As HR leaders continue to reassess and redesign the skilling agenda to keep up with changing externalities, one of the most important strategic enablers for internal business today is communication and language learning. Communication is the foundational skill that can empower a workforce to foster innovation, stay competitive, and progress sustainably. India’s growth story is inexplicably tied to addressing this massive language skill shortage and the industry’s ability to devise suitable skilling strategies for the future.
To understand India Inc's skilling agenda, People Matters and Pearson hosted an exclusive HR Leaders Roundtable in Gurugram, which saw the participation of renowned talent heads and industry leaders. The roundtable was kicked off with a keynote address by Prabhul Ravindran, Director, English Learning Language, India at Pearson who highlighted the emerging workplace trends and opportunities that lie ahead for India Inc. “The most strategic enabler for international business today is language learning that allows organisations to recruit diverse talent, develop and retain employees, improve communication and collaboration, besides enhancing wellbeing and business growth,” he was quoted in his presentation.
He also spoke about the potential of soft skills and the pivotal role it plays in driving economic growth, innovation, and societal progress. Siddharth Parnekar, Senior Director, HEQ International Selling at Pearson gave the closing remarks.
The roundtable discussion was moderated by Vikas Dua, Head of People, Weber Shandwick, who covered various aspects of skilling in the new age and the transformative power of communication in a global workforce. Here are some key takeaways from the session:
Communication challenges in the workplace
One of the many ways in which the pandemic fundamentally altered our way of working was to redefine the role of team leaders. The importance of communication in a remote or hybrid work environment becomes even more significant, as it is crucial for everyone to be brief, respectful, and empathetic while being mindful of their tone, speed, and delivery. To accomplish this through a small window on your screen, wherein the listener cannot properly gauge your body language, expressions, or gestures, is undoubtedly challenging. As Alexandar Rinku, Director of HR, Oracle, explained, “The trust between managers and their team members is still a challenge as in-person management is far easier than in the virtual world, which needs more expertise and nuance to motivate and engage. Communication is the bedrock skill that helps build other business critical and leadership abilities, such as persuasion, motivation, confidence, and negotiation.”
Then, of course, there is the question of how the nature of communication has permanently changed over the past few years. Working remotely has made a section of the workforce more comfortable working in their space and deprioritised crucial workplace values such as collaboration. In addition to working from such silos, people started preferring interacting more over chat-based tools to share quick, brief, and articulate messages. So, in a way, the communication challenges that existed pre-pandemic came to the fore during remote working, as the importance of crystallised and effective communication that can drive collaboration became vital.
What’s the communication skilling agenda for India Inc?
Indian organisations have been attempting to cultivate a growth mindset by providing suitable learning opportunities and offering robust coaching programs that can act as skill development accelerators. But, screening candidates for critical communication soft skills, such as storytelling, public speaking, articulation, and creative expression, is now the norm. As Rohin Nadir, CLO, KPMG, said, “We look for different aspects of communication expertise depending on the role, KPIs, and seniority level. In India, English is a socio-metric indicator of upward mobility, background, and access, which lends the language its space in the corporate world. But, the reality is that a large part of the business in India happens beyond the English-speaking world. So, we need talent that can function across a spectrum of situations, regardless of the language.”
And while this process begins at the interview stage, it usually continues throughout the employee lifecycle through training and development. Most organisations screen all candidates for basic communication skills and provide developmental support to high-performing and high-potential employees, along with role-specific training. These requirements can also vary drastically between sectors and even organisations within the same industry.
Mita Brahma, Head HR, NIIT Ltd, said that while the communication expertise varies for people depending on their role, three distinct focus areas have emerged over the past few years with regard to internal communication. “The first is developing a global outlook when communicating, as your language, delivery, context, and nuances change almost entirely. Next is the ability to provide effective coaching and mentoring programs. Third, and very importantly, is to fill the deficit created when people participate in back-to-back agenda-driven meetings that start to seem transactional. So, coaching managers to express empathy, care, and respect in remote settings has been a priority.”
What can organisations do to fill the communication skills gap?
Arjun Chatterjee, Director & Head of Talent Acquisition, Asia Service Centre, India, Sun Life, says it is potentially time to start viewing communications as a hard skill to ensure we pay adequate attention. “To build our internal digital community, develop skills, facilitate peer-to-peer collaboration, and create learning experience centres, we must prioritise certain communication power skills when hiring and training people. This can develop cross-mobility across functions and improve employee engagement as well.”
Developing a common communications skilling framework that spans functions and business processes is vital to fill existing gaps. So, instead of communication being given varying degrees of priority during the hiring, onboarding, and learning stages, it can be more effective to create a common matrix of business-critical communication skills and map all employees on that journey.
At the same time, the panellists noted that it was also essential to remember the importance of the basic tenets of communication, which include creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. India Inc. needs to articulate the importance of these traits to every last person in their organisation by demonstrating the difference quality communication can make. As Manpreet Singh, Chief People Officer, FIS, explained, “Instead of boxing people and limiting their capabilities, we need to inspire people to learn. To make our training and communication relevant for our teams, managers need to identify what each individual brings to the table and support them in a personalised manner. And most importantly, we need to continually display the sacrosanct aspect of clear and transparent communication to instil its importance while building psychological safety. For instance, rather we allocate exclusive time to employee questions at town hall events to make communication a two-way process.”
Skilling strategies for the future: A roadmap
Keeping communication at the front and centre of the recruitment and skill development process can allow organisations to build a proposition for their teams and clearly show the value generated. India Inc.’s success story is intricately linked with our ability to create an ecosystem that gives people the confidence to match and outpace their global peers, and having the right communication, language, critical thinking, and self-awareness skills is an intrinsic part of the process. We must hire people with potential, give them the support and environment they need, and mentor them to become more assertive, influential, and confident. Because eventually, communication skills are not just about one organisation or industry but about the person in the middle of it and taking them on a growth journey.
Pearson is today one of the world’s leading learning company, serving in more than 200 countries with digital content, assessments, qualifications, and data. Today it works with over 2,000 leading enterprises around the world, helping them to diagnose skill gaps, identify learning pathways and interventions, and mobilize their workforces through verifiable skill credentials. To find out more visit here.