African Journal of
Business Management

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Bus. Manage.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 1993-8233
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJBM
  • Start Year: 2007
  • Published Articles: 4164

Full Length Research Paper

Post-reforms training needs of front-line managers at Indian power distribution companies: A middle managers’ perspective

Suresh Vishwakarma*
  • Suresh Vishwakarma*
  • University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, India.
  • Google Scholar
Ruchi Tyagi
  • Ruchi Tyagi
  • University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, India.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 06 June 2016
  •  Accepted: 22 July 2016
  •  Published: 14 August 2016


The Indian power distribution companies (DISCOMs) adopted new technologies and commercial practices. The present study identifies the competency areas in which frontline managers (FLMs) need training in the Indian power distribution sector. A literature review was conducted to identify gaps. This process was then used to develop the questionnaires. Following a pilot study data involving 78 middle managers from 4 DISCOMs, a study was undertaken. Stratified probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling was used. The collected data was tabulated and analyzed using statistical package for social sciences (SPSS). The study identified five technical, eight managerial, and four commercial areas of competencies and skills in which DISCOMs’ FLMs need training.  Technical - Investigate energy consumed and billed, investigate reoccurrence of same fault, reconfiguring network, distributed generation, and installing right switchgears at right location. Managerial - Unbiased judgement, identify work related issues, conclude maximum from given info, align staff, design work, allocate tasks, break old habits, anticipate consequences, resolve conflicts, ensure cordial environment, respect rules and ethics, make decisions, amicable solutions. Commercial - Understand tariffs, provide constructive feedback, understand audit, use software for commercial solutions, and maximize revenue. There is a need for institutionalizing training process at DISCOMs and training needs assessment should be given prior importance for FLMs’ competency. The research also suggests that the competent FLMs also lead to customer satisfaction. Cronbach alpha was 0.73 confirming internal consistency (reliability) of data. Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin Measure of Sampling Adequacy was 0.87, and Bartlett’s test of sphericity was significant at 0.00. Validity of questionnaire was established using data reduction technique. Questionnaires were tested for convergent (average loading of all extracted components was greater than the minimum acceptable value of 0.7) and discriminant validity (variance extracted between all components was greater than the correlation square between them).

Key words: Indian power sector, DISCOM, training needs assessment, frontline manager.


Power  sector  is  important  for  the development  of  any nation. The power supply sector  was included  in  India’s

five-year plans in the year 1951. Liberalization initiative by the Government of India in 1991 resulted in formation of independent power distribution companies (DISCOMs) in different states. The Electricity Act 2003 shifted the power sector from regulated business to a competitive business. Several studies have established a positive correlation between the trained front office managers and customer satisfaction. Reports from various institutions have suggested that inadequate training of frontline managers at Indian DISCOMs in new technologies and commercial practices is resulting in inefficient operations and customers’ dissatisfaction (World Bank, 2014). Indian electricity distribution system has nearly 200 million consumers with a connected load of about 400 GW (Shekhar, 2014). As per Power Finance Corporation’s report, electricity customers in India are served by about 73 Distribution Utilities, 13 Electricity departments, 17 Private Distribution companies, 40 Corporatized Distribution Companies and three (3) State Electricity Boards (Alam et al., 2014). This places India amongst the largest electricity consumer bases in the world.

The amendment of Supply Act (1948) in 1991, followed by the enactment of Electricity Act (2003) and notification of Mega Power Policy (1995), National Tariff Policy (2005), National Electricity Policy and Integrated Energy Policy has led to restructuring and unbundling of the erstwhile vertically integrated state electricity boards into independent generation, transmission, and distribution companies. These new legislations consolidated the position for existing laws and aimed to provide measures conducive to the development of Indian electricity industry. They have addressed certain issues that had slowed down the growth of sector in the country, and have consequently generated new hopes for the electricity industry. These independent companies are supposed to be managed on a commercial approach basis. The role of senior engineers has now shifted from a purely government controlled technical management to business management in a corporatized framework.


Indian Energy sector is expanding fast. As per IEA’s report (2015), India’s electricity demand from 521 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2000 has raised to 897 TWh in 2013; showing an average annual increase at the rate of 6.9%. Also a rapid increase in household electricity consumption is expected in forthcoming years (Figure 1). 

