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Learning at the Workplace in India – An Interview with Anjana Vinod

Updated: Dec 16, 2021

Learning at the Workplace is undergoing a tremendous change in India, partly due to the digital transformation ushered by COVID-19, but also because companies now see learning as a way to attract and retain talent, and drive business forward. We caught up with Corporate Trainer and Image Consultant Anjana Vinod, to chat on the present and future of L&D in India.

How has learning at the workplace evolved in the last decade in India?

Learning at the Workplace has come a long way in India. From early classroom-based to the most recent online platforms, companies are now changing and moving with times to cater to the growing demand of learning. So, while they had LMS systems, usage was limited. Today, there are so many options available; technology is easily accessible, MOOCs have become financially viable. Overall, there’s tremendous change, and for the better.

I would say about 60% of the profession has evolved to being people driven, and people focused, but there is always scope for improvement. However, predominantly, HR professionals bank on L&D for employee engagement – that’s the priority way to look at employee engagement. I can point to some specific ways and companies that are practicing a major shift in their approach to people management, and HR.

What has led to this major shift in approach?

Initially, business leaders would set certain priorities and goals, and then those would be retrofitted to suit employees. Now, companies are putting their employees on the fore front while taking L&D decisions. They are looking at innovative ways like voting, surveys etc. to take employee inputs and study their learning needs.

This also comes from the increasing population of a younger workforce. They come to the workplace with a completely different set of motivations, a new age mindset. 

During their job search, and while reviewing potential employers, younger folks are not looking only at money. They don’t just want fancy packages and benefits; they want job satisfaction. They want work that has a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement. This job satisfaction is closely tied in to getting an opportunity to learn and grow.

This has been an important factor for pushing L&D to center stage in HR priorities. In fact, as we see now, learning at the workplace is quickly becoming a core business driver, a revenue generator.

How is that? Can you give us an example?

A lot of MNCs, specially software companies, not only look at learning for improving employee skill sets, but also for securing projects in newer domains. This is happening from both the employer’s end and also the employees’ themselves.

Employers are willing to spend training money in fields that can help them expand their projects. So, if they see more projects in AI or cyber security, they are keen to invest in their top learners to get the skills necessary to pitch and win those projects. This is a tremendous shift for learning. Never before has HR, and specifically learning been molded as a core business driver.

On the employee’s end, they are also looking for skills that can help them unlock new business opportunities for the organization. So, employees are looking at quick learning / adaptability to be the factor that helps make them valuable and irreplaceable to the organization.

Some companies who are doing learning right?

Publicis Sapient, Owen Corning, Roche Diagnostics, Lupin are some companies I know prioritizing Learning & Development and really experimenting with methods and technology tools to create holistic impact on business.

What role is technology playing? How well are firms using technology to their advantage in L&D?

Generally speaking, technology is the major driving factor. However, it also depends on the organization; their culture, budgets and a bunch of other factors. Reliance has really mastered using technology to bridge the gap between old tutor led learning and new age online learning.

This Blended Learning approach has their online LMS platform amalgamated with classroom sessions. This helps facilitate a seamless transition between a format employee have traditionally used and a format that’s going to be the way learning occurs in future. They also make sure to use external tutors, high performing internal subject matter experts and facilitate a learning culture at Reliance.

What are the challenges holding back other companies from adopting this style?

The biggest challenge is of time. Biggest impediment to on demand online learning is availability of time. This is in two ways;

1. Long, distended online modules, that run into weeks, or months, often fail to keep the employees engaged. That’s where work needs to be done, to create online experiences that are exciting, relevant, and bite sized. Employees want to their most pressing problems answered quickly, 2. Employees, especially in India, are always pressed for time. Deadlines, work pressure and the lack of learning being a priority means employees can’t or won’t make time to learn. So even if you have on demand classes, from the best of global faculty, great user experience, the employee is unable to carve out learning time. Dedicated self-development time is only prioritized in few companies. And the onus for this fall entirely on company leaders and company culture. You can have a fabulous top-of-line LMS, but if there’s no rewards for the employee, it’s just not going to work.

Two ways to address this – 1. making learning a core job description & PMS (performance management system). 2. creating a recognition system that motivates employees to find time for learning. A pat on the back can be a game changer.

Tell us about rewards; what are the different ways employees can be recognized and rewarded?

A model that I’ve rolled out with the Pantheon Group is a Peer Recognition model. Employees used multicolored cards to acknowledge colleagues and peers, while also submitting an official recognition on their online LMS system. This could be related to their work, or for contributing to each other’s learning experience.

Owens Corning India, which has an amazing L&D focus, created an internal Leaderboard showcasing high performing employees under their Fastrack Leadership Initiative. They blended peer learning and mentorship with promotions being the direct incentive, and found 50% conversion rate.

How popular and common is the idea of peer learning? What are the opportunities?

It’s a comparatively new concept, and one that defies the logic held by executives and employees. 90% of employees fear sharing knowledge with colleagues because they are afraid of losing their jobs. Organizations need to lay emphasis on the opportunities that can open for employees who share their learning. Another company that’s exploring peer learning is the Future Group with their Future Learning program.

What do you think is its biggest hurdle to the concept of Peer Learning?

1. From employee’s end – Fear of not being appreciated. By sharing knowledge, they fear becoming dispensable for the organization. 2. From employer’s end – Organizations that don’t have the maturity to embrace learning and growth. For them, learning means stepping out of their comfort zone, embracing change, seeing people take up new responsibilities. This requires a mindset shift, a culture change.

What are the opportunities for Peer Learning?

Predominantly, India’s growth means there’s huge opportunities for growth in Learning. To add to that, Covid has played very well for L&D. Digital transformation has been an incredible boon. People are finally comfortable with digital technologies, from video conferencing, to connecting with colleagues through the web, online learning & maintaining productivity.

The other thing that can be as pivotal to growth of learning is rewards and recognition. Any form of reward; revenue, rating, promotions will work well to get employees in the ‘always learning’ mindset. Companies need to get away from assuming that employees will teach and share on their own accord. And then there’s the feel-good aspect – employees like being acknowledged as a contributor, as someone who makes a difference, adds value outside of their job descriptions.

By introducing peer learning and blending it with a robust recognition system, companies can look at creating knowledge pillars that hold them up even as employees leave and business environment changes. That’s the goal to chase!

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