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First Year at IOCL
Anubhav Nanda Shreya Chadha
FIRST YEAR AT IOCL
It was May of 2008 that saw three young and energetic graduates pass out from XLRI and enter into the corporate world. Ashray, Tanushka and Debanjan considered themselves very lucky to have bagged a job at IOCL. In these recessionary times, landing in a public sector firm was a dream for most MBA graduates. Debanjan had done his bachelors in psychology and then specialised in IR at XLRI. He was always full of new ideas during his MBA days. His friends loved him for the humane touché that he always had for everyone. At IOCL he was offered a position in the HR department at the Mathura refinery. Tanushka had come to XLRI with an engineering degree in Chemical engineering. For her a job at IOCL was god sent. Her acumen in the area of chemical engineering convinced her recruiters that she would be an asset to the oil exploration group. She was made a part of the team that went for oil exploration to various sites all over the world. Coming from an army background, travelling was in her blood, and she looked forward to joining the department. Ashray was a typical software engineer when he came to XLRI, but two years had transformed him into an outgoing person. His analytical skills were married to his marketing acumen and made him the topper of the marketing stream of his batch. He was looked upon as one of the best marketing brains XLRI had produced. Selling a product profitably came naturally to him, and it came as no surprise to see him in IOCL sales team for Tamil Nadu. He was sure of bringing radical changes to the way petroleum products were sold in the country. One year had passed since their joining and all three of them had come to Mumbai for their annual review meeting. After their review, they decided to spend some time together and catch up. As they sat in Cafe Coffee Day, they couldn’t help but notice the way all of them had started looking different. May be it was the work-life , maybe it was the work-pressure, but whatever it was , it was definitely different from the totally carefree college life that they had enjoyed, the life they wished that could have stretched till eternity . Debanjan was the first one to speak. “You remember the birthday treat that Ashray had given us at this very place last year”. And that suddenly brought out loads of memories in their minds and peals of giggles on their faces. College life had suddenly transformed into a more organized and yet so unpredictable course of “work-life” for Debanjan, Ashray and Tanushka. After their usual chit-chat and recollection of the “good-old-times”, the conversation took a sharp turn towards how life had changed over a year thanks to their work-life. They recollected how happy all three had been, for getting placed in one of the coveted firms for their college placement week – IOCL. And the fact that all three were placed in the same firm had doubled the joy. To their utter dismay, all three had got different locations of workplace. Debanjan was posted in Mathura Oil refinery, whereas Tanushka and Ashray were posted at Delhi and Coimbatore respectively. Debanjan spoke first and told the others his story at IOCL.
“When I reached the Mathura Oil refinery I felt out of place like never before. All those dreams that I had about sitting in a posh corporate office and handling the HR operations came crashing. Here I was, in a firm where I was supposed to deal with the problems of the lowest level of hierarchy of IOCL, their refinery workers. At the first day of work I got introduced to the team of IR (Industry relationship team) that I was supposed to work with. Being a mixed bag of both senior and middle-level managers, the team didn’t take it too well that someone as novice and fresh out of college like me was placed at a higher position than them. Thanks to XLRI in my resume! After that mixed reaction from my team-mates I was inducted formally into IOCL through a 4-week training period. My work largely involved dealing with the trade unions and ensuring an employee-friendly work environment for the workers. After some initial hiccups I managed to gel well with the workers and despite being much younger than most of the workers there, there was an amicable air between workers and me and they would easily open up and share the issues that they faced. All was well at this front but in contrast to this, my team members were giving me a tough time by giving a cold shoulder to me, since they were unhappy with the fact that suddenly a young MBA graduate had come down in their professional lives and who, by virtue of his degree and not experience, had been placed above them in the hierarchy. They were having difficulty in accepting that they had to report to a younger person. After seven months in the Mathura Oil refinery , our department received a mail from the head office IOCL, Delhi that an annual IOCL meet was to take place next month and two representative from each department had to come down to Delhi and all the departments of IOCL had to work together and jointly organize this great annual event. So, I and one of my team-members went to Delhi and I was looking forward to interact and work with other senior people in IOCL. On the first day in Delhi headquarters, we had a general ice-breaking session where it was more of an inter-departmental introduction since we had to work together for next six days and organize the whole event. I and my team member (Harshal) were supposed to work with the International Trade department people and the Sales team people. So we were a team of six people and were assigned to arrange sponsors for the event. Since one week was too less to arrange sponsors we decided to start working on it that very evening and hence had a meeting. As soon as the meeting started , the International Trade Department person Mr. Basin, started speaking and bombarded the whole meeting with his ideas, some feasible and some highly impractical. After him, another senior person from Sales team Mr. Kankaria put forth his point and didn’t let others speak. After repeated iterations of the same thing I noticed