I always had love and happiness in abundance.

The best is to learn from our kids. Even in the most difficult times, they will find happiness in small things of life and enjoy. It is time to realise that money cannot buy love and happiness.

As in the photo above, irrespective of what others think this girl is admiring her smile.

Let us bow in gratitude and live life to the fullest from today.

S Ramesh Shankar

8th October 2020

Looks may be deceptive…

A butterfly plant looks so innocuous but has the capacity to attract the best of butterflies all around it (as you can see in the photo above). Life is no different. We meet people who look very simple and unassuming but they have the best talent in the world.

I have experienced this right through my life and career. I have met people from all walks of life. People who are well read and authorities on any subject hardly make their presence felt. The first name which comes to my mind is one of my professors in college. He used to wear simple clothes and even had unkept hair . Anyone who did not know him may not imagine that he was a walking encyclopaedia. We could go and ask him on any subject under the sun. In the days when internet was non existent, he would track information from sources unknown and keep piles of paper and books tattered all around him.

I have a close friend who hails from a remote village in Maharashtra. He studied there and then moved to Mumbai and all over the country and specialised in the field of ERP. Today he has settled down in New Jersey and is a world authority on payroll. His books are published worldwide. If you meet him, you will not be able to make out. He is modest in his dress and demeanour. He is an authority on his subject. You ask him any question on ERP systems and he will either know the answer or find the answer for you.

Another person I have met is the founder promoter of an industrial group in India. They are in the automobile sector and are known for their ethical way of doing business. This leader goes around in a simple kurta and even when he was an active CEO of the group, he would make his presence felt by his absence. His simplicity and ethics inspired you to give your best. I remember an incident when it was his daughter’s marriage and he came to me in my office to request for a photocopier from our office to be installed in his home. He requested me to note the meter number before it is dispatched and on return so that he could pay for the actual use of the photocopier. Such was the simplicity and ethics of this great leader. His looks will never make you believe that he is a billionaire.

If you look at the people in public space who excel in their respective fields too, we realise that it is not their looks which impresses you. Their humility and modesty blows your over. In their presence, we feel insignificant with their ocean of knowledge or expertise. They again prove that looks could be deceptive. A very ordinary looking person may be a super human. A good example for all of us in India from the public figures is our late President Bharat Ratna Dr. Abdul Kalam.

The lessons one can learn from such wonderful human beings is that looks ultimately does not matter. Our work or knowledge or skills can speak for itself as long as our behaviour is impeccable and we have a thirst to learn for life. They excel in whatever they do. They are simple in look, dress and behaviour and very grounded. Their quest for learning is limitless. They are eager to share their knowledge with everyone as they believe that sharing is learning too.

Is it time to look at the mirror.

S Ramesh Shankar

16th July 2020

Silent Contributors

I was watching a video explaining the value of gratitude in life. I realised that many of us are not grateful to the people around us amongst family, friends and colleagues, who have transformed our lives from childhood. But apart from the visible people around us, there are so many silent contributors, who impact our lives every day.

Today I thought let me recall the “Unsung heroines and heroes in our lives.” If I start my day with a morning coffee, I need to be grateful to the milkman and the newspaper vendor, who quietly delivers my needs every day without fail. Whether a pandemic or not, the milkman or newspaper boy has never taken leave.

Then if I am taking a cab or auto or bus to my workplace, these drivers have faced the wrath of the weather or the pandemic and still are there for us to take a comfortable ride to work or any place of our choice.

The vegetable vendor, the e commerce delivery girls and boys have served us without expecting anything in return. Have we ever thought about being grateful to them in our lives. We almost take them for granted.

The Presswala, who irons my clothes, the Gardner, the house helpers, car cleaners, the security guards in my premises and the maintenance staff in my community and at my workplace have never taken a break so that we are always comfortable.

If any of my appliances at home break down I am eagerly waiting for the service technician whether it is a weekday or the weekend. The entire service community serves us day in and night out and we never bother to acknowledge their efforts.

