Learning today needs to be more personalised and measurable to be effective. Reason: New-age learners are looking for value in what they learn and its application at work. There is a fear in employees at all levels of becoming irrelevant or not being abreast with new skill sets. Can business leaders address this learning challenge and play a greater role in helping employees build the right skills?
To discuss how leaders can encourage the workforce to develop new skills and also adapt to new digital skills as the business environment evolves, People Matters in association with Udemy hosted an elite group of HR leaders to deliberate on the learning challenges in the current space and identify the most critical skills needed in today’s leadership.
“To address (workplace) challenges like attracting new talent or retaining existing employees, leaders should build more career mobility and encourage them to acquire adjacent skills to be able to deploy them into new roles,” said Vinay Pradhan, Country Manager- India & South Asia, Udemy, Udemy.
“Another focus right now is about leadership skills, not just at the top level but also mid-level management, for acquiring relevant skills,” added Vinay in his keynote address at an exclusive roundtable held in Bangalore recently.
This was part of the twin city Roundtable series on the critical theme of: “The Power Of Skills: Solving Workplace Learning Challenges For 2023 & Beyond.”
Business outcomes are becoming increasingly critical when it comes to skill development and learning. According to Gartner, organisations today are facing the triple squeeze of rising inflation, scarce expensive talent and global supply constraints. In this climate, it is even more critical for L&D leaders to alter their learning strategies and create synergy at all levels across the organisation.
The Gartner CEO and Senior Business Executive Survey 2022 shows workforce as high priority for CEOs in 2022-2023, up from fifth in 2020. Leaders and manager effectiveness; organisational design and change management; and learning and development (L&D) are the top 3 business-supporting HR initiatives as per the Gartner 2023 HR Priorities Survey.
“Organisations are meeting these challenges with online learning opportunities. And the right learning partner can help organisations ramp up online learning to engage, support, and upskill their workforces to tide over the uncertain future. Almost 58% CEOs are investing in reskilling and upskilling to empower employees,” quoted Vinay in his presentation.
Emphasising on the need for localisation in the context of learning, Vinay at the Gurugram Roundtable expressed: “The language of business can be English, but the language of learning need not be. As HR professionals, we can cater to the diversity by creating opportunities for our people and let them learn in the language of their preference. This is why we offer more than 210,000 courses in 75 languages on the Udemy platform.”
Vinay also noted that more than 12.3 million Indians are learning on Udemy, indicating the scope and size of the learning industry.
Today, as digital transformation is accelerating new innovative tools, ChatGPT is here to stay. Conversational AI tools are spawning the need for new skills. For instance, feeding a prompt into ChatGPT has emerged as a sought-after skill in today’s world, Vinay observed.
“One fundamental skill that has emerged now-a-days is learnability: The ability to unlearn, learn and relearn. It has become essential to identify new skill sets and let go of the ones that have become redundant,” Vinay observed while addressing HR leaders at Gurugram.
Challenges and Opportunities of New Age Skills
To address how some organisations are solving these workplace learning challenges, we divided the L&D leaders from different sectors into four different groups at the first Roundtable held in Bangalore, each taking up one problem statement. The first group moderated by Shivadarshan Deshamudre, Global Head of Learning, Ness Digital Engineering discussed the challenges and opportunities of new age skills.
While GenZ is looking for value in what they learn and its application at work, employees with over 10 years of experience are juggling work and other responsibilities. Leaders need to identify individual requirements of different age groups at the workplace and create more value for them in learning.
“Expertise doesn’t come from training or learning, it comes from the application of learning. How would learning play a role in providing the much-needed depth, where depth comes from experience, is the most pertinent question,” said Darshan.
Talking about new digital skills, he added: “Digital (skills) and domain (expertise) are interplaying today. Learning new skill sets and adapting to new-age digital skills are like the two pedals of the cycle.”
To make organisations more attractive to employees, it’s important for leaders to create synergy across multiple levels and communicate about its learning culture across the board. “Lot of data analytics in the learning space is important to put out those kinds of metrics which become attractive to the prospective employees and employers to position learning appropriately beyond learning hours and the number of people who have been certified,” noted Darshan, while debriefing the larger group of leaders.
The Gurugram RT also saw three groups with the first one exploring the disruptions that affected the workforce and skills that emerged as the greatest requirement for business growth. The group was moderated by Priti Dahima, Vice President, Learning & Development, SBI Card.
“While digital transformation may differ for different organisations and segments, it has to be a well-thought approach in terms of what is relevant and what skills are needed to drive that (digital transformation). Though L&D may spearhead the change, leaders need to take the top-down approach and act as role models for their people to set the cultural transformation first,” Priti observed in her debriefing.
“Human emotions and people play a critical role in bringing about this change,” she said, expressing that L&D leaders will have to do the balancing act, driving it from the top.
Sudeep Luthra, Head HR, Orange Business Services, India, also added that L&D today was not just the responsibility of the L&D department but one essential skill that everyone in the organisation needs to survive is: the art of reskilling. “Today, every manager is an HR and L&D manager in an organisation. Organisations need to have role models to inspire people to learn and grow,” he added.
Fundamentals of Learning in the Hybrid Model
The second group discussed how companies could drive a culture of continuous and incremental learning for a distributed workforce and was moderated by Sonal Bhimani, Senior Director- Global Talent & Transformation, Cognizant.
