Implementing Learning and Development Strategy
Published on : Thursday 07-10-2021
Never stop learning – sharpen your learning saw, and keep it sharpened continuously, says Kavitha P.
Right after my graduation I did not get any job though I was confident, competent and was willing to work hard. In every interview they would ask me something which I never knew and I couldn’t get into an IT company easily. I then took up a course and thought if I learn the technology they have been asking me, I would get the dream job of being a developer. I come from an era where learning happens only in training institutes and if you had a computer at home you have created magic for yourself.
In those days there was an upsurge of COBOL, VB, ASP, C, C++, VC++, etc. While I was doing my course I realised that after 18 months once I completed the program and I stood right there to once again face the challenge of getting a job and I would again lack some skills, as there was a next version, the next technology release, the next certification. “Learn, upgrade, demonstrate skills and collect the pearls of wisdom which is – experience”, was the mantra and I crossed the gate to the other side. I decided I no longer want to become a developer but I want to be an enabler of learning.
I wanted to be in the continuum of Learning – Practicing – Teaching.
This was the beginning of my Learning and Development’ journey as a trainer.
Lessons Learned: As a Trainer
I used to conduct a lot of technical programs for the workforce of different companies and it was an immense experience with each batch of participants in my programs. The participants ranged from freshers to experienced personnel. At times the interest levels of the participants were skyrocketing. It would challenge me to learn more and deliver as they wanted to learn way beyond the set agenda of the training and at times they would hardly bother and it would demotivate me, would set me thinking, ‘Why do they even come to a program when they are not interested?’.
Interestingly as I gained experience in conducting programs I realised the interest level of participants in class depends on their passion to learn or a dire need to demonstrate their expertise in their work. Anything done by mandate or force, results not in learning but is reduced to a ritual of attending a training program. Most importantly, it is imperative that every learner must know:
a) Why is he/she sitting there and spending time to upgrade/reskill/learn?
b) What is the outcome of the program?
c) What is the intention that he/she has been nominated by the manager/organisation?
I started making this clear to my learners and I did see that there was more focus and also at times my learners did not want to continue the program as they did not want to do this course and I respected their decision. There is also a gap in understanding between the manager and his team members attending the program. Most of the time they are not even aware of why they are spending their time and they take it as a nice get away from work.
As a trainer when you stand there doing a program please ensure your participants are well aware of the entire program, its expected outcomes and its intent. Be clear to set the ground rules of the program and hold complete accountability of each one participating. Keep them posted of their progress and also their manager’s so that the gap is not created.
Lessons Learned: As a Learning and Development Head
After 10 years as a Technical Trainer, I progressed to take up the position as a Learning and Development Head and that was the time when I started seeing things from a different perspective. It was a total phase shift from conducting programs to deriving learning strategy, planning, working hand in glove with the business units, team HR and the entire workforce.
There were several lessons learnt and I continue to learn them as I progress in my work. Learning and Development, as the name suggests, has two dimensions – the first part being Learning, which means there is an immense commitment from the learner; and thereafter, Development, which means demonstrating the knowledge gained, so there is planning, execution and assessing for outcomes. There are a few lessons that I have learnt from Learning Projects that I have executed as a Learning and Development Head which I would like to share.
Planning the L&D calendar
At an organisation level, we must ensure that we are always a part of the organisation’s business strategy planning, as each strategy would translate into an operational plan and that needs to be the plan of execution for the L&D team. The L&D team in turn must not be perceived as a backing team who would train, mentor and churn out a workforce skilled for a job but must position themselves as enablers of business.
If the L&D group functions as a factory where they get raw material and the delivery teams look at getting a finished product, this wouldn’t work. We have to work in a ‘BUILD’ model – Business Unit Integrated Learning and Development. This would give us insight into the kind of programs we need to plan and execute. The programs would range from technical, domain, soft skills, project management, certification based programs, program management, etc. A formal signoff on the entire operational plan of team L&D and all other business units is a must to keep all stakeholders aware.
