Hemalakshmi Raju is presently the Chief Learning Officer at Reliance Industries Limited. Hema is a Learning & Leadership Development expert, driven by a strong passion to do transformative work with individuals and organizations.
She has worked extensively on designing and launching corporate learning academies and leadership development frameworks. She is a strong believer and proponent of Modern Work Learning practices and works on technology led learning transformation, towards building learning as a key driver for individual and organizational results. As a Culture Champion, she has led large scale culture change initiatives including articulating Mission, Values and Cultural Priorities and making it come alive through deep enrolment processes.
In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Hema shared her views on the current skill shifts, how Reliance as an organization is promoting and enhancing digital learning and more.
The future of work arrived out of nowhere a few months ago on the back of a once-in-a-century pandemic, impacting work and jobs deeply. How has this impact created shifts in the skills for now and the future?
No one could have imagined just how disruptive the pandemic would turn out to be. The workplace and the way we work have been deeply disrupted. Resilience, adaptability, empathy and inclusion have assumed phenomenal significance, and rightly so.
The future of work that many of us have been talking about for long arrived all of a sudden, with no notice. The skills landscape changed dramatically overnight.
- Skills related to digital and technology are completely new rather than an extension of existing skills.
- Some skills had to be reimagined to work in the current context, for e.g., virtual selling skills.
- Skill-gaps pertained not to one skill but rather to a set of skills, often a combination of soft and hard skills. For instance, with people managers, we focused on reinforcing empathy along with productivity within their teams in the current agile framework.
- Driving inclusion among team members in virtual and remote work arrangements became a critical determinant of team productivity and cohesion.
The World Economic Forum predicts that “Skill gaps continue to be high as in-demand skills across jobs change in the next five years.” It also says that 44% of core skills needed to perform jobs across a range of domains will change by 2025.
The current context has also seen Capabilities come to the forefront. If disruption is going to be a continuing phenomenon, then investing in capabilities would enable one to pick up emerging skills on their own.
As we look at a longer time frame, capabilities such as Learning Agility, Critical Thinking and Innovation, Resilience and Emotional Intelligence will continue to be critical.
An emerging behavioral–technical capability that will determine the success of both individuals and organizations is having the Digital Mindset.
Having a Digital Mindset goes beyond having skills to use digital technologies. It requires the ability to combine Digital Technology with Humanism – and to fully leverage the power of such technologies to accelerate value-creation for people. This requires thinking in terms of the entire ecosystem: people, practices, processes, operating models, etc. To be good at doing this, a new set of skills will become mandatory.
Another cluster of new-age technical skills pertains to data science, which will enhance the power of intelligent decision and action across domains.
At Reliance, we started early. We proactively worked towards building both new-age skills and behavioural capabilities over the last few years across various domains. This ensured that we were in good stead to deal with the crisis.
As the crisis stuck, the learning organization quickly sprung into action to build virtual working and crisis management capabilities and incorporated these capabilities for future readiness.
In an age of rapid technological change and industry disruptions, organizations need to learn how to keep learning — not just today but on an ongoing basis. But how do we do it?
“Reliance has the DNA of adaptability. We cannot control a situation, but we adapt to the situation much faster than anybody else.”
These words from our Chairman perfectly encapsulate the learning ethos at Reliance. It is this culture of adaptability that also made us rapidly embrace new ways of learning and working in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Centre for Creative Leadership defines Learning Agility as the ability to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. This perfectly fits the current context and is a key capability needed both by individuals and organizations. For Learning Agility to come alive, Learning to Learn becomes a foundational capability.
At RIL, learning is a Way of Life. Here are some of the key elements of learning at Reliance:
- Leadership plays a central role in our learning agenda. Our regular learning council meetings give an opportunity for our leadership to deliberate upon what we should be learning as an organization in the short- and long-run and how we should execute this.
- Learning democratization is a strong belief at Reliance. A variety of relevant learning resources are made available on an anytime, anywhere basis.
- Spectrum, our annual “festival of learning” event, is a large-scale effort that brings the organization together to create awareness around various modes and methods of learning. It celebrates learning and learners, thereby creating a pull for learning.
