MR. Raj Dubey, Chief T&D Manager, IOCL, SPEAKS

Cultivating innovation: An interview with the Chief Training and Development Manager of Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL)


Mr Raj Dubey, Chief T & D Manager, IOCL, talks about employee engagement initiatives in his organization - and why organizations should be more proactive towards training and development initiatives.

Raj DubeyQuestion 1: HR is still considered as a support function & not a strategic business unit. Given this understanding, what is the role of HR manager vis-à-vis the business manager?

As I see it, unless the head or potential heads of HR are groomed to become CEOs, the dichotomy will exist. No matter what initiatives are taken to bridge this gap, the bottom line is “ Are you coming in the line of fire in running the business?” If the answer is ‘no’ then at best HR can be seen as a good consultant and a service provider. There will always be “you vs. us” feeling between line functions and HR. Therefore, at most alignment may take place instead of ‘boundary less collaboration between HR’ and the line functions. Indian Oil has moved ahead in this direction. Many potential heads of HR move from the line functions. Becoming a business head of a SBU is one of the important milestones in their career path. In fact , some of them have moved from the HR function to become business heads and CEOs of the company.

Moving across various sectors and acquiring a bouquet of different skills have helped line leaders when they go on to become, say a CEO.
For example, the current Director (HR) of Indian Oil is an Electrical Engineer and has worked in various line functions in the Refinery Units before assuming his current role. Similarly, an ex Director (Marketing) had spent a greater part of his career in the HR function. And not to forget, Shri Subir Raha who was Director (HR) , IOC , and went on to become one of the most successful CEOs of ONGC.


Raj Dubey is an engineer from National Institute of Technology (1983-87).After an year’s stint as Sales executive in Eicher Motors, joined Indian Oil Corporation in Marketing function of Aviation Fuels in 1988. He has worked in various capacities in sales and operations in this function for 12 years. After undergoing International MBA program from University of Lubjlana, Slovenia, in 2001 joined HRD function at Indian Oil’s Marketing Headquarters at Mumbai. Here he was looking after performance management, career planning, succession planning and positioning of more than 5600 officers spread over more than 400 locations.


Currently he is heading the Training function of Marketing Division of Indian Oil Corporation, overseeing training needs of more than 17000 employees.

Question 2: When Indian economic sentiments seem down - what is different in the way you have approached talent management during this time at IOCL. What has worked for you?

The concept of rewarding talent at Indian Oil goes beyond immediate financial compensation and benefits to include career development, sustained growth, learning opportunities and pride in contributing directly to the Country’s energy needs. And hence, we continue to not only attract talent but also retain talent. What distinguishes Indian Oil, a professionally managed public sector oil company, from other companies is

  • Leaders are groomed from within. Any employee, who joins the company, has a well-defined career path. And, with nil mid-level recruitment, managers are well aware it is virtually impossible for a rank outsider to disrupt their well-crafted career paths.
  • Indian Oil offers a potential newcomer a career and not a job. And hence all systems and processes are tuned to the “Cradle to Grave” concept. An employee who joins the company knows that all his needs and that of his family’s will be taken care of till his last day in this world. Care remains one of our core values and Indian Oil demonstrates that it truly cares for its employees.
  • As you see, I have deliberately not used the word retirement here because even after retirement, medical benefits, pension benefits, holiday homes etc are open to all its employees. There is a retired officers cell that exclusively looks after the needs of the retired people. And that too, progressively, and continually. So, more than what leaders say or preach, it is actions like these that speak louder than words that the company cares.
  • A look at what is happening in today’s recession reveals how employees are sacrificed in the name of optimization. At Indian Oil, while optimization is looked at squarely and continually, it is not at the cost of employees. Hence ‘talent’ is not treated as ‘non-talent’ because of environmental factors and therefore is looked after even in tough times. This gives credibility to ‘talent nurturing’. In fact, in this year of recession, we have recruited double the average number in the last 7 years.
  • In terms of a career, we have a ‘cafeteria approach’ to career management. Employees have a menu of options to choose from and tailor-make their careers, to a large extent. People move freely from one function to the other (sometimes 13 different functions) before reaching Board level positions. The organization believes in taking this risk in order to expose the best people to different functions and different geographical regions. The scope of learning is therefore tremendous and so is the scale and variety of experience.

