In a world that is changing at breakneck speed, there is one thing that still remains constant-the need to keep on learning and upskilling. In fact, it is becoming more and more imperative to constantly learn, unlearn, and reskill in order to stay relevant even though the way we are learning, what we are learning, and how we are learning is changing frequently.
It becomes an added responsibility of L&D leaders to shift the conversation to life-long learning to acquire, retain, and develop talent. In this exclusive interaction with People Matters, Mridula Sankhyayan, Head of L&D, Flipkart, sheds light on key changes that will impact learning at the workplace in the future and how L&D leaders can create an action plan to upskill employees.
Your work experience spans across various industry sectors like financial services, IT, ITES and management consulting spread over geographies such as India, UAE, UK, and the US. How have you seen L&D as a function evolve in India particularly?
One thing I would like to say upfront is that the L&D function is going through major transformations right now. This is one of the reasons I came to the ecommerce industry as some of the industries are taking the L&D charter forward at a much more rapid rate just because they are enabled so. And ecommerce is one of them.
For instance, if we look at a manufacturing organization, L&D may look a bit different there but in fast-paced IT, ITES, ecommerce organizations, L&D really has to step up otherwise they will be left behind. There is a tremendous amount of transformation from all aspects- be it from the learner aspect, from the technology aspect, from the aspect of the people who are delivering and imparting learning, or from what is important today to learn. E-learning was present 20 years before as well and while it might seem clichéd, but today, it is anywhere, anytime, anyone kind of learning.
What are the key changes that will impact learning at the workplace in the future?
One of our initiatives is taking learning to the digital platform or rather creating a digital experience platform for our employees. So what will change is that now companies have to really think L&D from the point of view of the end users-what does the user want?
“Earlier it was a kind of push learning but today the user wants to take charge of his learning.”
They already have certain skill sets they come in with and they want to create their own career path, their own areas of expertise, and they want resources to be able to develop themselves. They want on-the-job learning. So companies have to provide customized learning solutions to the individual.
Plus, learning is not just happening through classrooms. Today I can learn by listening to my colleague sitting next to me, I can learn because I am working on a particular project and the project is throwing challenges, I learn because I am solving a business problem.
“So the fundamental question becomes-what is the problem that I have to solve and in order to do that, what are the skills I need to have?”
What are the biggest dilemmas of learning leaders in a disrupted world?
Different businesses are facing different learning challenges. In some, it might be developing the appreciation for developing the mindset of learning, in some which already have this mindset; it will be how we give customized solutions to stakeholders in their operating environments itself.
You need to create enough value for the impact and effectiveness of training and then people will make time.
So the third challenge I would say is how you are consciously creating and communicating around the impact of your learning programs. Have you designed your program such that it will give you an impact report at the end of the program? And then how are you communicating it back to the business, so that they understand the direct benefit of L&D? Also, how can I create adoption among users for the learning experience platforms is another challenge.
Because the pace of the organization has become so rapid and we are constantly living in that VUCA world, at the end of the day, people want to be valued and believe that in all of what they are doing; they have a future, a career. How do we take care of that aspect through L&D is yet another challenge.
Amidst a workplace marked by constant disruptions, how can L&D leaders shift the conversation to lifelong learning?
Lifelong learning resonates with me as I made it a point to learn something new every year.
“Today in my orientation sessions, I make it a point to tell my new hires that every quarter, every six months, you have got to be learning something new.”
Your growth stops the day you stop learning. Then it’s a downhill journey. The way we would embed lifelong learning is to create that insatiable desire to learn that unless you learn and keep yourself constantly abreast, you will be left behind. Today there’s so much FOMO and L&D leaders need to leverage that to inspire learning. People also need to actually know how to learn. A lot of people want to learn but do not know how to do it in their quick-moving environments. L&D leaders have to build a platform to make it easy for the learner to learn, so that they are kind of hooked on.
How can startups employ technology and a digital culture to support the learning and development of employees to fuel growth? Could you share examples of how Flipkart is doing it?
The journey starts with making it very, very relevant to people so that when they come to a learning environment, they know they will learn something meaningful which will help in their jobs. So we bring their job scenarios in the classroom itself. We bring in client problems to the classroom, and we simulate an environment where we give them all the tools to work on. They pretty much work on the production platform in the training classroom also. They will write real programs to solve the real problems. So while they are taught through teachers and coaches, yet it is done in a very practical way in a simulated environment.
We also indulge in gamified learning. So for each business problem, we invite teams to nominate themselves for gamified learning or hackathons. Two months back, we did a continuous 24-hour hackathon wherein 1000 employees participated and solved 14 real business problems. Some of them went into production as well. So many features on the Flipkart app like Cash on delivery, or product exchange, have been designed through hackathons. This basically makes learning very aspirational.
With machines replacing repetitive tasks, how can L&D leaders design learning interventions to help the workforce adapt to this new world of work?
While this is a scenario that will happen in the future, we need to remember that certain skills will still require humans and won’t be replaced by robots. So skills around empathy, listening, making judgments, will become important. Employees need to up their emotional quotient, support their teams, be in a trusting and collaborative space and operate from that.
Secondly, L&D leaders need to stress on learnability.
“Be sharp at something, be known for something, be an expert at something-and marry that technical expertise with your softer and behavioral skills.”
These will make you a valuable resource- because you will able to make decisions keeping all the nuances in mind, better than a robot. Though who knows there might come a time in the future when they will be able to beat you at that as well!
Mridula Sankhyayan is one of the speakers at the People Matters Learning & Development Annual Conference 2018 to be held on 23rd October. Know more about such trends by registering here.