Article: “Developing a ‘muscle of learning’ will ensure adaptability and resilience”

Leadership

“Developing a ‘muscle of learning’ will ensure adaptability and resilience”

NIIT’s HR Head Mita Brahma shares her thoughts on data-driven fairness in the hybrid workplace, enabling collaboration across a multigenerational workforce and preparing for the digital challenges that lie ahead.
“Developing a ‘muscle of learning’ will ensure adaptability and resilience”

Mita Brahma is the HR Head, at NIIT Ltd. Her experience of more than 30 years spans the consulting, software, banking, and education sectors.

Mita has worked in different areas of retail, corporate and institutional banking with the State Bank of India. She has headed the Human Resource function at Nucleus Software Exports Ltd, and led large organisational development initiatives with Grow Talent, a consulting services organisation. Some of the areas in which she has led projects are real time strategic change, leadership assessment & development, goal alignment and deployment, organisation design, and workplace technologies.

As a senior member of the leadership team, Mita is responsible for designing and executing the people strategy at NIIT. Her focus areas are talent development, and maintaining organisational agility and resilience, in the current era of digital disruption. She is also an active contributor as a thought leader in the areas of Future of work, Inclusion and Entrepreneurship.

In this exclusive interview with People Matters, Mita talks about enabling collaboration across a multigenerational workforce, balancing business objectives and talent development needs, and the biggest challenges leaders need to be prepared for amid the ongoing digital disruption.

What key shifts do you foresee shaping the talent and workplace landscape in 2022?

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about fundamental changes at the workplace. It has made employees question and reflect upon their priorities in their jobs and careers. It has made organisations reimagine the workplace and work processes. A few key shifts are under way, because of technology driven innovation, new business models and the human response to the pandemic.

  • Remote and hybrid models will stabilize and continue. The teachings of the pandemic will stay with us. Companies are better equipped now to classify roles as remote, hybrid or on-site. Supervisors have learnt to allocate, monitor, and reward work in a remote fashion. Employees have learnt that remote working allows them a greater choice of jobs and organisations to work for, allows greater flexibility to manage all aspects of their lives, and saves the commute time to-and-from a physical work area. Organisations have invested in the required technologies to ensure collaboration, security, and speed of operations.  
  • Fairness at the workplace will be a focus area. Face-to-face meetings build stronger connects between employees. They make it easier to build workplace friendships, as compared to the remote mode. However, human connects also have their unconscious biases.

The remote mode of working tends to be more data-driven. Organisations will use this learning and enhance processes to be more data driven, agile, transparent, fair, and collaborative. 

  • Focus on the well-being of employees will continue. Since the pandemic, the focus on well-being has expanded beyond the individual employee to the entire family. Also, it has expanded beyond physical wellness to include mental wellness. At NIIT, we have made a significant investment last year in well-being programs. We track the engagement and inclusion of NIITians (NIIT employees) in well-being programs, to be able to support them towards their wellness goals.
  • Digital transformation will continue to accelerate.  Technology led innovation will continue to generate new business models, new ways of working and new jobs. Organisations are doing a rethink about the capabilities that they will require to be successful in the changed future marketplace. There is a great focus on hiring, reskilling and upskilling talent that will enable organisations to be agile, prepared, and competitive. 
  • Employees will seek a greater alignment to the organisational purpose. The COVID experience was accompanied with a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the future. Employees are looking forward to stability at the workplace, a clear narrative about the common purpose, and being able to contribute to the greater good that the organisation is striving for.  

How has the renewed focus on talent development and wellness impacted your employee experience strategy?    

COVID-19 has changed the way employees interact with each other, and how they interact with various policies and systems of an organisation.

The systems and policies had not been designed for a fully digital organisation. The digital experience of employees needed a review and total rehaul in most organisations.

Hence, one renewed focus area for organisations has been about streamlining processes, and improving the user-experience of people processes, from the time of attracting and hiring employees to exit and beyond. 

Another area of focus for employee experience has been the company support for health and wellness.  With the pandemic, organisations have been interacting with the employee as a human first, and as a worker second. It was clear that the pandemic period required initiatives to reduce employee stress, to equip the employee with knowledge and resources to combat the pandemic, and to enable the employee to take care of near and dear ones. At NIIT, we had leadership connect sessions, to listen to our fellow NIITians and share their experiences. We arranged for expert webinars to help employees make sense of the evolving data about the pandemic. We helped with special leave, medical assistance, insurance, and financial support. 

COVID-19 had other additional implications for the talent force. The technology led acceleration that accompanied the pandemic, brought an array of opportunities. Employees want to have challenging assignments. Also, they want to be involved and be appreciated. At NIIT, we focussed on talent development to build skills in new technology areas, to build a global mindset, and to drive the usage of collaboration and productivity tools.