“Leaders need to be more empathetic and mindful of other people’s environment in terms of how they work and interact with each other. If we could link learning with learners' milestones (career progressions), things that will add more value to their work and their output,” observed Sonal.
On the subject of identifying and measuring learning outcomes in the hybrid model, to ensure alignment to business objectives, she observed: “How do we bring in different forms of experiential and project-based learning to create an environment where learners find more value and apply their learnings.”
At the Gurugram RT, the topic was picked by a group led by Meenakshi Cornelius, Chief Human Resources Officer, JLL India.
“In today’s VUCA world, where the future is unpredictable, learning and skills are fast evolving. Agility in learning as well as people management is crucial. We are working in a multi-generational world where on an average, 3-5 generations are working together in an organisation.The learning models and platforms need to be customised as per their individual needs,” shared Meenakshi.
“There are different ways to measure productivity and impact of these (learning) interventions. One being the impact on business performance and other part is how people are moving into other (larger) roles within the organisation,” she added.
Chandraprakash Jain, GBS Head – HR, Sr. Director (HR Operations), Teleperformance raised the point of measuring learning effectiveness.”There is an urgent need to understand what metrics we need; how do we define them, and then align them with the objectives of the organisation and people strategy. Till then we will struggle to make L&D effective as a function.”
Critical Skills of Today’s Leadership
This group, moderated by Sumanth Nayak, CHRO, Societe Generale’s Global Solution Centre, India, deliberated on leadership skills needed to set organisations ahead in today’s volatile environment.
“Even for leadership, learnings are being prepared as and when the need arises. Not as a reactive measure but as a just-in-time approach. (Making it more effective),” Sumanth noted, even as he advocated for cohort-based learnings for senior level leaders.
Leaders are expected to reinvest the reduced operation time (saved by automation) in engagement, coaching or mentoring their team at the organisation.
“For building leadership qualities in the workforce, the majority of the leaders agreed that ‘build’ is a better option than ‘buy’. As build leads to engagement and retention of your talent. Also, spending less financially if you are adopting a ‘build’ model,” shared Ranjit Kumar, Director HRMP- Asia Pacific & Japan, VMware who was part of the third group of leaders.
The same topic at the Gurugram RT was moderated by Megha Gupta, Director HR, Fiserv.
The leaders at this roundtable also agreed upon the slow acceptance of hybrid models of working for most organisations.
“Today, it’s not important to put a physical body (of employee) to come to office (physically), but the focus is on how that person (or individual) is bringing productivity and building a network for the community,” said Megha while debriefing the group of leaders at the end.
Mindset change remains the biggest change in the post-Covid era. “The biggest change at the workplace is that money is no longer a driver or attraction for people to join a job. Even leadership is not defined by the revenue and the financial target but how you are leading by example,” she added.
Given the dynamic nature of roles played by leaders today, Manpreet Singh, Director People Office, FIS, said: “When it comes to managing people’s emotions, leaders play the role of a therapist. As a coach (building high performing teams), one has to look at the diversity of backgrounds everybody brings in.”
Learning to beat global uncertainty
The fourth group moderated by Srividya Natarajan, Director, Head of Learning for Technology & Product, Clear Trip & Flipkart in Bangalore addressed the strategy to create competitive advantage in the war for talent and how to invest in learning to broader talent outcomes such as engagement and retention.
“There are 3 key pillars: The Employee, the Manager and the Organisation, that can enable a competitive advantage or even for measuring the ROI. With Manager as a critical pivot in making this (learning) a success by providing a conducive ecosystem, looking at every employee as an arch talent and not as my team talent,” said Srividya while debriefing her group’s observations with the extended group of leaders.
The group emphasised on the mindset shift and the much needed role swap between employees and organisations, when it comes to learning. “Today, the onus is on the employee to learn. Organisations (just) need to put the employee in the driver’s seat and let them (employees) own their careers,” she added.
“Employees are not excel sheet records, each one is unique,” quipped Pradeep Josiah, Head L&D - COE, UST, as part of the fourth group of this roundtable.
The HR leaders gathering resonated on helping employees build adjacent skills and expanding their skill base while trying out new things. “The more we are able to encourage employees to acquire deep skills in at least one adjacent skill area, organisations will be able to move from career mobility to talent agility,” Vinay added in his closing remarks at the end of the session.
Key takeaways from leaders at the Bangalore session:
- Identifying the right set of skills is essential to drive a culture of learning and growth
- Creating belongingness in a hybrid and remote setup is one of the biggest challenges that can be bridged by learning
- Employees cannot be looked upon as excel sheets and human-centred learning solutions are the need of the hour
- Companies need to think long term and make people-related investments
- New-age skills like crisis management, clarity on goals, empathy are the norm
Key takeaways from leaders at the Gurugram session:
- Learning culture is key for successfully executing learning strategies
- Rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT is spurring the need for newer skills
- Leaders need to identify relevant skills to build more career mobility and encourage employees to acquire adjacent skills to be able to deploy them into new roles
- Language of business can be English but language of learning can be in any language
- Change in mindset to create personalised multi-level learning programmes
- Learning & Development is not restricted to just handful of L&D leaders, every manager is a people manager
- Need to make learning effectiveness measurable for better ROI and business growth
- Leaders need to possess greater empathy and improved listening skills to become role models
Udemy is a global platform that improves lives through online learning. It offers on-demand learning for employees, immersive learning for tech teams, and cohort-based learning for leaders, for flexible and effective skill development.