Participative Leadership

Read Time:10 Minute

Mr P Jayadevan, Executive Director & State Head – TN & Puducherry Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL), touches upon the importance of grooming leaders by assessing their strengths and weaknesses. He also sheds light on how they managed to coach and mentor 14 of them, through a very systematic process at IOCL.

Coaching is a noble act of changing individuals and developing them to take on new roles. There are many factors in production and human beings are the most flexible in any organisational or production set-up. We may feel that changing human beings is the most difficult thing to do. But, I don’t think so, based on my own experiences in the oil and gas industry which is undergoing major transitions today.

The big transition
Our PM has addressed COP26 and talked about India’s energy transition plans from conventional to renewable energy. We have a big challenge in IOCL handling our portfolios, being in an oil and gas industry. We are now into solar, wind, hydrogen, biofuel and electricity as well. We are going to produce batteries. All these energy forms need much higher infrastructural needs. We need to prepare ourselves to handle these new forms of energy, any of which might proliferate in the next five to ten years. We keep our foot in all the boats and whichever goes faster, we get onto that. IOCL is the energy security keeper of India and we cannot afford energy poverty in our country. It is therefore a much complex situation that we face today. Compared to all these challenges, transforming individuals is easier. In public sectors, transforming individuals and coaching are required. We join public sectors at a lower cadre, grow and retire and thus have a long term relationship. Any positive change that happens to an individual, will contribute much more to the organisation in the public sector than in a private sector where people keep on changing. In public sector, we do have a long and heavy tail. We need to transform them as well. All these factors favour a coaching system in the organisation.

We are all generalists in public sector and not much of specialists. We keep on shifting from one department to another and there is very little prominence or value given to a specialist in public sector.

We are all generalists in public sector and not much of specialists. We keep on shifting from one department to another and there is very little prominence or value given to a specialist in public sector. So if you have to become a leader, you need to have better qualities, deep inside you. In spite of all this, my experience says that in public sector, human resource development is yet to mature, though there are initiatives happening. We have industrial relations, employee relations and human resources department. We have not gone deeper into human resource development.

I have had some experiences during my last 20 years in coaching, though I am in this organization for more than 34 years. It has given me some insights that there has to be some system for individual development. We have a Learning and Development Department and Training Department, but they focus on programs for a group of people.

Tweaking the appraisal system
In the early part of 2000, I was heading a small unit and I had 14 officers and 50 workmen under me. We have an annual performance appraisal system in order to rate them for giving promotions or rewards. When this appraisal was happening, I did a small exercise.

I asked every officer to write down two strengths and two areas of improvement for every other officer including me, naming the officer who is being evaluated but without writing the name of the officer who evaluated. All these were put in my in-tray. I compiled all comments received for every officer, put them on a single sheet and gave them back to the concerned officer. I asked them to ponder over the comments and called them for a discussion after two days.

All the officers, naturally, accepted their strengths but not all of them accepted their areas of improvement. Some officers concurred with the areas of improvement pointed out to them and promised me that next year, I would not see those comments. To my surprise, those officers really worked on those areas and vastly improved. Another set of officers accepted their areas of improvement but expressed their lack of knowledge and tools to overcome it and wanted handholding. I was totally at dark as to how to help them to improve, as I was not a psychologist nor a certified coach. I did this assessment of strengths and weakness exercise for four years and completed it in 2006, at the end of which, I had a clear picture of all the officers assigned to me during those four years and understood them thoroughly.

Mentoring that didn’t take off
Subsequently, we introduced a mentoring system in our organization. The young officers who joined us, were given mentoring. They had mentors within the organization. Initially, these mentors were the controlling officers or the officers to whom they report to. I thought this was not correct, as a controlling officer might impose certain things onto the officer reporting to him. It could be handled better.

I brought in three retired officers to do mentoring. I had 17 officers with me. I made them into three batches, connected them with the three retired officers—six in each batch—and then allowed them to do the mentoring process. We had some structured way of mentoring but I found that the experiment did not go well because the officers who were supposed to get mentored, never asked their mentors for any help, except one officer who met with an accident, sought some help when he was in the hospital bed. That was my second experience.

We had some structured way of mentoring but I found that the experiment did not go well because the officers who were supposed to get mentored, never asked their mentors for any help…

Selecting the directors
My third experience though was different. Recently, I was heading the Secretariat of our Chairman. We have a process of selection of Directors in the public sector. We have six internal and six external candidates and they go for interview by the Public Sector Selection Committee.