The IEA 2015 Report states that there is a rise of 25 to 35% in the estimated requirement for semi-skilled and skilled workers which comprises of engineers, project managers, and technical staff. An official document of Ministry of Power (2012) has quoted that DISCOMs’ manpower is not trained in the new technologies and practices resulting in performance deficiency and reduced customer satisfaction, demanding regular updating of employees’ skills. Article 5.1 of Government of India’s National Training Policy (2002) underlines that training was earlier being considered as an optional activity. There was an inadequacy of trainers and insufficient training facilities in power sector. The customers’ satisfaction surveys carried out between 2007 and 2012 in few Indian States also find that a large population of electricity customers is not satisfied with DISCOMs’ services. World Bank’s 2002 Report also underlined that distribution utilities need to focus on enhancing  customer  satisfaction  by  providing   efficient and reliable service in India as there 80% of the revenue is generated from the 20% of customers account.

Identifying research gap

The identified research gaps based on literature review are presented in Table 1.

Indian power distribution company (DISCOMs)


The lately formed DISCOMs generally have their corporate headquarters in the capital of state of major cities in different regions.  DISCOMs additionally have their field offices in towns, sub-urban, and rural areas. The field offices are headed by middle managers (Superintending Engineers and Executive Engineers) who are the immediate superiors, supervisors, and mentors of frontline managers of DISCOMs. They implement strategies and policies of top management through managers reporting to them. This has become more relevant as consequent to the reforms, many new technologies have emerged in the electricity distribution sector (Mehta and Madhav, 2010; Core, 2002; Okora et al., 2007; Padmanabhan and Sarkar, 2002; World Bank's Report, 2002).

Manpower challenges at electric utility companies

Managing talent in electric utilities is a big challenge in India. Average age of employees in most of the state-owned utilities is around 50 (PWC, 2011). Recruitments in the majority of the utilities have either stopped or have been sporadic over the past 10 to 15 years, with some of them resorting to contractual employment to fulfil their manpower   requirements   (PWC,   2011).   This    further impact on the efficiency of the operation of the utility. With engineers and other technical personnel being disinterested to join the utilities, utilities often have to engage personnel on contract or outsource some of their core operations to agencies that claim to perform such jobs which the utility desires. Regrettably, most of the times, such personnel are found to be under-trained or unskilled to be able to deliver the requirements of the utilities (PWC, 2011).

Middle managers

Middle managers at DISCOMs are above frontline managers and below departmental heads in the organizational hierarchy. The frontline managers directly report to them. According to Stensaker and Falkenberg (2007), middle managers have an active role as change implementers. Middle managers not only influence the implementation of change, but also have a vital communicative role in change processes (Cees et al., 2009). Thomas and Dunkerley (1999) state that middle managers act as change agents between top management and employees. Though the middle managers have been a target for criticism in the change process, and often get blamed as being obstructive and resistant (Balogun, 2003). Thus, the middle line is between pressures from underneath and above in the organization, making middle managers ‘stuck in the middle’.

Front line managers

Frontline managers (FLMs) in DISCOMs are the field officers mainly Assistant Engineers and Junior Engineers who are posted at operation and maintenance offices in the town, sub-urban, and rural areas (Vishwakarma and Dwivedi, 2013). They head the field offices which is basically a miniature of the DISCOM. FLM’s  are  the  first or second level managers directly responsible for production of goods and services and supervision of employees, who report to them but do not themselves have any managerial or supervisory responsibility (Sirbasku, [MS1] 2011). FLM’s are responsible for the basic work of the organization by coordinating the work of line staff in accordance to the standards, which have been set by higher management (Bartol et al., 1998).

Training needs at DISCOMs

Talbott (2013) in his discussion paper “Lighting the Way: Unlocking Performance Gains in Electricity Distribution and Retailing in India” has underlined that poor management practices at Indian DISCOMs present obstacles to more efficient operation and improved financial performance by distributors. An official document of Ministry of Power (2012) quotes that the low levels of computerization and inadequate IT systems has made it difficult to track sales and collection rates and pinpoint sources of aggregate technical and  commercial (AT&C) losses. Beattie (2006) states that supervision is the most important element in a learning system, providing a pivotal link between individuals and their manager, and between individuals and the organization as a whole. World Bank’ report (2005) on “Improving Power Distribution Company Operations to Accelerate Power Sector Reform”, suggest that utility’s CEO must lead operational reform, taking a holistic view of the process. Performance improvement should be the utility CEO’s number one priority. Only the CEO has the breadth of vision and the depth of influence to make the most difficult and far-reaching reforms happen - collection, internal control, enforcing disconnection policy, and many similar initiatives (Antmann, 2009)

Electricity customers

Electricity customers are increasingly becoming demanding with exposure to improved service standards across sectors, and  parallel licensee, open access and private participation. The  customers now have options to choose the power supplier (Goett et al., 2000). Competition is enforcing utilities to look at innovative solutions for customer retention. Customized services delivered at the customer’s doorstep, value-added services as part of the distribution business portfolio are gradually gaining importance.

