By Srividya Kannan, Founder, Director, Avaali Solutions
No investments in digital can realize returns, without embracing change. Embracing change requires people to get behind it. It’ll not happen without their strong conviction that change is necessary and it will be good. And this requires people to be knowledgeable about such change. Enterprises are focusing on convergence – bringing together people from different disciplines to deliver projects and outcomes faster. This requires people to build and rely on inter-disciplinary skills. In the digital age, the only way to keep oneself relevant is to embrace continuous learning. Gone are the days when learning is enforced primarily for promotions. Education is no longer mandatory; it is almost a necessity.
There is a massive shift in workforce skills that enterprises need to invest in, to realize maximum returns from their digital investments. Access to data is no longer a major challenge, but the capacity to translate that into meaningful and actionable insights and execute necessary changes required is a key differentiator. It is estimated that more than one in three workers will need to adapt their skill mix.
More importantly, there needs to be lifelong learning across the workforce. What one knows is less valuable than what one learns. Employers are looking for people who can adapt and learn quickly and who are interested to build expertise in areas they are not adept in. This is quite a contrast to the motivation of adults to learn, which decreases with age. In fact, adults are typically keen to preserve what has been learnt and tend to resist anything that challenges their views and experiences. The change management process within enterprises, therefore, becomes increasingly difficult, as this needs people to initiate and believe in this change.
So how could enterprises create a structure to encourage and execute continuous learning. Here are some of the good practices being adopted by leaders in this pack beyond conventional training and education:
Learning is the CEO’s agenda:
CEO’s often says that people are their most valuable asset and their development is their top priority. Sadly, it is never really executed that way. A massive change to make an enterprise focused on learning, needs to be driven from the top. It should be the CEO’s agenda. Enterprises that have made this transition well have this on their CEO’s attention right from strategy to execution.
Learning to be a part of everyday work:
Learning needs to be a part of daily routine for people. A separate one-off learning program or training that are separate from daily routines, build a culture of learning disconnected from daily work. This makes it feel more enforced rather than something employees build into their DNA. Programs that encourage people to learn from one another and share their learnings and experiences, should be heavily encouraged with performance rankings, promotions and recognitions tied into how much time people invest in this activity.
Learning is a part of employee documentation:
Rarely does an employment contract or subsequent onboarding brings out the importance of learning as one of the expectations from every job. Including this into employee documentation will bring this up right at the beginning and ensure continuous enforcements via ongoing communications. Contracts should specify the importance of learning and that employees will be accountable to focus on learning and share their experiences with their colleagues.
Managers play a crucial role:
Managers must only not lead by example but also keep coaching their team members to focus on learning as a part of their daily routine. Managers must strongly encourage their teams to learn from one another. They must provision room for mistakes and not take a “heads will roll” approach that drives fear in people. This is not to say that errors should be ignored, on the contrary, these should be highlighted with an objective of letting the employee reflect on what happened and help them with thinking around how they should have handled it. Praise people publicly but discipline privately. Managers must stay engaged and model the right behaviour.
Emphasis also on soft skills:
Learning must not only encompass hard skills such as process or technology adoption skills but must also emphasize on soft skills such as collaboration and empathy. People learn best in a work environment where people are comfortable asking questions and where people are constantly encouraged to share knowledge. This requires a certain orientation in people where information is not hoarded by a few people and the rest are left to learn on their own. Consistently emphasizing on improving such soft skills in people supports in creating a continuous learning environment.
Learn from top performers:
A high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than an average performer as per some studies. Enterprises must encourage people to learn from top performers, such that these learnings eventually, significantly bring down their cycle time to deliver great results. This requires building empathy within teams. Empathy is built by listening and respecting other people’s thoughts. This helps teams get closer to each other and feel free to share and learn from one another. An environment needs to be built between top performers and the rest of the teams, where people don’t feel alienated and awkward to ask and learn from top performers.
Enterprises need to create a continuous learning organization and deeply embed this into their people development culture. This is not the job of only the learning and development organization but should be the agenda of every person in the company.
Digital is fundamentally changing the nature of work and constant learning is now the new norm. At the heart of building digital maturity is people readiness. Building this readiness requires rigour in the form of continuous learning.
As a famous quote goes “Develop a passion for learning. If you do so, you will never cease to grow”. Enterprises must increasingly focus on this aspect to accelerate their path to grow and innovate with digital.