Let us think of the government servants. The public health staff, the doctors, health workers, nurses, policemen and women are working for us 24 x 7. We almost take it for granted as if they are paid to work for us. Have we ever bothered to bow in gratitude to them.

Another important segment is the people who support us and enable us to succeed behind our back. They could be our teachers, who sacrifice their lives to ensure the success of their students. Many a time, the people who contribute a lot to our success never take credit for the same. I salute the faceless people, whom we may never come to know as to how much they made a difference to our lives.

Many of us tend to forget the people who have made us who we are today. It may be a good idea to visit our school teacher or an old neighbour or an aging aunt who helped us during our childhood. Expression of gratitude makes you feel humble and grounded. I recently visited a few friends and relatives and thanked them and they felt very nice about it.

Last but not the least, let us remember the soldiers on the borders from our armed forces who relentlessly sacrifice their comforts for our safety. They are there round the year and even sacrifice their lives so that we are safe as an individual and as a nation.

As in the photo above, the security guards in our community served us 24×7 always with a smile.

The list is endless. We need to be grateful to the family, friends and colleagues who are around us and visible to us every day. We also need to salute the silent contributors to our lives every day. It is important to remember that they serve us without expecting anything in return.

Is it time to bow in gratitude ?

S Ramesh Shankar

19th Feb 2021

Ode to my most adorable aunt

Today I would like to dedicate this blog to my most adorable aunt Ms Jayalakshmi, who died at the age of 98 at Trivandrum. She was a human being par excellence. I have had the privilege of learning from her entire life.

Born to a humble lower middle class family in Trichy, she grew up in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka during her childhood. After marriage she settled in Salem, Tamil Nadu. She moved to Trivandrum with one of her sons after the demise of her spouse and decided to settle there for the rest of her life.

A person who taught us more by her silence than her words. An epitome of patience like her elder brother who was my father who was a reservoir of patience and kind heartedness himself.

She taught us invaluable lessons on life and living and I would like to summarise some key learnings from what I could assimilate over the years :

A. Live life with a smile always : She had gone through multiple crisis in life but I have never seen her cribbing about anything in life and her smile was ever present despite all the troubles in her life.

B. Compassion & kindness : In her lifetime, she may have dealt with many people who were unkind and unfair to her including friends and relatives but her compassion and kindness for the members of her family and all her relatives and friends was unparalleled.

C. Patience : Her patience was unlimited. I have never seen her frown or get angry at any instance or any person. Her ability to absorb the most difficult of life challenges with a smile was worth imitation.

D. Power of silence : Like my father she had this innate and enviable ability to communicate more through her silence than her words. Both the brother and sister taught invaluable lessons in life through their silence. They proved to all of us silence is more powerful than words and we often talk much more than we listen.

E. Listening : Her ability to listen to all generations was worth emulation. She had the ability to be affectionate and actively listened and acknowledged through her smiles and her eyes. This made us realise as to how important it is to listen than to speak.

F. Self dependant : I have seen her doing all her chores by herself almost till the age of ninety. She cooked her own food, washed her own clothes and even cleaned her own space. She never depended on anyone to take care of her even at old age.

G.Live for others : She sacrificed her life for the welfare of her family and relatives. She gave everything she could without expecting anything in return. A life dedicated to the well being of others is expression of love unconditionally and true service to God.

I can write a book on my aunt and what I could learn from her. But today, I want to pay my last respects to her by promising to myself that I will try my best to practise what she preached through her actions rather her words.

May her soul rest in peace. Om Shanti.

S Ramesh Shankar

10th September 2022

Choosing your life partner…

One of the most difficult decisions in life is choosing your life partner. It may look simple from a distance but grows complex as one experiences it. In traditional Indian families, the parents took the responsibility of finding partners for their children. This was based on horoscope matching and other family considerations. After all the astrological and horoscope matching process, some marriages clicked and others failed. This is when one realises that selecting a life partner is not that easy as it may appear.

Let us look at what makes it so challenging. We all grow up in our families and societies with certain value systems. While some of us, are privileged to experience different cultures and societies as we grow up, others may not be. This makes our adaptability to different cultures and personalities difficult.