Limitations of the study

This study was confined to only four DISCOMs operating in central India for the focus of selection of population for the data. Reforms in Indian power sector were introduced in 1991. There is  a  shortage  of  published  literature  on

Training Need Analysis (TNA) at Indian DISCOMs and competency mapping of frontline managers in particular for TNA. The researcher could not get many references to compare the results of his study.

Future scope of the study


This study paves way to further this research covering all or most of Indian DISCOMs. The future study may focus solely on the intermediate effect of the ‘Non-Training Issues’ in Training Need Analysis.

 [MS1]See my comment above



Research problem

The Indian power distribution companies (DISCOMs) adopted new technologies and commercial practices but the manpower is not adequately trained on them, which is resulting in inefficient operations and customers’ dissatisfaction.


Research objective

The study aims to identify significant competency deficiencies to be addressed in the training for improving performance of frontline managers in Indian power distribution sector.

Research question

What are the competency areas in which FLMs need training in the Indian power distribution sector? 


Questions on 3-point likert scale (1 - Very Important, 2 - Fairly Important, 3 - Not Important) were framed based on the outcome of the literature review to develop a questionnaire (Appendix 1). The questions covered 31 skills and competencies in technical, commercial, and managerial areas that appeared mandatory for DISCOMs’ frontline managers.


Reliability and validity of the instrument

Cronbach’s Alpha value was calculated 0.713 suggesting internal consistency of items and reliability of the instrument. Validity of the questionnaire was established using data reduction technique. Questionnaire was tested for convergent and discriminant validity. Average loading of all extracted components was greater than the minimum acceptable value of 0.7 suggesting convergent validity for all extracted components. Variance extracted between all components was greater than the correlation square between them (Fornell and Larcker,1981). 



Responses of DISCOMs’ middle managers were collected on the training needs of frontline managers reporting to them. Middle managers were only chosen to collect questionnaire responses because frontline managers directly report to them. They are the immediate superior, supervisor, and mentors of frontline managers at DISCOMs.



Stratified probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling was used.


Pilot testing

The questionnaire was pre-tested on 10% population of respondents.  



Cronbach’s Alpha values were calculated for data collected as presented in Table 2. Cronbach’s Alpha value of 0.713

was quite high and acceptable confirming internal consistency (reliability) of data. Acceptable Cronbach's alpha values range from 0.70 to 0.95 (Tavakol and Dennick, 2011).


Adequacy test

For the KMO statistic, Kaiser (1974) recommends a bare minimum of 0.5 and that values between 0.5 and 0.7 are mediocre, values between 0.7 and 0.8 are good, values between 0.8 and 0.9 are great and values above 0.9 are superb (Hutcheson and Sofroniou, 1999). For these data, the value is 0.870 (Table 3) which falls into the range of being great. Researcher was therefore confident that the sample size is adequate for analysis. Bartlett test results show that the

values are significant and thus acceptable. It tests the null hypothesis that the correlation matrix is an identity matrix. A statistically significant Bartlett’s test of sphericity (significant level < 0.05) confirms sufficient correlations among the variables to proceed. The same table indicates that the significance level is lesser than 0.000, which is small enough to reject null hypothesis. Bartlett’s test of sphericity in this study was therefore significant and thus acceptable.


Total population, sampling and respondents profile

The population included DISCOMs’ middle managers (Superintending Engineer, Executive Engineer, and equivalent). The study focused on central India. Middle managers of following 4 DISCOMs operating in 443338 sq. km (around 13.5% of country’s total geographical area) were under study.

1.     Madhya Pradesh Eastern Region Power Distribution Company (MPERPDC)

2.     Madhya Pradesh Western Region Power Distribution Company (MPWRPDC)

3.     Madhya Pradesh Central Region Power Distribution Company (MPCRPDC)

4.     Chhattisgarh State Power Distribution Company (CSPDC)

Out of the total employees’ strength of 49395 indicated in Table 4, 670 middle managers of four DISCOMs were under

study. Stratified probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling was used. The corresponding participation of middle managers was = (670 / 3132) * 364 = 78 (rounded). Table 5 includes the demographic profile of respondent middle managers.