With a multi-generational workforce working in a hybrid environment, how is NIIT enabling an ecosystem of empathy, inclusion, collaboration?

At NIIT, we have stated in our vision statement, “We, NIIT, believe that our growth is the derivative of the growth of each one of us.” It is a very inclusive statement and guides our processes and actions. During the pandemic, we held regular communication events from the leadership to align with everyone. There was a CEO message every week, giving an organisational update. The Founders held Town Hall sessions and met groups of NIITians, to know about their challenge and concern areas, and to share in their lives. HR leaders, team members, and supervisors had their own regular listening sessions. 

Several fun events like playing online games, challenge events, cultural events and competitions were aimed at multiple generations of NIITians and their family members. The health and wellness initiatives too included family members of NITians. The family was invited for sessions on meditation, exercises, diet, and nutrition. We also included them in the vaccination camps. 

NIITians who had recovered from COVID, related their experience, and shared their stories with the larger group. Their stories of personal challenges and successes resonated with all NIITians. It helped them get to know each other’s situation more deeply. 

What are some of the biggest challenges leaders need to be prepared for amid the ongoing digital disruption? How can they equip themselves and their workforce to better tackle the uncertainties that lie ahead?

COVID-19 has accelerated a digital disruption and upheaval. It is promising to also accelerate technology led progress in several areas like healthcare, education, and transportation. Organisations are not prepared for the speed and agility of response that this demands. Leaders must manage an internal digital transformation, drive productivity and engagement, as well as be flexible and transparent all at the same time.

One focus area is communication and collaboration across boundaries. Leaders must equip the workforce with the necessary tools.

At NIIT, we have installed virtual collaboration tools for each employee. We have held training to ensure organisation-wide adoption of the tools. All learning resources relating to self-management, team management, productivity, organisational processes, and guidelines, have been put in a central repository, accessible to all. We have regular Town Hall sessions to ensure alignment and awareness of organisational priorities, challenges, and initiatives. 

Employees need to have clarity on their own career progression paths, and how they can best equip themselves for it. At NIIT, we have defined competency and achievement-based cadres. These give clarity about learning goals and learning paths for individual employees. Having structured learning paths helps supervisors give a structured guidance too.

Another focus area is technology enablement of all people processes, to ensure integrity of data and organizational metrics, to enhance fairness and speed of decision making, and to provide a better employee experience. 

Continuous development is something that employees look for in their employers and it is also becoming a strategic priority for leaders. How can talent leaders better balance business needs and talent development objectives?

Continuous development initiatives in organisations will get more focussed on what is required by the environment. Talent leaders will have to be in touch with these changing needs. To give some examples, teams must learn to be productive in an asynchronous setting. This may imply working on shared documents, being able to give explicit directions, and being able to manage a range of tasks and competencies. 

The pandemic has taught us the importance of the human connect just as it has emphasised the importance of technology.

As managerial tasks get more and more automated, the guiding and inspirational aspects of a manager become more important. In the remote mode of working, it is the human aspect and empathy of a manager that has kept teams together. 

Another lesson of the pandemic was that talent leaders must ensure their workforce is able to adapt and learn quickly. Organisations had to make quick decisions during the pandemic, as to what was working and what was not. While dealing with COVID related uncertainties, the teams learnt to look for multiple sources of data, evaluate scenarios, and make shifts in priorities. Talent leaders must ensure technology expertise, domain expertise and agile decision making in their managers. Developing a ‘muscle of learning’ will ensure adaptability and resilience in the organisation. 

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

We are living through a point of inflexion. The pandemic has brought us closer together as humans, caring for each other, and engaging with each other. It has been a period of transformation in terms of the way we work, live, and connect. Organisations have been reimagining their businesses and work models.

At NIIT, we enabled work-from-home for all NIITians at the start of the pandemic. We expect the future to be a mix of remote and hybrid roles. We expect that people will require flexibility at work, to navigate through a continued pace of change. We have invested substantially in technology tools and applications and made process improvements to make this flexibility possible. 

People are waiting to travel and connect with each other, in the post COVID world. We look forward to more company and family get-togethers.

The rapid advances in technological innovation will continue to drive a demand for talent. NIIT has much to contribute to this emerging, exciting world. As we say in our mission statement, “We will seek to play a key role in the directions and deployment of technology and knowhow for the benefit of mankind.” I do look forward to each NIITian being able to contribute to this challenging future.

I also look forward to each NIITian being a happier, healthier person in 2022. Our focus on continuous learning and overall wellness will contribute in some small measure, to this goal.

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Topics: Leadership, #Outlook2022

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