If we look at the Indian system of choosing a partner for life – there are generally two types. In the traditional system, our parents put in the efforts on choosing a partner for us based on horoscope matching , astrological predictions and family compatibility as they see it. The other is when one partner meets the other in school, college or a the workplace and choose each other.

If I look back at my own life, I realise that neither the traditional match making by parents guarantees cent percent success nor the individual choosing their own partners ensures life long partnership for all. If this this the. case, we can neither say the traditional is better nor the modern is a recipe for success.

Then what could be the best way to choose a partner. I have all the questions in my mind and I am still searching for an answer. I would give my “Take 5” for building life partnerships. My life experiences teaches me that while choosing a partner some of the factors, which may help in moving in the right direction could be :

A. Mutual interests and compatibility : It is important for both partners to explore mutual interests and likes and dislikes. It is better to know what works and what does not before we venture out into a life long partnership with each other.

B. Family Values : While many may say that family values may or may not match. I personally vouch for similarity in value system as it helps in mutual compatibility. Family values is like the glue or culture in an organisation. It definitely helps to build relationships

C. Mutual respect : One of the most important factors which may help is mutual respect. Is is important to realise that the other partner is an equal partner in joy and sorrow in the future. We need to earn each other’s mutual respect through our actions and not our words. My true value is tested in challenging times and not in sharing joy.

D. Give and take : It is worthwhile to realise that we may not be able to find a partner in life, who is going to be hundred percent match in every aspect of life. Hence, our ability to adapt to each other is important. Our ability to give and take is critical for success in our partnership. First give and then take and not the other way around.

E. Financial independence & mutual trust : In today’s day and age, it is critical for both partners to be financially independent. It is equally important for establishing mutual trust through our speech and actions. Unflinching trust leads to trustful and life long partnerships.

My list may not be complete. It is neither a guarantor for success nor a recipe for failure. But, it may be worthwhile to try out these tips as I have failed many times and succeeded some times in my life partnership over the last three and half decades.

Time to try your luck when you are ready for it.

S Ramesh Shankar

15th Nov 2020


Living in denial …

Some of us spend our whole life, living in denial. We are not willing to accept life as it is. We want to believe that we can change our life dramatically overnight without much effort. I would call this “living in denial”

I am a born optimist and always believe that everyone of us can chart our own destiny. But to believe that we can change our future without much efforts is fertile imagination. We tend to compare ourselves with the successful people around us and wonder why we cannot be like them. We may envy celebrities in sports or the film industry after they become successful but do not know their struggles and the arduous journey they undertook in the process of their achieving glory.

We almost believe that if celebrities who may be less educated than us can achieve something in life, why we cannot. There is nothing fundamentally wrong in thinking that way. What we need to realise is their journey to stardom may not have been a cake walk . If someone has achieved something in life, it is after years of toil and sweat and many setbacks, which may not be visible to us after they have arrived in life.

We sometimes think that we are always at the receiving end of life. It may or may not be true and could be just a perception. We tend to believe this way as we compare ourselves with others in terms of what they have achieved in life and not in terms of what efforts they have put in to reach wherever they have reached.

Life becomes challenging only due to comparisons. There is nothing wrong to compare with the best and learn from them. But comparing with others to feel bad about what they have achieved is only going to demotivate us further. It is better to compete with oneself and do better than whatever we have done so far. We need to always remember that “Excellence is a journey and not a destination”

The concept of “living in denial” not only leads to disappointment and frustration in our own life but tends to impact all the people around us. It is better to live life in terms of possibilities rather challenges. Every challenge is a possibility and we can turn tables upside down with our efforts. It is upto us to sit back and crib or plunge forward and attain our goals.

The journey of life is not always smooth. What we need to remember is that this is an universal truth and not exclusively applicable to us. Every individual struggles in her/his own way. Some are visible to us and some others struggle in shadows unseen to us. This does not mean they faced no difficulties in achieving what they want to. It only means that we are not privy to what they have faced before they have succeeded.

