Article: Airtel’s CLO on rethinking learning as a product

Learning & Development

Airtel’s CLO on rethinking learning as a product

Talking about learning as a product at People Matters L&D Conference 2020, Papiya Banerjee, CLO and HR Head Market Operations, Airtel highlighted the three big questions to address from a learner’s perspective on skilling, the focus areas for L&D leaders as they rebuild learning infrastructure and why role modeling is critical to inspire a culture of learning.
Airtel’s CLO on rethinking learning as a product

Airtel’s Chief Learning Officer and HR Head Market Operations, Papiya Banerjee, comes with vivid years of HR experience in partnering with businesses to deliver performance using talent interventions across the Human Resources domain.

In her session at People Matters L&D Conference 2020, she took attendees through the very important aspect of understanding how learning needs to be perceived in a divided world, how Airtel is fast-tracking online learning practices, and emphasized the importance of leadership role modeling continuous learning and its consequent impact on learning as a value in the organization.

Read on for highlights from the session.

‘Reskilling isn’t one of the options, it is the only option’

“There is a need to create an understanding that reskilling isn’t one of the options, it is the only option,” noted Papiya.

The future of work, as we have known it to be, is no longer about the future, but in fact, about the ‘now of work’. It isn’t a vision to be translated to reality, but is in itself the current reality. To cope with the dynamic demands of work today, there is an imperative need to stay ahead and equip oneself with the tools and knowledge necessary to successfully deliver on performance and pave the way for growth.

Learning needs to take place, and it needs to take place now to ensure a sustainable future. While the present circumstances make it challenging for learning and HR professionals to continuously skill for existing jobs and reskill for emerging jobs, it is critical to leverage all available technology to build momentum. Online learning or virtual learning is one such tool to ensure learning never stops, while ensuring that learning and talent leaders can personalize and customize the learning experience, and shape the learning infrastructure for times to come.

"By keeping up with the need to upskill and reskill, leaders can build organizational capabilities of resilience and agility to face any crisis."

Acknowledging learner needs

Learning today isn’t just about technical skills to match job roles. The evolution of learning calls for it to cater to aspects of employee experience such as engagement and well-being, aligning mindset and attitudes to the new way of working in the new world of work, and meeting not just organizational expectations of employees but also employee expectations from learning programs.

Papiya highlighted three questions that employees today seek from learning programs - What’s in it for me? What to learn and where to learn? and How do we learn? 

“Multi-skilling and the ability to perform different roles will be the key to remain relevant in the future of work. The ways of working are changing and many of the jobs will lose their significance. To remain employed and survive in organizations, one will necessarily have to own their learning. To remain relevant in the long run, one has to learn,” said Papiya.

“At Airtel we understood this need a couple of years ago, and what we have been doing is we conduct regular career fairs at organizational levels as well as functional levels, where we present the need for owning one’s career, supported with leaders sharing their stories, learnings, and how their careers have been shaped.” Leaders play a very very important role in career fairs because they need to be role models and they need to help build aspirations, Papiya emphasized.

All successful people are curious learners, said Papiya. “As humans, we are all naturally influenced by successes, and if we see leaders portray being in the process of continuous learning and evolving, the motivation to learn becomes higher. This helps employees see leaders as accessible, vulnerable and can associate with the struggles they have gone through and that creates a really solid base for the need for learning.”

Beyond fostering ownership and inspiring employees through success stories of leadership, the career fairs also talk about new skills and roles along with different platforms for learning

So to answer one of the questions around what’s in it for me, Papiya shared the approach around how instilling ownership in employees helped Airtel’s vision to skill, upskill and reskill employees.

A communication to employees that essentially says, “We will provide you with all the resources you need, but it is on you to make the best out of it, to learn and grow,” such an approach helps build engagement, ownership and establishes a strong foundation for learning experiences.   

What to learn and where to learn?

“Online learning can be very overwhelming for employees, often accompanied by the question around what to learn and which training to attend. It can be confusing for employees given the numerous available courses.” 

With age there often comes a reluctance on reaching out and getting clarity on what must one learn, and to get the necessary help and guidance. From market research and speaking to potential learners, Airtel’s L&D leaders found that instead of scrolling through an endless list of available courses, employees prefer receiving a curated list of courses to go through and learn from, in a manner that is beneficial from both a skilling perspective as well as career growth perspective.

Curating a set of programmes to choose from becomes a pull and key element for learning new skills, said Papiya.

Airtel focused on creating learning journeys for their workforce following the 70:20:10 principle, where 10 represents the learning programs/ online earning programs. It helps as firstly, there is a direct correlation with the job they are doing, or the projects they are working on. There is both an improvement in skills as well as performance. Once employees themselves sense that improvement, they will keep coming back for it. “This is one thing that has helped us gain success and in driving a pull for online learning programs, which even though constitutes only 10% of the overall learning experience, it becomes a key element in learning that new skill.”

In enabling the workforce to gain clarity in what to learn, beyond curating programs, another key element is mentoring. Mentoring allows a two way conversation on what kind of learning journeys should employees opt for, how should they build themselves, and understand what kind of learning journeys they should choose for themselves.

How do we learn?

It is important to understand who is going to consume the learning program, why and when, stated Papiya. “Everyone learns differently. We certainly cannot have one size fits all approach. So we again go back to design thinking principles and understand when are our learners learning and how do we create the pull for learning.”

It is much like designing a product, added Papiya, because each one of your learning offerings is a product which the employee is going to consume, so it’s very important to understand who is consuming it, how they are going to consume, where they are going to consume and why are they going to consume it.

That goes to prove that there is no one size fits all approach. Papiya encouraged leaders to think about even though you are offering an online learning module, what are the different ways you can curate it. She highlighted how bite-sized learnings and mobile learnings offer convenience to learn, are accessible 24*7, help consume knowledge in smaller chunks and facilitate the concept of on- the-go learning, as over time, people's preferences have shifted from looking for entertainment in spare time to exploring educational content.

For learners who were not comfortable with on-the-go learning, Airtel came up with a learning hour where they facilitated learning in cohorts to enable online peer learning, in addition to other masterclasses that provided employees the opportunity to come together and learn online, while also having conversations around what was learnt.

“The number of things we needed to bring in together to address the different needs that were raised by our employees, really made us innovate a lot and in turn made the process much more meaningful.”

Adding meaning and value to talent and development processes

“A growth mindset is very important for organizational resilience and agility,” insisted Papiya.

She added that it is no more about technology, it is about the mindset, a growth mindset, and how are you incorporating that in the organizational culture. 

“In the last 6 months, the need to become a strong digital player has become more prevalent. It is becoming imperative for many businesses. We will need much stronger computational skills and a huge amount of crunched data to ensure the right decisions are taken. Talent and development processes will need to incorporate such an approach to add more meaning and value to their work.”

As she concluded the session, Papiya highlighted three key focus areas for L&D leaders as they rebuild the learning infrastructure for the “now of work”:

  • Treat learning as a product, apply design thinking principles, look at learners as customers 
  • Leaders need to be role models for learning. “You cannot be asking people to upskill but not display that in your behaviour. Demonstrate curiosity and an attitude of continuous learning.”
  • Be human. “Take care of yourself and your employees, that’s what’s needed most at this juncture.”
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Topics: Learning & Development, #PMLnD

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