We had to appoint a Director for Marketing. In the list of shortlisted candidates for the position, six names appeared. I went through those six names and I discussed with our Chairman. I found that almost all of them had leadership qualities. But they had gaps in some areas like listening skills, communication skills, self-awareness and integrity as well. So, probably we were not able to get the best of the leaders for the organization. Had we initiated coaching and course correction for them four or five years back, we would have got six excellent candidates for the directorship. That was the inference or learning which I got.

I tried to have a coaching process at the Chairman’s level, but unfortunately, it did not really materialise. I came back and got a posting in Chennai as Head of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry and approached a professional coaching organisation. They helped me to set up a coaching process. In fact, I was very apprehensive when I started it, because, in Public Sector, coaching had rarely happened as a process of leadership development. So I had to start afresh.

Coaching the coachables
Initially, I took two officers for the coaching process. I was totally involved right from day one, on which we had an initial meeting. Here, the coaching philosophy and the value proposition was detailed to the officers. In that three-way meeting, the consultants assessed the officers if they were coachable or not, whether they had the willingness to come forward, understand their own areas of improvement and then work on them.
Then the other processes that were implemented included psychometric tests, asking the officer to narrate a story, getting 360-degree feedback and then consolidating the feedback as one story about the officer. Both the coach and the coachee sat together to identify three smart goals they needed to achieve. This was a three-month long process.

After three months, when the coachee and coach came to an understanding on the three areas they needed to improve, they came back to me. We sat again, to validate if these goals would serve the interests of the organization and not just cater to the individual’s personal development goal. I had to differentiate them, depending on the capability of the officer to become a leader tomorrow.

Finally, we arrived at the three goals. They sat through again for next 3 months and worked on those goals. We had a dipstick to check if the development actually happened and then closed it. That’s how the whole coaching process went through, on an individualistic and one-to-one basis. The coach and the coachee sat together and improved upon the areas, which we had identified. It was an extremely satisfying experience for me. Since then, we coached another six officers. We are doing another 10 now. So overall, in my small set up that I have in Tamil Nadu, we have done coaching for 18 officers by now.

Lessons from coaching
It’s a great journey forward and during this journey. I also picked up some inferences.

  • We need to have the developmental process almost error free. While this process is on, many of the coaches would have an apprehension if the information they share would be kept confidential. If confidential information gets leaked out, it can go against the officer. So as a sponsor of this program, the head of the organization has the responsibility to see to it that the information shared remains confidential. That is extremely important in a coaching process.
  • Second, the sustainability of this program matters a lot. What happens after six months? Will the coached officers go back to old ways, due to their job pressure? To take care of this, we introduced a sustainability tracker. The coaches were available for some more time and were hand-holding the trainees subsequently as well. I was also tracking many of the officers and if there was any remark against them by any of their superiors, I would take it forward for improving them.
  • Third, in Public Sectors, every process has to be a little more democratic and transparent. There are people who would come back and question why somebody was selected for coaching and ask, “Why not me?’ So one has to be very mindful about the selection of the people for coaching as well.
  • Lastly, can we have internal coaches? In huge organisations, an internal coach can one day become the superior or subordinate. That’s a big setback for the process. So I decided myself not to encourage any internal coaches.

This is my experience with coaching. There are some shortcomings which I would throw open to the coaches to really work upon. I do have a couple of suggestions related to coaching as well.

One, recently I have seen team coaching which is being propagated. That’s a good concept. It’s for a limited period for a group. There is a coaching process which is to be instituted. I have not experienced it but I feel, it will do good for some project based assignments.

The next point is related to young lady officers. During our annual performance appraisal last year, in a specific grade, we had 98 officers—28 lady officers and 70 male officers. When I rated them, I found that 21 out of 28 lady officers were outstanding while only 15 out of 70 male officers were outstanding. I was reflecting upon my organization and I don’t find these young officers getting into a management role. Something or the other happens to the lady officers over a period of time.

These officers were in the 25-30 age group, either married, or about to get married. When they get married and have their first child, they try to take a call whether the family is important or the career is important. Many of them tend to go towards the family and sacrifice their career.

I think there is a great opportunity of coaching them at this juncture. If we could do a one-to-one coaching of those young officers at that point, giving them opportunities and looking at their individual issues, I am sure that lady officers can get into much bigger leadership roles.

Leadership Coaching will lead to Coaching Leadership, and, Coaching Leadership will be the trend of tomorrow.