There is active agreement that upskilling is the need of the hour. But when it comes to devising the best strategies to achieve learner growth and engagement, a holistic approach is essential. Acknowledging the challenges that employees might face in participating in these initiatives and then building on the training programs to accommodate their career growth and overall business needs is one fundamental strategic approach. The intention at the end of the day is embedding a learning culture which excites, encourages and motivates the workforce to exceed their potential. In a recent interview with People Matters, Kalpak Huddar, Head of HR, Sitel Group shares his experience of implementing L&D programs to adapt to the changing times and offer continuous learning opportunities for their employees.
Kalpak is a seasoned HR professional with over 24 years of core HR domain expertise in various industry verticals, including manufacturing, automobile, aviation and business process management. Before he joined Sitel in 2012, he worked with HAL, Dell, IBM etc. He holds a postgraduate degree in Human Resources Management from Devi Ahilya University and completed his Accelerated Management Programme, from Harvard Business Publishing.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
With the accelerated pace of digital transformation defining and redefining jobs roles on a continuous basis, what are some of the skill sets that are the most in demand at present?
The skillsets in demand tend to vary across industries but nevertheless there are some which apply to all. The industry has gone through tremendous transformation in the last couple of years and the skill sets which are in priority are, sensitizing our leaders in managing hybrid workplaces and driving better engagement. In a virtual workspace, encouraging self-learning is very critical. Second area is speeding up the time to proficiency and therefore the concept of “learn as you go” becomes prime. Managing employee emotions and productivity in a work from home environment is the third area and the fourth is delivering efficiency through digital multi-tasking.
These are the four areas we have invested in. ‘Micro-learning’ is one concept that we have heavily relied on wherein anyone can learn from anyone with short tutorial videos offering solutions to potential problems employees might face. On a managerial level, we are also pushing awareness and upskilling in areas of AI, digital and machine learning. With more and more technology infusion in the workplace, it becomes paramount that our supervisors and managers are able to navigate the terrain of data driven digital solutions. The biggest example of this lies in adapting to the increased use of AI based recruitment & learning solutions.
Given that yours is a tech based company and digital skills continue to be one very significant asset for workers to have, what are some of the L&D programs that your organisation has carried out to enhance digital literacy?
In India, we have an upskilling program which I call ‘Digital Harmonization’ wherein we enable our workforce to operate the digital tools in a seamless manner. When a few months ago, people shifted to work from home model, we needed to recognize that they were not used to working in isolation, not used to no longer having their support structures around them. We must look at this with a holistic view. There was a need to upskill everyone to build better familiarity with Digital work platforms. Not only for our frontline associates who engage with clients but all support groups as well, because the work environment is gradually getting digitized.
To ensure our people are prepared to handle this change and also remain productive, we first changed our entire hiring and training delivery apparatus into a no touch digital hiring and training solution.Secondly we deployed several engagement and collaboration tools which help our associates to remain in constant touch with their supervisors, support groups and also reach out to functional groups for any help that they may need while they are serving our clients and their customers.
In prioritising and choosing skilling programs for your workforce, what are some of the key values and insights that your organisation has kept in mind?
Our culture is : our EVP which is Learn, Lead and Grow; and our core values which are to Be Bold, Build Trust, Work Together and Wow Customer and all of our learning & development interventions are built around this. Learning tracks are meant to accommodate both business and professional goals. Empowerment and inclusion are critical values as well, the learning programs so implemented must empower our workforce and must be made accessible to all. I do believe that a significant aspect of inclusion is also greater accessibility to upskilling programs.
A company needs to offer continuous opportunities for skill development to drive greater employee engagement and ensure their growth. In light of this, how has Sitel balanced personal learning goals with learning goals designed for greater business outcomes?
Very simple. To drive the behavior you want, you need to align the correct anchors. The success of our business is built on the talents within our team. We succeed when our teams succeed. In order to succeed together, to lead in the CX industry, we must continually grow and provide opportunities to learn and share from one another. At Sitel Group in India, over 70% of all non-agent roles are filled via internal talent programs. How do we achieve this? By investing in training, recognizing talent and supporting growth via coaching and mentoring. And, this results in more experienced team members who stay with us for the long term.
Every six months, we look into what is the growth trajectory of the region and the past record of talent replacement needs (attrition) to build a forward looking career succession and progression plan. This is how we know what number of hires we are looking for and open up programs for training people to take up these roles. These career based learning tracks make a ready pool of deployable talent. Now employees are aware that going through these training programs will help them progress and craft their career within the company. There is an assurance of career growth. The ultimate outcome is the embedding of a learning culture within the organisation.
In order to aid the career progression of associates, we have simultaneously offered opportunities for weekly bite-sized learning and made a certain minimum number of learning hours as a prerequisite.
All of these learning programs are aligned with business needs. We also encourage our associates to have an individual development plan with a minimum of one learning goal. They can achieve these goals either by formal learning mechanisms or with experiential learning opportunities through mentoring and coaching.
What are some of the challenges that you faced in implementing skilling programs in a completely virtual space and how did you overcome them? Also, how were the outcomes of these programs measured?
One of the greatest challenges in driving learning is participation. When people are aware of the benefits that they can derive from these skilling opportunities, it makes things much easier. Rather than pushing training upon the employees, we can build the training culture that employees themselves demand. This is one part of it. The second challenge was equipping people to go through these virtual, digital learning platforms.
I believe our larger goal should be to drive “learning for purpose”. Our career progression models don’t thrust upon any role on an associate but we let them make the choice of career they want to grow in. As an individual, what is the long term vision you have? Is learning fulfilling the individual purpose of life? We want our associates to reach a stage where they invest time and effort in learning to become a better version of themselves.
When it comes to measuring L&D Programs, any such program delivers results which can be seen in three broad categories. Firstly, performance & productivity improvement, whether learning has improved the collective performance of the group. The second is career growth, whether our associates have been able to better up skill themselves to fill in the internal roles. The third is engagement in terms of connection and wanting to stay on. Organisations are differentiated not only by the pay & perks or facilities available for employees ( off course they are important) but what gives an associate sense of fulfilment is whether the organization has invested time and efforts in their development and growth and that’s the culture that then creates a lasting impression on our associates.
Finally, from your experience, what are some key insights that you would like to share with your fellow HR leaders as they invest in bridging the skills gap?
Firstly, continuous skilling and re-skilling is essential, it is not a static activity. Today the pace of change is so rapid, upgrading yourself with the changing times is the new normal. You need to keep reinventing yourself faster than the pace of change. We also have to ensure that people don’t hesitate to fold their sleeves in knowing the basics which is equally important. And lastly, a learning culture that is proactive and not reactive. Leaders must try and understand what is coming their way and prepare their people well in advance accordingly. Finally, learning is a culture and we need to help our associates find their purpose of learning.