Question 3: A great leader makes a big difference. What are your views on key leadership practices that organizations could initiate to tide through this recent economic meltdown?

Meltdown or no meltdown… leadership practices are a constant. It is the quality of leadership that has time and again been the single biggest driver of organizational success. Some key leadership practices that remain relevant at all times and which helped Indian Oil to ward off crisis after crisis are

  • Walk the talk and demonstrate the core values of the organization through actions. The best communication happens through actions
  • Ability to align the organization towards a collective vision and take pride in building institutions that outlast individual careers and become the biggest symbols of organizational learning.
  • Look at long term issues rather than following fads and desist from responding with knee jerk reactions to environmental changes for short term results
  • Listen and act on employee feedbac

Contrary to the popular belief that organization wide coaching and mentoring programs are more apt for rather smaller organizations, you have successfully implemented coaching and mentoring programs at IOCL over last few years. Please share your views on its effectiveness.

Mentoring as a structured process in IOC was taken up for the first time in 2006 for freshly joined recruits. The duration of this structured process was one year.
Three models were followed based on personality, mentoring ability and convenience. In Model I , the mentor selected was an officer in the higher office belonging to different function. In Model II , the mentor was in same function and in Model III , the mentor was the Incharge of the location where the new recruit was posted.
In the survey carried out after 6 months into the mentoring process, 85% of the probationers in two of the four regions reported high satisfaction in all the three models implying that there is no fixed formula for the mentoring process and contingency based approach is the best. There was a significant reduction in the attritions among the new recruits. The lessons learnt was that mentoring is more relevant in larger organizations where the chances of disconnect for a new recruit is high. A bigger picture when presented to the employees by their seniors working with them definitely helps them to place their career in a proper context. Career related decisions by employees are then taken within this context instead of following the herd mentality of hopping from job to job attracted by short-term options.


Question 4: What sort of employee engagement initiatives have you taken in such times to not only boost morale but also to instill extrinsic motivation?

Emphasis on career component and leveraging on opportunities for individual development provides a better platform for employee engagement compared to financial rewards.

Review and rewards are an important part of the process in creating winning teams. Other reward and recognitions programs such as Appreciation cheques, Suggestion Scheme have provided a platform to employees to unleash their ideas and get rewarded too. But more than that, it is how supervisors excel in job design based on employee aptitude, that will enable each team member feel valued and improve engagement levels.

With increased globalization, a workplace is also seen as a place of learning. At various levels, the company offers a range of learning programs for its employees to continually acquire and upgrade either behavioral skills or functional abilities. Tie-ups with elite institutions like IIM s also reinforce the fact that the best pedigree comes to employees who value learning.

The online Discussion Forum provides a way of letting off steam by employees. All employees are encouraged to contribute to this forum. Diverse topics, divergent views are all seen here; and even senior management responds to some organizational issues raised in these forums.

To demonstrate our focus on providing leaders for the future, ‘Leadership Mirroring Survey’ was undertaken for top management as well as sections of middle management (anonymous feedback by subordinates on leadership skills of their superiors). The outcome of the survey was communicated to individual leaders. Feedback was given to leaders on how to leverage their strengths for growth – the individual as well as the organization.

Enriching jobs through special assignment/task, regular and direct interaction by various heads of SBUs with frontline field officers, usage of internal publications for highlighting achievements/contributions of employees, ensuring membership of professional bodies for its officers …. the list is endless. How to keep its employees engaged is a full-time engagement for the management ! At Indian Oil, we truly believe that no matter what, ‘Enough is not enough’.

Favorite book:

Favorite authors are Alexander Dumas for his sheer brilliance in story telling and Somerset Maugham for his subtle insights into human nature which transcend time and context.

Favorite inspirational quote :

“Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.” David Lloyd George

Free time pursuits:

Currently pursuing Phd on “ impact of HR practices on learning culture of organizations” form BIT, Ranchi.

Free time engagements include playing squash, tennis and reading biographies, watching movies, listening to all forms of music ( Rock to ghazals)

Leader that I admire :

No other leader evokes as much inspiration as the Mahatma, for his inherent strength in the face of adversity, sacrificing short term gains for long-term vision and ability to practice what he preached. So much so that even a person of no less stature than Einstein had remarked “Generations to come shall wonder whether such a person ever walked on this earth”.