Data analysis and Interpretation

Competency mapping of DISCOMs’ FLMs by their immediate superiors

78 responses were collected between January, 2013 to June, 2013 from DISCOMs’ middle managers on the importance of 31 competency or skill items (identified after pilot testing). The analysis is presented in the form of bar chart (Figures 2 and 3) followed by the interpretation and findings. The middle managers consider 14 skills very important in frontline managers’ job. There was a little disagreement on the importance of requirement of remaining 17 skills though they have also been considered fairly important. The mean values for the importance of 11 technical skills were either 2 or below which further confirmed the importance of 11 technical skills for efficient performance of frontline managers’ job at DISCOMs.

It can be noticed from the results tabulated earlier, that all the average mean of responses of middle managers on importance of 11 technical skills for frontline managers is 1.49. The results indicate importance of all these technical skills by DISCOMs’ frontline managers to perform better at their workplace. Another inference which can be made is that the average deviation for all 11 technical skills is 0.57 confirming negligible variance.

The middle managers were not confident in the capability of their frontline managers in all listed skills except in tracking progress and quality of work. The mean values of confidence in frontline managers exceeding 1.8 further confirmed that middle managers were not confident that their frontline managers can perform the 11 technical skills. The average mean of responses of middle managers on their rating of Frontline managers’ confidence in these 11 technical skills is 2.1 which ranges between “Quite confident” and “Not confident”. This mean  value  confirms  a  lower  index  of middle  managers’  confidence   on   DISCOMs’   frontline managers in these 11 technical areas to perform better at their workplace. Another inference which can be made  is that the average deviation for all 11 technical skills is 0.54 confirming negligible variance (Figure 3).

A   comparison   between   the    skills    which    middle managers perceive as “Very Important” for frontline managers and their rating of being “Very Confident” in their frontline managers to perform those skills is seen. The poor corresponding confidence ratings for different skills confirm that respondent middle managers are not very confident in their frontline managers to perform the very important skills in their changed role after reforms (Figure 4).

FLM’s immediate supervisor on FLM’s competency

To understand the present competency of the FLM’s under study and impact of past trainings being provided to them feedback from their immediate Supervisors were taken. Theimmediate supervisors gave their rating on the scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) presented in Table 6. The impact of past trainings on competency is also collected. All responses are presented in Table 6. 

Further to identify whether the competency rated by age and experience of FLM’s correlation matrix is presented in Table 7.

Mean value of 7.06 confirmed that middle managers were fairly satisfied with the performance of their frontline managers. Mean value of 7.51 confirmed that middle managers believe that their frontline managers have enough potential to perform their duties efficiently. The mean value of 5.35 however indicates that the middle managers were not satisfied with the training being provided to their frontline managers. The correlation values in Table 6 indicate that the experienced middle managers in the senior age group do not perceive enough potential in their frontline managers. They do not rate frontline managers’ performance high either. 


The study concluded that the frontline managers of Indian DISCOM’s need training  in  the  competency  areas  and skills are listed in Table 8. The correlation matrix of FLM’s competence age and experience also indicates need for training of the frontline managers in the identified competency areas.



Training has always been a dedicated wing at the erstwhile state electricity boards and the lately formed DISCOMs subsequent to reforms. However, as underlined by Ministry of Power’s reports and other organizations, it lacked the required infrastructure and not always received adequate attention. The training policies were formulated at the top management level without much consideration of the opinions of middle managers and employees’ immediate superiors.

This study has focused on collecting and analyzing the opinion of middle managers in-particular in the changing scenario after reforms with increasing customers’ expectations. Erstwhile state electricity boards and DISCOMs are aware of the training needs of their personnel but they may consider using these results to frame their training policies and plans with a broader perspective. Most of the training in the identified technology areas can be organized under technology transfer agreement with the manufacturers and product developers at the procurement stage itself.

Training in managerial and commercial areas can be organized through higher institutions. Long term training agreements can be made with the power training institutes and professional trainers who can preferably give on-site training in customer relations and utility software. Services of retired managers of same or co-organizations can also be contracted. The class room training for frontline managers needs to be supported with on-site training and on-line refreshers. Management should also keep a continuous evaluation of their training

programs, and collect feedback from the trained personnel for making improvements wherever needed.

Implications for practice

The skills competency of frontline managers needs to be mapped and training should be provided to the frontline managers at DISCOMs on the application of modern technologies suggesting a need for institutionalizing the Training Need Assessment (TNA) at DISCOMs.


The authors have not declared any conflict of interests.


Authors are grateful to DISCOMs’ middle managers for sparing their valuable time and efforts in responding to the questionnaire and sharing their experiences for the study.


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