that almost all the members present in our group were senior people in the organization and were trying to impose their ideas on rest of us rather than letting us come up with our own ideas. After much resistance when I was allowed to put forth my ideas for generating sponsorship, it was blatantly rejected as “being unrealistic”. Even when I tried to justify it and back it up with facts and figures, the idea wasn’t very well-appreciated and was kept as a backup plan. I wanted a chance to prove myself but was snubbed as being the typical “Gen-Y “hot-blooded guy who didn’t know how things work in real life. That came as a rude shock to me since I had expected major support from my seniors and not this indifference. I was surprisingly shocked after this negative attitude but still decided to give it all a second chance and start afresh the next day. But the same thing awaited me the next day also. Same coldness towards new ideas. I just couldn’t fathom why Mr. Bhasin was so reluctant to even listen to new ideas, let alone follow it. After much coaxing I convinced
myself to work with the ideas that Mr. Bhasin had proposed in front of us and being the senior most members in the team, had convinced all of us to work towards that only. Each one of us had gathered here investing equal amount of time and effort towards the same cause and here it was being reduced to a mere autocratic show. This incident left me highly enervated towards thinking in new directions. I could almost feel a bit of apathy towards IOCL.”
Tanushka could not help but relate to Debanjan’s woes and shared her bit of life at IOCL. “My joining was in Delhi, and on reaching Delhi we were given accommodation at the IOCL Guest house in Defence Colony. That’s where I first met the team I was supposed to work with. I was to be a part of a team that consisted of 4 other men. They were pretty surprised to see a female colleague among them. The first meeting with them was far from cordial; rather I got a very cold reception while my other team mates were warmly accepted into the department. As the days progressed I always felt discriminated. The male officers in my department would always leave me out of discussions. I felt they considered me as a liability to the department rather than an asset. My job profile was divided into two main roles. One involved staying in the head office and making reports on ongoing researches and compiling data for future exploration sites and the financial research associated with each operation. This was a complete desk job, with a lot of secondary research involved. I did not enjoy this work, but had to do it as this formed the skeleton for the second role that I was assigned. My second role involved visits to the exploration sites and finding areas of cost reduction. This needed a very close observation into the processes involved. I also needed to talk to all the workers working there. Little did I know that oil exploration was a completely male dominated area. So much so that people working there were very annoyed at finding me working amidst them. Rather than being helpful, they went out of their way to make things tough for me. After about a month of joining, I got my first opportunity to go on a field trip to Gujarat. I was informed by my boss Mr Kumar that I will be travelling with my colleagues to the site in Gujarat and that I should co-ordinate with them for the travel details. When I approached them to find out about the travel details, I found them to be very uncooperative. My ticket had been booked separately and I was not informed about anything in the itinerary. On the day of the journey, I had to keep calling up my team mates to find out where they were. In the train too none of other three team mate talked to me. They all kept to themselves and treated me as I am an unnecessary burden on them. On reaching Jamnagar they told me that we had to go to the IOCL guest house and gave me the address and went off on their own. I was shocked at their behaviour. I had been told that life is tough for females treading in a predominant male area but I had no idea about the nature of troubles for me, and this was just the beginning. Next morning I reported at the exploration site. Our team was welcomed by the head of the exploration team, Mr Gupta. We were briefed on the safety procedures and given our safety kits. When I started wearing them, one of my team mates asked me why I am wearing it. He did not expect me to be going down to the exploration area. When I told them that I did intend to visit the site, they all laughed at me. Mr Gupta too came and told me girls don’t go to the exploration area; rather I should sit in his office. I tried reasoning with Mr Gupta, and told him my visit here would go waste if I didn’t see the process. He told me I
could sit in the office and go through the manuals, which would give me an idea into the process. I was really angry by this time, but kept my cool and told them that I would go as it was a part of my KRAs to audit the process. Finally they agreed and let me go to the exploration site. At the site I was subject to a lot of derogatory remarks by the people working there. Even my team mates made sly comments on me. I ignored most of them and concentrated on my work. In the evening after returning to my room, I got a call from my boss Mr Kumar. He asked me how things were at the site, and after the initial formalities asked me what happened between me and Mr Gupta. I told him all that had happened, to which he replied that I should not have argued and told me to stay in the office and study the processes in the manuals. I thought to myself, I could have done this at Delhi itself, what was the need to come all the way here. The remaining two days I had to sit in the office and read the manuals. At the end of the trip, Mr Gupta suggested that I change my department as it was not good for a girl to be working in this department. On returning to Delhi all of us had to make individual presentations about our findings. I had very little findings all that I could get from the single visit that I was allowed. When I gave my presentation, I was asked as to what I had done for