Article: It’s high time companies compose the song of dreams for their employees, suggests Nitin Thakur

Learning & Development

It’s high time companies compose the song of dreams for their employees, suggests Nitin Thakur

As employee engagement becomes the need of the hour, Nitin Thakur, L&D Head at Jindal Stainless suggests that organisations need to align their goals with their employees’ personal and professional growth.
It’s high time companies compose the song of dreams for their employees, suggests Nitin Thakur
 

One cannot force anyone to pursue a dream they did not accept as theirs. However, we surely can and should make them dream.

 

The pandemic has shown us the worst situations but it has also brought some of the strongest epiphanies for leaders. A question for today's community is, how long can we go without instilling purpose and clarity in employees? In this exclusive interview with People Matters, Nitin Thakur, proposes, “Dreams are the most powerful energy. If companies can make their employees hungry for their goals while aligning it with that of the business’, it’s going to prosper day in and day out.”

Coming out of the pandemic, experiencing the worst economic downturn after the Great Depression and battling the possibility of worse recession everyday, why do you think the company would and should care about individuals’ personal growth?

One of the greatest experiences both for the leaders and the HR was this realisation of the significance of employee well-being. Companies became conscious of the fact that letting people go is not an easy task. One decision impacts numerous lives as families bear the repercussions. As they lose people, loss of brand-name also accompanies. This observation pushed leaders to shoulder a greater responsibility towards a greater ecosystem. 

With this realisation settled, panic was about this one word - redundancy. The solution was - being future-ready. As we navigate through a world with rising digital dependence and constant change, it was, now, important for leaders to equip their employees with needful future skills. Both employees and employers saw that if they won’t keep up with the pace of time, their jobs will lose their shine and succumb to redundancy. 

This also aligns with the whole debate of whether to build talent or buy it. And, a good deal affirms that it is better to train people for the time ahead rather than the never-ending vicious cycle of firing people and then hiring again. It was, then, in companies’ best interests to care about, and in fact, actively participate in the professional-personal growth of their employees.

For companies to travel with the employees in their growth journey, an alignment would have to be found between the business goals and personal goals. Can there ever be a complete alignment? How can that be achieved? 

In theory, one can go on discussing the co-dependence of personal growth and business goals for hours. In practicality, however, the deal is as simple as the fact that if the two are aligned, employees will feel a greater sense of engagement in work. A stronger dedication will be found on the employee’s part towards the business goals. If we have a look at the very definition of employee engagement by BlessingWhite, it says that the point at which the individual’s goal is aligned with that of the company is when the individual is in the highest potential state. The system, then, has to be designed taking this into consideration. 

It’s time for business leaders and managers to step up as career counsellors for their employees, for them to always be ahead in planning the next career move and the set of skills to be developed for their teams. This is further conjoined with the business goals.

I cannot expect perfect results and engagement from an employee who is carrying forward a business goal without knowing what’s in it for them. The leaders need to build clarity and provide purpose.

Ownership and accountability will surface solely when they identify their share of growth and motive in their work. Hence, the only way to conquer this practically is to design the very system and environment in a way that both come together to produce spectacular results! The work has to be done on the grassroot level. The managers will have to sit with their team members and discuss everything under the sun that concerns the words goals and growth. 

The managers seem to be at the heart of the solution. Is that so?

I see it in two different ways. In the last one and a half decade, we tried to educate the managers to care about their employees' growth. And, the history is evident, we didn’t do very well in this case. However, as we began the quest to look out for other solutions, we quickly realised that the focus needs to shift. Instead of the pilgrim going to the temple, the temple should come to the pilgrim. In simpler words, when we educate the employees to think about their career, approach their managers and take ownership of their growth, the results turn out to be far better. With this new solution in hand, the employees started to ask for counseling, started to think about their next career move and lent as much help as possible from their managers. They, then, started to lay the foundation of such a culture in the organisations.

While we talk about culture, do you believe only companies with a certain culture can achieve this synergy? How can companies develop such an environment?

The question as I view it is what is it that we, as an organisation, provide to the employees to build this culture. And that ‘it’ is guidance. The employees need guidance from their managers. I suggest that there needs to be a ten-fifteen percent weightage of people’s development in appraisal of the managers. If they fail to perform in this arena, they won’t be considered a high-performer. In our world, we say, whatever you track and monitor, will get done. This is one of those things. 

The first step towards building such a culture is to start conversations between the two parties. Further in the process, the third, that is, the Learning and Development team needs to step in to facilitate the much-needed learning area identified through the earlier mentioned conversations. This facilitation spans right from managing funds for the prioritised learning need to organising needful sessions. Hence, for this culture to build up, a threefold approach is necessary.

Your first emphasis was on the role of managers. Do you think there’s a shift that we see in recruiting managers with respect to the diverse roles they will have to play?