We need to set our vison. Then set our goals and evolve our strategy. This has to be followed by consistent efforts day in and night out and celebrate each milestone we achieve towards our goal. Every setback could be a learning while every victory could enable us to celebrate our efforts. This way can only lead to successful accomplishment of our goals in life. I have not seen it otherwise in my life or my career.

As in the photo above, the trek to the top of the mountain may be tough. But even that can be achieved if we are willing to take the first step.

The time to reset and start is today. Let us do it now.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th November 2020

It’s beautiful world to live in…

I hail from a lower middle class family and have seen the trials and tribulations of life. As I grew up in a government employee’s sole income , we did not have the luxuries of life at home. No TV, fridge or car at home and we had to sleep on mats and on the floor. This financial condition of our family did not deter our spirits nor prevented us from getting the best education possible and the values, which have always kept us happy and contented in life.

After my education, when I started my career in a public sector undertaking far away from my home town, my income was minimal but the opportunities to learn were unlimited. It laid the foundation for my career and also gave me the knowledge, skills and attitude to craft my own career .

I then moved to private sector after almost a decade and a half and each of the organisations I worked for took me to different parts of the country and the world. Each city taught me life lessons in plenty and each country I visited widened my perspective.

My family supported all my decisions in my life. This made my children live and study across different cities in the country. They never cribbed or sulked. On the contrary, I would say that every movement made them more adaptable to change. Today I am confident that they will survive and thrive in every situation they face in life, where ever they live and work.

Marriage as an institution that brought balance to my life. My spouse has been my life long partner sharing my joy and sorrow with equal measure. She has gone through all the tests of life along with me without winking an eye lid and has enabled me to achieve whatever little I could in my life. I owe to her for what I have accomplished in my life and career so far.

Family as an institution has been the foundation of my life. Learning the basic values from my parents, I moved on to set up my own nuclear family. Having lost both my parents at a very young age, it compelled me to take responsibilities and moulded me into a mature person to deal with life in all its dimensions.

My children have equally supported my growth and development in my career. I have experienced the dislocation in education and its impact on your academics on your education. They have sportingly moved from city to city along with us without any complaints or any drop in their performance. Hats off to both my daughter and my son.

God has been kind to me and my family throughout my life. I knew the value of money at a very early stage of life. After thirty eight years of corporate life, when I retired I can say that I am fully self reliant on my financial well being today. However, I have been happy right through my life. I have got all that I wanted in my life and may be it is time to give back in equal measure now.

I have always believed that this world is such a beautiful place to live. Why do many of us spend most of our time crying about what we do not have in this world ? On the other hand, will life not be happier and joyous for us if we celebrate all that we have in the world. Many of us are so privileged that we have a place to live in, good food to eat and a happy family supported by friends and relatives.

Life is beautiful like the neelakurunji flowers blooming once in twelve years in the Coorg hills as in the photo above.

I feel it is time to change our attitude to life and living. It is time to celebrate every day of our lives for all that we have and not regret for some things we may not have. It is time to realise how privileged we are as compared to millions of other people, who struggle to get two square meals a day.

If we celebrate life and live happily, we create a beautiful world around us and realise how wonderful the world is. The day to start celebrating life and the world is today and the time to start is now.

S Ramesh Shankar

3rd February 2020


Sayli Kamble

I was watching a music reality show on TV. The best singer in my perception was singing and while delivering one of the best ghazals of all time faltered and forgot his lines. One of his co participants, who is his competitor vying for the same title, sang the line and encouraged him to complete the song. I salute this girl Sayli and her parents for inculcating such a wonderful value in their child.

Sayili is a young girl from the Chunnabati area of Mumbai. Her father is a ambulance driver and mother a home maker. Their only child is competing along with others in this contest. When a competitor of yours, who is a favourite to win the title falters, it can be music to your ears. Most of us as competitors would have rejoiced at such an instance. But here is a girl in her early twenties competing fiercely but demonstrated humanity in action. This is true sportsman spirit in any game.