the remaining one week. I told that I was not allowed to go to the site. I was scolded at my lack of interest and that I should be more daring from next time. They made comparisons with my other team mates and showed how in depth their analysis was. I looked at Mr Kumar but he remained quiet and looked away. I discussed this with another girl in my department who seemed to have no problems in the department. She advised me that on these trips, there is a lot of drinking and partying involved. Initially she too faced similar problems, but once she started drinking and socialising with the men, life had been easier for her. She told me that on such visits, she never went even to the office, but never missed a night of partying. In the end she used to have presentations mailed to her and she would present it at the Head Office. I could not believe this was the way things worked here. Somehow I could not get myself to work in this way, and continued working in my way. Every visit was nightmare for me but somehow I persisted. Today at the review I was told that my job involving my first KRA was excellent, but I had failed miserably in executing the second KRA. My overall performance thus was satisfactory and not as expected. I was told that my department will be changed and have asked me for my preference. They have also asked to give a written report as to why my performance has been miserable. Mr Kumar has told me specifically that I should not mention anything negative about the department.”
“Oh God there is so much of corruption in this organisation”, commented Ashray. My life was been no rosier. I had one of the toughest times trying to adjust to this company. In the process my whole identity has been questioned. Ashray went on to elaborate his one year at IOCL. “My offer letter read: - “Ashray Jain – “Sales Management Trainee – Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu”. Getting the sales department was a dream come true for me. And so the journey began into the ups and downs of sales and the first taste of corporate life. As I reached Coimbatore I was picked up from the station and directed towards the IOCL guesthouse. The
next day, a batch of 35 new recruits were inducted into the IOCL sales division, Coimbatore. After a series of induction lectures and training sessions, we were allocated projects and sent across to various cities in Tamil Nadu. My first visit was to Vellore. It was a town 150 km from Chennai. On reaching Vellore I found out that I had to meet three major dealers in the city. One of them was a son of the local MP. As per protocols explained to us, all the dealers of the city had to come and meet the Sales Manager at the IOCL depot. When I called Mr Velmurugan, I was in for a surprise. I was told that Mr Velmurugan would be meeting me the next day and I should come to his office at sharp 2 pm. I enquired about this reversal and found out that this was routine with most high profile dealers. I had the day off and decided to utilize it by making visits to the pumps in the city. I got an itinerary made and started off with a local employee. At the first pump owned by Mr Velmurugan, the pump staffs were reluctant to let me in. They said they haven’t been informed and hence cannot allow me to make any audits. On my insistence they allowed me inside and I asked for the quality reports. To my horror, they did not maintain any reports. I then asked my colleague to do the scheduled tests. All tests failed and there was a very high level of impurity in the petrol sold at the outlet. This story was repeated at all the outlets in the city. Tired and shocked I returned to my room at the hotel. In the night I got a call from Mr Velmurugan asking me to come and meet him at the hotel lobby. He was sitting with his local henchmen and told me in a no non sense way that I was not supposed to report any of my findings. He told me I will be paid 15 percent of the money they make and if I have any problems I should tell him. He said life will be smooth sailing if I collaborated with him. He almost warned me of dire consequences. While leaving he offered me a bottle of expensive alcohol. I returned to my room and called my boss Mr Sadanand. On hearing Velmurugan’s name, he scolded me for having gone to audit his petrol pumps. He told me from next time before conducting audits I should take his permission. The next few months I learnt the way the oil industry worked and soon found myself a part of the vicious circle. I could not keep myself away from all the corruption that had gripped IOCL. This was something the Business Ethics classes at XLRI had not taught us. Gifts poured on me from all quarters and I revelled in that luxury. Both my life and job would have been at threat had I stuck to what ethics told us, I decided to dump ethics and do what others were doing. A month back a high level team from the Head Office came on a surprise visit to my area. They found a huge amount of discrepancies in our findings. We had to report to a high level audit by the senior team. There were massive transfers after the audit and I was sent to Trichur, where I spent the next 6 months of my life. Life was very different in Trichur; I was no more a part of the audit team but a part of the sales team. As I moved to Trichur, a city 200kms from Coimbatore I had no idea what was coming towards me. Trichur is in the interiors of Tamil Nadu and hence a majority of the population didn’t know Hindi. And preferred to speak in Tamil only, let alone English or Hindi. Hence I was having a tough time communicating with people there. However I thought I could learn this language fast and hence be at par with other team-members. When I reached the Trichur office, I was introduced to a 6- member team and the team-leader Mr. Prakashan. Ironically, I was the only North-Indian in the entire team. I brushed off the thought aside thinking that professionalism should not recognize state/culture, just work. In a meeting, all the team members were explained which all areas had to be covered for the sales targets. The strange fact was that a considerable part of meeting was taking place in Tamil, despite Mr.Prakashan and others knowing very well that I didn’t know a word of Tamil. Despite my repeated