Once the calendar is planned (for a minimum of 6 months) we got to keep our focus on the same and ensure it is executed by publishing and getting it validated by the business leader’s month on month. Due to changing business directions there is every possibility that some programs may be parked or would take lower priority.
Team HR and recruitment also play a big role in the entire learning plan as they are the watchtowers for organisation capability. When we do not work with team HR there would be a dearth in building leaders, planning for succession of leaders, attrition, etc., and the entire organisation pyramid of workforce planning is at stake. Most of the time the inputs from these teams are ignored, resulting in surplus recruitment or lacking workforce in a particular segment of the career cadre.
The work force management group is the epicentre to the business units, HR and recruitment. This team must give the reskilling, upskilling and cross skilling plans to the L&D team. This epicentre team helps in entire workforce planning which in turn gives a sense of direction to HR and recruitment.
In most of the organisations the L&D team is part of the HR functions but I feel L&D must always be a separate group working straight with all units of the organisation.
Program execution – Result oriented and outcome based
The entire organisation knows where the learning ship is moving. It’s now time to onboard members for the various programs planned. There is a need to seek nominations for the programs, set the expectations from the participants on their commitments to fully be in the program and also ensure they are accountable and responsible for taking the learnings of the program and work towards developing the knowledge acquired.
This means if a batch of 20 individuals attends a leadership skills program, now the organisation can rely on 20 more leaders in due course of time. Learning programs must not only help in grooming individuals but they must also provide opportunities to demonstrate their skills acquired, which means when we train our workforce they need to be deployed into roles, opportunities so that they can utilise their learnings.
During program execution, if the intent of doing the program, the outcome expected from each one of the participants is not set, then we are doing a program merely for decorative purposes.
Upon completion of the learning program/workshop/mentoring sessions it is mandatory that the skill database is updated with the newly acquired skills for every individual thereby giving directions on skilled resources available in the organisation. It is also mandatory to access the learnings to look at the outcomes. If this is not done, it is an effort down the drain as we would continue training without keeping track of the skilled workforce.
Project Need Based Program – Developing the muscle power
I have learnt the hard way that project need based programs are very different. While we plan the entire learning calendar there are spurts of needs based requests that come our way. These programs bubble up due to customer demands, the need of acquiring more knowledge as the project demands, etc. The mistake we make here is not being there with the team members, the project manager and if need be participating in customer calls where the need for skilling/project requirements are being discussed. Most of the time it is a translation of what the training needs are and in this process we lose out on a few critical aspects.
The training is then planned and executed and when the team members get back to their projects they still feel incomplete.
It is also important that the mentors of these kinds of training programs have adequate knowledge (technical/project management/program management, etc.), and also have working experience on projects so that the learnings are integrated into the programs. Most of the time this piece is missed out and the entire program is merely theory, which doesn’t give the participants sufficient muscle power to work on projects. So here again comes the fact that L&D must never work in silos but work in a BUILD model where experts from the BU also impart training so that the bridge is stronger. Please evaluate the learning outcomes by having mock projects, interviews, questionnaires, demonstrations, etc.
Learning at one’s own pace, learning through short videos, learning from collaboration is the need of the hour and thus learning now has taken a different dimension. Online learning is also gaining a faster momentum but my lesson learnt is when this is not administered with timelines there is very little commitment from the learners. Online learning must be monitored and accessed too.
Learning is ones sword for life! And it has to be sharpened continuously.
Kavitha P is Learning and Development Head at Utthunga. She comes with 24 years of experience in the L&D arena. Prior to joining Utthunga, Kavitha had a stint of 15 years at Wipro Technologies, 2 years at System Logic and 3 years at Software Technology Group. She has worked in areas of competency management, bench management, skilling and upskilling resources, certification programs, etc. Kavitha has executed several programs for developing leadership skills. She conducts programs for middle managers and senior managers. Her expertise lies in grooming freshers from campus and enabling faster transition to business units.