The game of life is no different. We may compete with our classmates in class in academics or sports. We may not win always but we have a chance to win their hearts through our actions. Imagine helping the captain of the opposition team on the field when he is injured. Imagine taking a neighbour to the hospital when he is in distress even though he has harmed you more than helped you in normal times.

Each one of us would have gone through different moments in life when we would have been betrayed by a friend , relative or neighbour. We may never feel like forgiving them leave alone help them in trying times of theirs. But just think of the impact you can make on another human being if you can be good to them even though you lose more than you gain in that process.

Today I was touched by this incident. I had tears in my eyes when I saw it live on TV. The Benefactor was equally magnanimous. After his performance when Sayili approached him, he hugged her in gratitude and so he did with all other co participants.

We can learn such beautiful life lessons from such incidents in real life. It is the behaviours like these, which can win hearts of other human beings. Neither money nor fame can win you accolades as much as such acts of service without any expectations. I should confess that many of us including me may not have the generosity to help a competitor in real life, when he is in distress.

I would say this is God in human form. It is like the millions of common women and men who helped millions of other people in distress during this pandemic. I was reading about a middle class housewife who was in distress and was desperate to get admitted to a hospital. A taxi driver whom she hired to reach the nearest hospital went from one hospital to another and ultimately got her admitted and saved her life. He did not even leave his mobile number with her since he served human kind without any expectations in return.

I see God in human form in such acts of humanity.

I salute Sayili and her kind of young girls and boys today. Proud to live in a country, where such values are being inculcated by parents in their children.

Salute to Sayili and her wonderful parents.

S Ramesh Shankar

18th July 2021

Everything cannot be valued in money terms…

Everything in life cannot be valued in money terms. I remember way back in 1987 I was buying a second hand car. My friends and well wishers cautioned me that it was not a good return on investment. It may be true in financial terms especially when interest rates were in double digits. But buying a car or a house is a quasi emotional and quasi logical decision.

Similarly in 2008 I was selling a flat in Gurgoan and my well wishers cautioned me that it was not the right time to sell. The markets were down and I could wait for some more time for getting a better yield. This also may be true. But my decision to buy or sell or a flat is also a quasi logical one.

In life, there are many decisions we take by emotion and then apply logic to justify it. I prefer to go that way. If you love something in life, one should go ahead and do it. If you are guided by return on investment or logic, life may be become worthless. I love photography and videography. I may have bought a dozen cameras in my life. This definitely cannot justify financial or logical reasoning. But the joy it gives me, no money can.

I remember in 2011, I ended up buying a car of my choice. It was an expensive one and many of my well wishers were not supportive of my decision. They may be right logically but my decision was quasi emotional. I love driving and wanted to enjoy life driving a car of my choice. Money saved in a bank or mutual fund can never give me this joy.

I am not for one recommending that we should end up squandering money on worthless things in life. I am only saying that sometimes we decide based on gut and this is fine. After all life is full of emotions. If something in life gives us joy, we should go for it without thinking too much about it.

The moment we try to apply logic and reasoning to everything in life, we may stop enjoying life. Imagine someone working out a return on investment before buying a pet dog. Can you value the love a dog bestows on you as a human being ? We have to remember that everything in life cannot be monetised.

I have lived my life in my own terms. One important learning of course has been to enjoy life without being indebted. We should not end up buying a luxury car or home if we cannot afford to buy it at a particular stage of life. It is better to wait for the right time and buy it rather than trying to enjoy life on borrowed money.

I remember there were many things I yearned to have but could not afford. So, I waited till the day I could afford to buy. One cannot justify buying things stating life is to enjoy if if it goes beyond your means at that point. Yes, we need to enjoy life within our means. We need not justify to anyone what we are buying as long as we can live within our means and love having it.

As in the photo above, the joy of having lemon juice in a road side shop and having a heart to heart chat with the vendor has to be experienced to be believed.

Let us learn to enjoy life our own way.

S Ramesh Shankar

9th September 2018