Definitely! A manager, a leader needs to be more than just an ace of their segment. This is something that has become a crucial part of the interview process, that is, to determine whether or not the candidate has convincing talent development and management skills. Goal setting, mentoring, coaching, are some of the capabilities that cannot be sidelined anymore in the process of recruitment. A candidate lacking these might be the best in their work but will most definitely fail to create a strong succession pipeline and to train the people for the future while working on the current business goals.

This way of identifying the right fit for the higher responsibility levels has already been part of the process. Usage of psychometric tools and testing one’s people's competencies stands testimony to it. If a candidate is a task-master but lacks people orientation, they won’t be rated high as a leader. So, the approach may have existed for over a decade now but the significance of it has become all the more important, especially after the pandemic with attrition rates rising and quiet quitting becoming common and when leaders are required to care about the level of engagement of their employees.

What about the managers who have been in leadership positions for a long time but lack these skill sets of this ideal manager we have been talking about?

We build the skills in them, simple. To delve a little deeper, for any skill to be built, there are two aspects that need to be conquered - mindset and the skill itself. The former states that there’s an intention on the manager’s part to help their employees to touch their maximum potential. The latter is about if they are well-versed in the art of conversation to discuss and decide on the individual goals that their employees need to achieve. I believe, both the aspects are trainable, there’s no rocket science to it. For years various training programs have been organised keeping the same goal in mind, to train them to become better managers focused on people development.

Initially, the whole practice of coaching and mentoring was considered to be an HR’s skill set. Now, it is a prerequisite for every manager. 

Moving on to the execution part of this strategy, what are the steps that the companies need to undertake in order to help the individuals identify the goals they want to achieve?

The HR community has been doing this since forever. The twist here is that it has only been doing it for the high potential ones. There will be assessment tests, continuous feedbacks and discussions on and thorough lay down of individual plans for these chosen ones. Now, the need to come up with creative ways to cover a larger population, to bring in almost everyone under this umbrella. One of them, I believe, is that the managers need to become the HR for their team members. They need to, as I said earlier, sit down, give feedback and be extremely strong with their observations. In the next step, the counselling should follow concerning the certifications, learning, project undertakings and education that is required for the employees to uplevel. This concrete identification process will result in higher commitment from the employees.

However, please take note that not every employee will start following the trajectory one lays in front of them. It is, again, the duty of the manager to observe if the person’s interests lie in something totally different and the only purpose of them working is financial stability. Not every employee will be onboard to follow a new path, some will remain in their lost land. Having dreams, a plan for growth, the right state of mind and energy to put in efforts is a privilege. Different people are in different phases of life. A person who has just gone through a demise of a loved one will not be in the same mindset as someone else in the team who is always optimistic and full of vigour. There’s no utopia and leaders need to be inclusive. 

With the identification part settled, what will be the next steps to help them progress in the field they have perfected for themselves with the company’s help?

The most important fact about learning is that 70% of it comes after doing the job. It does not come from attending training and having a certification. Until one does the job, a good chunk of learning is left behind. If I learn to drive a car, but I never drive it, the car will become alien to me. Here, then, the organisation needs to step in again to supply the individuals with abundant practical opportunities to apply their learnt skills and build on them further.

While being on this journey, it is easy for employees to shy away from participating. Reasons can be excessive workload, lack of confidence and motivation and so on and so forth. How can accountability be ensured in cases like these? 

Human psychology functions in a way that we prioritise things that seem important to us. We firefight and juggle through various responsibilities yet find time and energy for the areas we want to focus on. Hence, accountability does not come from any external source rather it is built strategically. Once the whole process is followed and the employee recognises the need for their development to stay relevant, they are going to pour their heart out into the work. I have myself talked to people who took out a little extra time on weekends and post office hours to study. When asked why they do that, their answer consisted of merely four words - for my personal growth.

However, very importantly, not all employees will be as invested even after providing them with enough opportunities. Some might be complacent, comfortable in the status quo. For them, I always say that there’s never a bad student, there’s always a bad teacher. Similarly, there’s never a bad employee, there’s always a bad manager. Here, it is the duty of the manager to make them realise the threat of rapidly increasing redundancy of jobs. 

Can external compulsion help in building accountability and commitment?

I do not believe so! One cannot force anyone to pursue a dream they did not accept as theirs. However, we surely can and should make them dream. The organisation’s responsibility is to build that internal motivation and if it does, maybe they’ll have a dream. In sessions, we help individuals visualise what they desire in future and if they achieve their dream then what will follow. Then, we assist them in formulating a plan to make it possible and to make them believe that it is so!

As we conclude, what does your foresight tell will become of a company who becomes an active participant in their employees’ growth journey?

A strong establishment of learning culture! If all of the things we discussed are followed and executed, the organisation is bound to be known for its robust learning culture. Life in such an environment would be exceptional with every employee clear and focused on their goals as they know what’s in it for them and so, working with full engagement. And, while they are working on their goals, they will also be extraordinarily achieving the business goals. Such a company will not just have people outperforming themselves but the company itself will be outperforming every single day.

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Topics: Learning & Development, Employee Engagement, Leadership, #HRCommunity

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