- Leadership Connect is a podcast-like series of sessions organised with different leaders who sponsor different skills. These leaders share their learnings with colleagues from across Reliance.
- There are multiple, informal learning platforms – among these is Learnet for Social Learning. Additionally, there are established processes for reverse and group mentoring, which enables continuous learning.
- Expanding the learning offering through tie-ups with leading MOOC providers such as LinkedIn and Coursera.
In an era of distributed workforce, how is your organization promoting and enhancing digital learning?
Reliance had been transforming into a Digital-Mindset organisation well before the pandemic, with the launch of our Jio Platforms business and our push into New Commerce in the Retail business. This pandemic has accelerated this transformation across the organisation.
As a part of our content strategy that was articulated more than a year ago, efforts towards converting multiple classroom-based modules into virtual ones had already begun. The crisis accelerated the same and learning around critical role-based competencies was made available as interactive virtual modules.
Now, our employees have access to a wide variety of digital learning resources, such as LinkedIn Learning and Coursera. We have platforms that focus on micro-skilling and enabling deep-skilling. Employees can access any of these learning platforms to satisfy their learning needs.
With the move to agile ways of working in March 2020, we observed that there was an increasing need to replicate the human connect from physical workspaces onto virtual platforms. So, we worked towards emphasizing soft-skills such as resilience, empathy, trust-building exercises, staying connected with teams, dealing with ambiguity, and managing stress.
We also focused on developing capabilities needed for the future, beyond addressing the immediate pandemic crisis. These capabilities and future skills were identified by us in 2019 as part of an elaborate activity we undertook to identify general and domain-specific future skills across the organization.
We curated an innovative Learning Challenge that focused on four key future skills, namely:
- Design Thinking,
- Customer Centricity,
- Digital Mindset and
- Critical thinking & Business Writing
It followed a sequential learning approach at three proficiency levels. The challenge was bot-enabled and guided participants in starting and continuing the challenge.
Our learning programs witnessed huge traction. In the first eight months FY 2020-21, our digital learning hours surged by 260% as compared to the same period in FY 2019-20.
Given the complex and overarching nature of re-skilling initiative, how can HR create a continuous, impactful and experiential reskilling ecosystem? How is reskilling for the future different from current initiatives?
The World Economic Forum’s “Future of Jobs Report 2020” predicts that by 2025, 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms. In the context of the current crisis, nationwide skilling efforts across different demographic groups becomes important.
At Reliance, there are focused efforts towards upskilling across the organization around 12 identified future capabilities. Some of the identified future capabilities include:
- Critical thinking and decision making
- Emotional intelligence
- Inclusive leadership
- Design thinking
- Complex problem solving
Similarly, domain-specific efforts towards upskilling for technical capabilities are under progress.
Reskilling is more complex and requires coordinated efforts across multiple people processes. It starts with comprehensive efforts to assess one’s own industry and organizational context, and the roles that will emerge and become extinct from a short, medium and long-term perspective. Workforce planning efforts and talent build vs buy strategies should emerge out of this to ensure short-term talent availability and long-term talent pipeline.
The activities across multiple digital learning platforms over the past few months show that many of these skills can be self-learned over a shorter time duration. However, in an organizational context, this needs to be supplemented with hands-on experience or shadowing an expert.
The scale of reskilling efforts—that is, with regards to the skills required for reskilling and the number of people who need to be reskilled, along with the pace at which this needs to happen— in the current and future context, increases the size and complexity of the total reskilling effort manifold.
What are the top skills the world of work requires to lead the new normal?
This brings to mind what our Chairman shared on the importance of adapting rapidly to change: “I believe that IQ, EQ, and social quotient are important, but the most important is to adapt faster than everybody else.”
In line with this approach to learning and the emerging jobs landscape, the skills needed in the future will fall under four broad categories, namely:
- Human Skills – communication and collaboration, critical thinking, and creative thinking
- Digital Skills – software development, cloud computing, cybersecurity
- Data Skills – statistical programming, Python, machine learning / deep learning, Natural language processing (NLP)
- Business Skills – strategy, problem-solving
Underlying these skills are foundational capabilities such as resilience, adaptability, learning agility, and digital mindset.