requests, they started talking in Tamil again and again between the meetings which irked me to no end. After the meeting, I personally talked to Mr. Prakashan and told him about my being a novice in Tamil and not being able to understand a word in Tamil. Contrary to my expectation of any support or help, he told me to learn Tamil first and then think of achieving any sales targets. However, not withstanding this obstacle, I got down to work, and simultaneously learning TAMIL. I had in mind a concrete plan to achieve my sales targets. Three months of hardship, struggle and perseverance helped me achieve my sales targets and only I know how much hard work went into it. But throughout these three months I had to take a lot of help from Mr. Prakashan regarding my language problem. I used to call him pretty often and ask him about Trichur and other details since he had stayed in this place for over 10 years. After three months when we all assembled for a sales-figure review meeting, each of the 6 team members had to present their sales target report to Mr. Prakashan. True to my belief, I was the star-sales achiever amongst them all. All my hard work had paid off and I had achieved my sales targets in an area which till three months back was totally unknown to me. True to human nature, this also set expectations of a “good appraisal:” in me. After 2 months, when the trainees’ review report discussion meeting was held in Coimbatore, I was shocked to the core. What was written in my report was beyond my realm of understanding. Mr.Prakashan had given me a 2.4 out of 5 and had specifically mentioned that “Ashray needs to display more competencies by working independently. In the last project, he required help at every stage. And it won’t be wrong to believe that without those inputs he wouldn’t have been able to achieve those targets that he did. A strong recommendation would be to give him another three months of training so that he ends up being an asset to his team and not a liability.”
After listening to each other’s story and experiences throughout last one year, there was an uncomfortable silence between the three. They wanted answers to the unending number of questions that were crossing their minds and lives. But how and where? Then, suddenly a though struck Ashray which brought about a smirk on his face. They knew whom to approach just that it had taken them long to come up with his name. Prashant Dayal was the person they were looking for. He was the HR head at IOCL, Delhi and had come down to XLRI for their recruitments. Since their very first meeting, all three had developed an affinity towards him .He possessed a certain aura that could have come only through knowledge and experience in the industry. While handing over their offer letters, he had told them to approach him anytime they faced a trouble in IOCL. They decided to approach Mr Prashant Dayal with their experiences and look for a solution to the dilemmas they were facing.
Case Analysis Debanjan Debanjan, an XLRI graduate decides to join IOCL and was very excited to go for his new job. His expectations from his job were that of a conventional HR Manager role in a plush head office. What was assigned to him took him by utter surprise. He couldn’t imagine himself dealing with workers in an oil refinery when all he had dreamt of was dealing with HR issues of middle level management in a corporate office. But after overcoming this hiccup, he decides to give this job his best shot and work towards the betterment of hrpolicies of IOCL. The two main core issues faced by Debanjan are:(a)Refusal to be accepted as a senior employee (hierarchy wise) by his junior team members (who are age-wise senior to him) (b) In the Delhi office, he faces stiff domination and his seniors dominate and impose their ideas on the whole team instead of being flexible enough to listen to new ideas The first issue talks about a sensitive issue at work: - should seniority be age-wise or mettlewise? This is a typical issue faced by many public organisations and of late since a lot of public sector units have been recruiting from major b-schools of the country, they generally place these young mba graduates at a much higher level of responsibility and hierarchy. Sometimes this breeds the feeling of resentment towards the senior members who feel they have been surpassed by inexperienced youngsters. In this case, Debanjan should first and foremost understand his team structure and core competency of each of them. This would help him understand how to allocate work to each of them and extract the best possible output from each member. Debanjan would also have to make an extra effort to break the ice between his team members and showing due humbleness and respect towards the members’ experience. Rather than taking a hostile stand or reciprocating the cold-shoulder, he should involve himself in more team building exercises so that his team members understand his mettle and start believing in his abilities. In fact, Debanjan should feel lucky enough to start with such a team which would help him build a very strong foundation towards a rewarding career in IOCL. The second problem that he faces is of supreme dominance and suffocation of new ideas. This issue is a particularly common problem faced in many organisations where seniors are rigid and refuse to budge from their stand. If this attitude persists in an organisation, it not only kills the enthusiasm spark in the new joinees but also forces them to leave that organization and look for other options. This, in the long run, is not only a loss for the employee but also the firm in consideration. In this case it is very important to understand that working in a group rather than imposing one’s thoughts on the basis of seniority. Listening to group members’ ideas not only increases the knowledge base of possible solutions, but also increases the acceptance of and commitment towards the solution because members had a voice in it. This also results in greater understanding of group decision because group members were involved in all stages of decision process.
