Dr S V Kiran is the Senior Vice President & Head - Human Resources, Apollo Hospitals. Over the last couple of decades, he has worked in multliple HR roles across a number of healthcare companies including Medanta, Fortis and Takshashila.
In this exclusive conversation with People Matters, Dr. SV Kiran talks about the key lessons that transformed the healthcare sector, the formalization of new learning priorities and engaging employees by building meaningful connections and giving them choice.
Q. The healthcare industry was at the forefront of the pandemic. What have been the topmost shifts from a learning perspective according to you?
With COVID19, the healthcare industry had to relook at the entire learning agenda and how we look at the learning function. The biggest shift was the move away from a familiar learning environment – which was most often a classroom or a theatre/ auditorium setting. Learning on-the-job and within a lab setting was a key feature of learning– whether it was learning how to do CPR or engage in infection control training. Learning programs were mostly instructional. And online training and pre-recorded content was very minimal.
Since COVID19 mandated physical distancing, there were reasonable restrictions on capacity to deliver training. The size of the class was reduced to 1/6th of the capacity. That’s when we boosted technology based training. We are currently upgrading to Fusion Learn from Taleo.
During the pandemic, we wanted to teach our doctors and nurses a number of things: how do you wear masks, how do you protect yourself and your team when there are suspected cases? And technology was the first leaver to impart this information – that could then be transmitted to everyone. And the reach is significantly higher with live sessions/ pre-recorded sessions.
Q. The move away from familiar modes of learning to new ones would have been tough. What were some new opportunities that came from it?
Technology enabled an anytime, anyplace learning flexibility. There was the opportunity to learn when one was traveling, when employees werer at home or a time they chose.
Secondly, we had control of the quality of training, because you have one expert trainer and everyone had access to the same content, unlike a classroom scenario, where you have ten different trainers across different regions.
Third, we could make learning interactive. And people tend to open up and ask more questions when they’re learning virtually as opposed to a classroom set up.
This period also taught us the importance of learning. Traditionally, people do the same job throughout most of their careers – only with greater quality over a period of time. For example: A lab technician may see a change of technology and terminology but would more or less be doing the same job. We also realized that we need to engage in multi skilling and re-skilling because there was a need to operate with minimum possible resources. There was also a need to unlearn and re-learn processes.
Due to the rise of digital medical consulting, there was also the digitization of medical resources and access. There was a need to reskill people to do something else. And while we were are doing that, we realized there were new jobs and new skill areas that we could focus on. With this in mind, we brought greater clarity on these new job roles and communicated it with employees. Then, we followed up with a questionnaire to understand how much of the new job roles were already familiar to our employees.
Doctors had to get used to checking medical records online. And this brought about a paradigm shift in the approach and drive to learn. Today, people realize that specialization may not work in their favour, if their skills become irrelevant suddenly. There’s a need to be relevant to the market.
Q. How are all these insights informing your future learning roadmap?
I’m creating a learning strategy for the next financial year. And the focus is to take learning up by a notch – where we define competencies, identify gaps, align simulations, and make it mandatory to qualify for a particular skillset in order to occupy a role and/or seek growth. We are working with EY on some of these items already.
Q. How did you think about engagement with a whole new host of priorities with digital consulting etc. that needed continuous communication?
More than learning specifc engagement, there was a need to engage with employees on a personal level and it subsequently had an impact on their workplace performance and learning. There were a number of steps that the management looked into. Since there was fear around COVID19, and a risk of contracting the virus, people had to make a choice as to whether they wanted to continue working or take a professional break. They had to choose between treating COVID19 patients and non COVID patients. The most important thing we had to do was engage with employees, to make them feel important and contribute their best. Our senior leaders personally met employees who were living in hostels during this time.
We also engaged with the families of the staff to assure them of the safety at work, and if they contracted the virus, we assured them that will take care of them. We also insured them for additional cover. The engagement with the family built an emotional connect with the brand. Hospitals were also equipped with vegetable kiosks, barbers etc., to make the lives of employees better.
Recognition was one form of engagement that helped motivate employees and we also certified their contribution during the pandemic. So it gave people a real sense of purpose.
Q. When you spoke about multi-skilling, reskilling. How are you formalizing some of these learning?
We are categorizing them into job categories – one for doctors, then nurses followed by paramedics. We have now developed focused online learning for the majority of our staff including courses that cater to their real life workplace experience. Including how to write notes, what are the nuances in reading an ECG, and everything that isn't taught in a medical school. Similarly, there are staff who engaged in technical/ statistical work who want to understand the clinical aspects of work – so we gave them access to simulation labs and online demos, and that made a huge difference. There are a whole host of courses mapped to the level of their careers. It helps foster careers, and helps them perform better.
Q. How are you thinking about the role of technology in instilling the right habits and behaviours for learning?
Technology can play a critical important role here. During this time, we’ve brought in a lot of technology to digitize HR. In fact, we are working towards operating on paperless HR model and we’re confident that we will achieve it.
There is no way we could have navigated learning without technology. And it has a real impact of the employee experience as its focused on the pull factors and not just ‘top to down’ push factors. Technology helps us with the range of courses, it builds convenience, align counselling and keeps up consistency, captures data and helps map future aspirations.
Q. What is your advice that you’d like to share with HR leaders embarking on a similar transformation journey?
I would tell leaders that this is the right time to reboot your strategy. Life is not going to become suddenly normal. And therefore, it is important for the organization and the talent to relook at learning from the perspective of relevance and fun.
This interview is a part of #HRReboot Week– The road map to re-opening the workplace brought to you by Oracle and People Matters, that’s focused on building a resilient workplace. Follow #HRReboot to get access to insights and experience from the exclusive conversations we have with a group of leaders who are leading the future of work. Click here to register.