Tanushka Tanushka after passing from XLRI joined IOCL as an operations manager. She had dreamt of a job where she would be accountable for the work she did. She had thought that joining such a huge organisation would mean there would be set guidelines for working. She had not expected that the guidelines would be based on gender and not on the work content. In spite of the discrimination against her, she decided to fight for her rights. Unfortunately the flaws in the system were so deep rooted that she could barely manage to survive in the department, let alone fight for her rights. The major issue faced by Tanushka was that she was being discriminated on the basis of her gender. There was no apparent reason for the discrimination. The only reason apparent was that she had tread into an area which till then had been predominantly male dominated. This is an issue faced by many women who are one of the path breakers in their fields. Here discrimination is not confined to the work place. It crops in many small incidents where mutual cooperation is needed among the team. Travel plans for the entire team excluded her and she had to make her own travel plans. The organisation and the seniors in the organisation should ensure that these problems are not faced by anyone. Moreover should someone face such issues at workplace it should be handled in a very mature and professional way. In Tanushka’s case however, her boss Mr Kumar considered Tanushka’s grievances very lightly, rather he advised her to stay away from the exploration area. Yet when reports were demanded she was compared on an equal footing. Tanushka compared herself to another female in the same department and realised that to excel she had took the easy way out of smart work rather than hard work. For Tanushka this was not an option, as she believed in hard work. She strongly believed in her beliefs and values and could not let go of them just for the sake of a good review in a department whose functioning style was gender biased. Considering she was an achiever and she believed in her capabilities, and she could have excelled and tapped her potential to the maximum in any department. Her capabilities were underutilised in the department and hence she should try and move to another department and not be disheartened at this failure.
Ashray Jain Ashray Jain was one of the best marketing graduates from XLRI, and it was this competency that landed him into the Sales and Marketing team of IOCL. Things at IOCL were very different from what had been taught to him. Ashray faced questions regarding his integrity and honesty. On his first assignment, he met Mr Velmurugan, one of the dealers, who had been using his power and influence to sell impure fuel. Ashray tried questioning this and wanted to report this unfair practice to his superiors. To his dismay, not only did the superiors know about this, they went on to support the activity as well. Mr Velmurugan used money as a power to influence the officials at IOCL. Ashray faced a dilemma as to whether he should remain honest, in the process probably lose his job, or worse, his life, or to accept the norms and do what everyone was doing. Ashray chose the latter, for the first few months he had a comfortable existence and it was only when the audit team came, that he had problems. With the kind of beginning that Ashray got, it was very difficult for him to have any respect for the company. There was wide scale corruption and every employee was involved in fulfilling his needs; the company objectives had been sent for a toss. With this as a starting point, life became much distorted for Ashray. It used to be the norm for public sector companies, but off late things are changing and people like Ashray had to be the change initiators. That was essentially why they had been brought into the company. For this to be achieved, Ashray had to be kept immune from all the prevalent corruptions. In the end it was Ashray who was the scapegoat while he should have been the prized employee for the organization. In the second assignment, the protagonist Ashray Jain had an uphill task of learning Tamil and simultaneously achieving his sales target. The fact that he came up with the highest sales figure is admirable. He initially brushed aside any pre-conceived notions about working in Tamil Nadu which shows his professional attitude. He used to take the help of his boss at many occasions which shows that rather than adopting a laid-back approach he was trying his best to complete the sales target. His boss, Mr Prakashan failed as a leader of the team on many fronts. To make a new member comfortable and adjust within the group should be his prime motive. He should have conducted the meetings in English and should have no qualms in solving Ashray’s problems. Rather, he should have offered his help to him to overcome any troubles he was facing. Giving the protagonist a bad appraisal shows his narrow sightedness in appreciating his junior’s work and his insensitivity towards his junior’s problems.
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